How to use humor in a speech

In my previous post, I mentioned the use of humor to help make your speech smooth and engaging. Whether you’re acting competitively in a speaking event or just trying to break the ice with your audience, humor is an invaluable tool. The type of humor that is appropriate depends heavily on your audience, which brings me to my first point.
Relate to the audience (or, Don’t make fart noises in a business presentation)
The most important thing about humor is knowing to whom you’re talking. Sure, immaturity may win over kids at a birthday party, so if you’re a hired clown, go right ahead. However, in a more serious situation, use different types of humor. Do not use sarcasm unless you are trying to make enemies! No matter how funny it seems to you, it is highly unlikely that you will make friends or even allies with sarcasm.
Use intelligent humor (or, Avoid puns like the plague)
One pun is okay. Two puns is borderline. Three puns or more in one speech and people will start groaning. People want to feel like they are smarter or more knowledgeable than others. You want your audience to feel good about themselves, so use intelligent jokes! Use jokes that, in one way or another, make them feel as though they are part of an exclusive group that understands the joke. Everyone understands puns, but a good joke makes the audience members feel special and smart.
Don’t overdo it (or, You are not Jerry Seinfeld)
Well, maybe you are. However, if you are a comedian, stop reading. This article is not about making you hilarious and the life of every party. If your speech is pure comedy, look elsewhere for advice, because that type of advice is not what I’m giving out. However, if you’re only using a few choice bits of humor to liven up an otherwise serious presentation, remember this: Do not focus on humor. Some humor is excellent for the purpose of engaging your audience, but too much and the audience will be waiting for the punchline instead of following your point.
To use humor effectively, you must relate to the audience and make them feel smart, but even the best of humor can ruin a serious speech if it is overused. Follow these three rules, and your speech will be successful, at least in the aspect of humor. For some help on how to improve the other aspects of your performance, see my article “How to make a persuasive presentation”. Thanks for reading!