Special Delivery! Tips for Improving Your Humor

Delivering humorous speeches involves a lot more than simply having good material. Take some time to incorporate these tips into your presentations and watch the fun and laughter factors rise.

In Fun

Sigmund Freud wrote: "The most favorable condition for comic pleasure is a generally happy disposition in which one is in the mood for laughter."

This concept is called "in fun." If you want your audience to laugh, they must be in fun. You, the speaker, must be in fun. The emcee or program coordinator must be in fun. The whole program should be designed in fun. Do anything you can to be sure your audience knows that it's OK to laugh.

Time Of Day

The first speaker of the day for an early morning program should not expect hearty laughter. People are not conditioned to laugh a great deal in the early morning. Many won't even be awake yet. Use more information and less humor. It's important for you to know when not to expect hearty laughter. It would be a waste of time to use your best material at a time when laughter normally wouldn't be expected. The poor response also brings your energy level down. Many consider brunch and lunch to be the best times of day to expect a responsive audience. In the afternoon people are starting to get tired so don't expect laughter to be as intense.

Male/Female Makeup of Audience

All-female audiences tend to laugh more easily and louder than all-male audiences. Audiences that consist of more than 50 percent women are good too. The presence of the females provides a good buffer and makes it OK for the "big-ego" men to laugh.


No, I'm not talking about how much you weigh today. I'm saying that the size of your audience has a direct effect on the types of humor which are most appropriate. Members of small business groups tend to be too self-conscious to laugh much. Use short one-liners. Don't use any long stories or jokes. In larger groups it's OK to stretch to jokes and short stories.

Pre-Program Research

The more you know about your audience, the better able you will be to pick the humor that will get the greatest response. Your research before the program will also allow you to uncover the group's inside humor.


The best seating arrangement for laughter is semicircular theater style. When audience members are seated close together on a curve, they can look to their left or right and see the faces of each person in the row. This togetherness allows laughter to pass immediately from one person to the other. Contact NSA member and seating expert Paul Radde for advanced seating information.

Choose Funnier Words

Your word choice can be the key to creating a successful witty line or a dud. In particular, words with the "K" sound in them are funny. Cucumber is funnier than mushroom. Cupcake is funnier than pastry. Turkey is a funnier word than loser.

Deliver The Punch

Some humorists will disagree, but I say deliver your punch line to one person and make sure that person is going to laugh. You must punch the line out a little harder and with a slightly different voice than the rest of the joke. Lean into the microphone and say it louder and more clearly than you said the setup lines. If the audience does not hear the punch line, they aren't going to laugh.

Deliver the punch line to a person you know will laugh, so that others will be positively influenced to laugh. How do you know if a person will laugh or not? Pay attention to those who have been laughing, those nodding their heads in agreement with you during the program, and those you identified before the program.


Pausing just before and just after your punch line gives the audience a chance to "get" the humor and laugh. Absolutely do not continue to talk when laughter is expected. If you do, you will "step on" your laughter and squelch it quickly.

Make It Relevant

If you make all your attempts at humor relevant to your presentation, you get an automatic excuse from your mother if your humor is not all that funny. If your humor is received as funny, so much the better; but if it isn't, at least you made your point. Audiences will be much more tolerant if the humor ties into the subject at hand. Use this formula:

A. Make your point.

B. Illustrate your point with something funny.

C. Restate your point.

Vary The Types

The above formula would get boring and redundant rather quickly if you used the exact same type of humor every time for part B. By varying the type of humor in B, you can go on virtually forever, and no one will recognize that you are using a formula. I have identified more than 34 different types of humor to plug into the formula. You could use one liners, jokes, humorous props, funny stories, magic, cartoons or other funny visuals.

Rule Of Three

One of the most pervasive principles in the construction of humorous situations is the "Rule of Three." You will see it used over and over because it's simple, it's powerful, and it works. (See, I just used it there in a non-funny situation.) Most of the time in humor the Rule of Three is used in the following fashion: The first comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third unexpectedly switches the pattern, making it funny. Here's an example from a brochure advertising my seminars:

In the "How to Get There" section

From Washington, D.C., take Route 50.

From Baltimore, Md., take Route 95.

From Bangkok, Thailand, board Thai Airways.

Look Funnier

I have been accused of being too "corporate-looking¡¨ to be funny. When I'm being funny, I use facial expressions, odd body angles and bizarre comments and props to make up for my "normal" look. Those of you that have obvious physical characteristics that can be used in teasing yourself have an advantage. People love characters who are not afraid of teasing themselves. You can enhance the funny look with fun patterns and colors on ties and dresses, hats and funny glasses.

Bombproof Your Talks

Are you afraid of bombing when you get up in front of a group? You don't have to be. With proper material selection, a few prepared comments in case of unexpected problems and attention to time, worries about bombing can be virtually eliminated. As in tip above, make sure your material is relevant to your topic, and keep it short. The longer a piece of humor is, the funnier it better be.

A. Saver Lines

Saver Lines are what you say when your supposedly humorous statement does not get a laugh. You shouldn't be ashamed to use saver lines. The top comedians in the world need them and some purposely make mistakes so they can get a laugh from the saver line. Johnny Carson was an expert at this. After a poor response to a joke, he would say a comically insulting line like, "This is the kind of crowd that would watch Bambi through a sniper scope." Don't overdo the saver lines. If you have to use too many, your material must be pretty bad.

B. Pre-Planned Ad-Libs

Another way to keep from bombing is to "expect the unexpected." Canned or pre-planned ad-libs are pre-written responses to unexpected happenings or mistakes that occur during a presentation, i.e., the microphone squeals, the projection bulb burns out, you say the wrong thing, etc. Prepared ad-libs actually do more than just save you. They make you look tremendously polished. Here's the continuum: A bad presenter will stammer around when a problem occurs. A ZZZZZs presenter will say nothing and try to ignore the problem. A great Wake 'em Up presenter will make a witty comment that appears to be spontaneous. The audience believes you are originating humor on the spot. You are just quickly recalling pre-planned responses.

Microphone Squeals

This is the portion of my presentation where I do my elephant impression.

Projector Light Burns Out

This is the first time I have been brighter than my equipment.

Highlighter Runs Out Of Ink I'm out of ink. I'll be back in a wink. (remember . . . "k" words are funny)

Think Diversity

Our audiences are more ethnically diverse than ever before, so it's crucial to watch your political correctness and eliminate sexist language from your presentation. Not only is it easy to offend, which will turn your audience off completely, easily understandable word choice is more critical than ever to ensure that your audience members "get" the humor. When speaking across cultural lines, especially, visual humor such as magic, cartoons and comic strips are the most readily understood.



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