How to Avoid Making Humor Mistakes in Speeches

Humor isn’t always a laughing matter. Don’t let humor mistakes sink your presentation and kill your credibility.

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read

Tip #3: Don't Rush

It's not just what you say that makes something humorous; it's how you say it.

Of course, it's not just what you say that makes something humorous; it's how you say it. The pace of your delivery has a strong impact on your comic effect. When you are delivering humor you need to practice beforehand and perfect your pauses.

Turns out it's funnier if you pause just before and after the punch line. The pause before the punch line helps to build suspense and tension. The pause afterward gives your audience time to recognize the humor and to react.

Listen to this modified quote from Robert Frost that I sometimes deliver: "As scientists you know the brain is a wonderful thing. It never stops working, from the time you are born, until <pause> the moment you stand-up to give a speech <pause>.

Again, the pause before the punch line makes it funnier because the audience fills the pause--they anticipate the remainder of the sentence. Then, when the punch line is delivered, it’s funny because it’s not what they were expecting. The pause at the end is equally important. You need to give your audience an opportunity to laugh. A common mistake is to rush onto the next sentence. Remember, sometimes it takes a few seconds to “get it." If you rush, instead of giving permission to think about the comment and laugh, you’ve done the opposite. By moving on you’re silently asking your audience to concentrate on your next words. I know this because I made this mistake many times and kept wondering why the audience wasn’t laughing.

So there you have it three quick and dirty tips to help you avoid three common mistakes with humor. Don’t start a presentation with a joke, don’t overdose on self-deprecating humor, and don’t rush your humor lines.

Next week we'll talk about humor some more with "How to Make People Laugh During Presentations."

This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


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Presentation image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.