FAQ: How should I use humor in my speech or talk? Carefully and Naturally

FAQFirst and foremost, be careful about how you use humor. Even the best professional comic knows that his or her material will work with some audiences and bomb with others. That’s even more true for executives trying to connect with listeners. So proceed with caution. In particular, remember that telling jokes is very risky. Not everybody can tell a good one(see below), and its very hard to predict which jokes will win over which audiences. On the other hand, I do advise my clients to try some self deprecating humor. It doesn’t always work, of course. But in most cases making gentle fun of yourself helps the audience identify with you, and gets them on your side..

Having said that, jokes and other humor can work if you — the speaker — feel completely natural being funny. I have a couple colleagues who are just naturally funny, and very quick on their feet. They do tell jokes, and not only get away with it, they use jokes to involve the audience. Humor, even fairly broad humor, works for them because the jokes seem to be an inherent part of their personalities, of who they are. Contrast that with speakers you’ve heard (maybe even on the campaign trail) who clearly don’t feel comfortable with humor. When they try a joke, at best they make the audience feel uncomfortable. At worst they alienate their listeners.

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