Humorous Contests and Other Trivia
I am not an expert on the pathological effects of humor – but here is what I have come to believe. When we laugh, our body relaxes, our stress is reduced, our mood elevates, and we are more open to accepting the message from the person who made us laugh. What a powerful instrument! Toastmasters recognizes the value of humor by encouraging us to bring humor into as many of our speeches as possible. Further, Toastmasters has created a “Humorous Speech” category so that we can focus on developing our own sense of humor and practice its delivery.
Let’s spend a moment on what we are trying to achieve in a humorous speech. Most of us are not stand-up comedians that can keep the audience suspended in uproarious laughter, sometimes for hours on end. Rather, our goal is to first and foremost make the audience smile early in the speech and often throughout the speech. If we get multiple chuckles along the way, wonderful. If we are truly fortunate, we may even get a belly laugh or two. Even very gentle humor will delight the audience when coupled with excellent delivery. Do your utmost to make the audience smile in the first 20-30 seconds of your speech. Resist the temptation to resort to one-liners; leave that technique to Comedy Central!
When writing a humorous speech, select a topic that is relatable to the broadest range of people, being particularly sensitive to cultural norms. What does “relatable” mean? If the topic covers a situation or an experience that the audience has already experienced, even in a passive way, then they can relate to that topic. If the audience has not had such an experience but can imagine themselves having this experience, they can also relate to the topic. The notion of relatability is critical (in any speech) because it helps the speaker connect with the audience.
Think carefully about the topic you choose. Astrophysics is probably a topic you should avoid in a humorous speech! Select a topic that is light-hearted, that lends itself to humor, and might appeal to a diverse audience. If the topic allows you to make fun of yourself in some way, you have made a great start.
Many of us say, “I cannot write a humorous speech. I just do not have the humor gene.” Start out by writing a speech that may have little to no humor. Don’t panic. We are merely at the beginning of the humorous writing process. I like to follow the classical speech structure; an opening, the main body with three or four points, followed by a conclusion. Think of humor as an ingredient that can be added. I suggest this approach because, after all, the focus of the speech is humor and the classical speech structure makes it easy to add humor.
The main body of the speech should include 3 or 4 stories. Why stories? Because a well-told story is the best way to inform, amuse and hold attention. At their best, stories elicit an emotional response from the audience. Introduce extreme, perhaps even chaotic but always entertaining characters into your story. Characters can often say humorous lines that you, the storyteller, cannot. Of course, the more authentic the stories, the better the connection with your audience. Nonetheless, pay heed to Mark Twain’s advice; “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
Introduction of Humor
Humor must not be offensive in any way to any audience member. At a minimum, stay away from topics that have the potential to offend, including sexual, racial, racial stereotypes, religious and political references. Embrace self-deprecating humor, self-parody, simple-easy-to understand lines, light sarcasm, irony, surprise, misdirection, exaggeration to comic proportions, and a joke or two if it fits with your story.
Act it out! Often, more than 50% of the humor experienced by an audience is because of delivery. Vocal
variety, tone, timing of punch lines, a surprise turn in the story, facial and body gestures. These are powerful tools that can make even straight lines funny.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Initially, find a safe audience and experiment; find out what works for you. Be bold with your experimentation – you may surprise yourself with how many smiles, chuckles, and even belly laughs you may get! Then take your speech to a broader audience. Be open to inputs and feedback. Re-write your story to add (even more) humor. Contest winning speeches are not written; they are re-written.
In summary, humor is not an art, nor is it a gift through DNA. Humor is a skill that we all can acquire. The harder we work at humor, the funnier we become!
Written by: Declan Shalvey DTM2 – D101 Club # 46046 Cupertino Morningmasters
Winner Humorous Contest Fall Fusion – 2020