In public speaking, the ability to use humor is an important skill to possess whatever your natural ability is. Most people like to smile, to laugh, or to enjoy a listening experience. Humor adds sparkle and interest to a speech. Humor, when used, should be good-willed and not given in a manner to show how witty you are.
It is probably impossible to catalog humor completely. Here I have listed the 7 kinds of humor commonly used in public speaking.
Turn of Phrase
In this type of humor, you get the laugh by starting to make a serious point in one direction and suddenly an unexpected meaning is revealed. Mark Twain used this technique when he said that “youth is such a wonderful thing, it is shame to waste it on children.”
A word is used to evoke a serious meaning and then used in a completely different meaning altogether. The second meaning gives a whole new viewpoint to the speaker’s remarks. To be funny the meaning should not be stretched too far or it will evoke groans rather than smiles. For example, the organizer of an event may ask a member of the audience if the guest speaker was an able speaker. The member of the audience may reply “Yes, the guest speaker was able. He was able to stand up all the way through his speech.”
This is where a small thing is made into a larger important issue. This is similar to the how a cartoonist will exaggerate the features of a politician for effect.
This is the opposite of exaggeration, and words are used to underplay the importance of an event or issue.
Here, the face value meaning of the words is different to the intended meaning. An example is a phrase “as pleasant and relaxed as a coiled rattlesnake” used by Kurt Vonnegut in one of his books.
Sarcasm is a cutting form of wit and should be used with care. To be funny the audience should not have much sympathy for the intended target. If they do it will not work in your favor.
Satire is an attack upon something worded in a way as to be pleasant but clear in its meaning. Will Rogers at a bankers convention asked: “I have often wondered where the Depositor’s hold their convention.”
To be funny, the humor should be said in a spirit of fun. However, for best effect, humor should be unannounced and told with a straight face (you don’t want to laugh at your audience does). It requires more practice and preparation than other parts of your speech. The humor will die if you fumble over words or stumble during the punch line. In public speaking, as it is with conversation, the telling of humor should be effortless and natural.
To be effective in public speaking the humor should be relevant to the points being made. It is woven into the fabric of the speech. With practice and preparation, it is possible to employ the 7 types of humor listed, regardless of how dry and shy you may be.
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