Speaking with humor can be challenging, especially for those who believe they are not funny. We all have a sense of humor. However, many speakers prefer to keep that sense well-hidden for fear of losing credibility with their audience. Often, we think funny but would never verbalize those thoughts. Why, because we often take ourselves too seriously. Though ignored, humor should be an integral part of our speech education. Humor is the great equalizer when we communicate in all forms of our social circles. Have you ever noticed, what was deadly serious yesterday can be funny today?  If you seek humor in your everyday life, you will realize that humor is all around us. Just look around.

Good speakers don’t tell jokes when they are on the speaking platform; they tell funny stories.  To make a story funny, you have to add humor that is germane to your story.  Focus on the three Rs when adding humor, and you will recognize how easy it is to add humor to your speaking style. My simple formula: 


Humor provokes laughter. Laughter creates applause. Applause indicates and laughter is an indicator of ability to keep your audience engaged with humor. Laughter is the bridge that connects speakers to their audience. In Toastmasters, we never laugh alone. The above formula is a tried, tested and proven method of adding humor to your public speaking. Another is, you make a point and then tell a story, or you tell a story to your point.  When speaking with humor, you make a point, and then you tell a funny story that is relevant and realistic.  


Storytellers don’t tell jokes; they tell stories. Their stories are delivered with as few words as possible. Their delivery is succinct. Brevity makes it easier to connect with audiences. We connect with speakers when they give us time to reflect on our own life experiences, suddenly, there is a twist. Now you are consumed with the story, asking yourself,  why I didn’t think of that.  With a chuckle or gush of laughter, you find yourself reliving one of your own experiences, as the story comes alive for you and many others in the audience.  The laughter becomes contagious, and suddenly, you realize the power of relevance. We relate to the experiences of others when we share our stories.


When you can engage your audience with a realistic story, your opportunities to add natural humor to your speaking style dramatically increases. Being realistic, may draw criticism from some members of your audience,  while others may find it to be ridiculously funny. It is the risk you must take when speaking with humor. Minor absurd details can often bring humor to your story. For instance, adding point nine, nine, nine to a number instead of rounding it up or down might provoke laughter, when you are emphasising a point. We all know, no one really cares what comes after the point.  Include your personal experiences in your style of speaking. Relive your life experiences. Weave elements of your life into your speeches. No one can tell your stories better than you can. Keep it real, and your stories will be realistic to your audience. 


Tagging is a skill that comes with practice. In some cases, you will be taking your cues from the audience.  It is an essential skill to master when delivering stories.  Tagging extends your LPM – Laughter per Minute. And what is tagging? The laughter your humor produced when you “add a funny line or comment” to provoke even more laughter.  When delivering a humorous speech, audiences often rate your performance as a humorous speaker by the number of laughs and chuckles you generate. Tagging increases your laugh count when you are speaking with humor.  Never miss an opportunity to tag your fun-filled lines. In Toastmasters, I shoot for 20 laughs, 5 chuckles, and 1 belly full of laughter in a 5 to 7-minute speech.  


Reading a funny story kills the humor. It is often referred to as the “kiss of death” when you are on the speaking platform. The only exception to the “Never Read” rule; read only if it serves as a prop. It could be a newspaper clipping, a letter, an anecdote, or a quote you wish to deliver accurately. Even then, you can hold up the prop, refer to it when necessary as you deliver the funny parts of your story. The lesson – Humor is never read! Humor is delivered. 

What you practice becomes permanent when you are on the platform. Develop a formula that works for you and practice using it in your daily life. In every life experience, you will discover relevant, realistic stories with opportunities for adding humor. The more you tell those stories, the more you will discover content to keep your audience laughing. Keep a log of your stories with the connecting emotion that is relevant and realistic. Even when your speech is not intended to be humorous, if you practice being spontaneous and be quick-witted “in the moment” as a speaker, you will find that speaking with humor is natural and fun.

Dr. Ralph Smedley, our Toastmasters founder, said, “We learn best when we are having fun.” Laughter is by far the best indicator when we are having fun. When you make your audience laugh, they like you; you invite you back, and may even get paid. Speaking with humor may be challenging; however, once you keep in mind, you are not a comedian; once you don’t try to tell jokes, instead focus on the natural flaws of us humans all around us, you will do fine.  Humor comes from the unexpected. Humor magically appears when we do what comes naturally.  You will touch your audiences’ hearts and minds when you focus on being who you truly are when you are on the platform, speaking with humor.

Written by Henry O. Miller, Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM), of
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