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Using Humour in Business Speeches

By: Chris Hogan MSc - Updated: 4 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Speech Business Humour Funny Joke Story

Using humour in a business speech is something that many speakers advise against but there's no reason not to use it as long as it's done in the right way. The context must be right; no-one is going to be impressed with humour at a speech announcing redundancies or other bad news.

Also the content has to be relevant, the joke or story must link to the message of your speech. The audience has to be one where you are fairly sure you can get away with a bit of levity too. And above all, the joke should not be offensive in the slightest.

Opening a Business Speech with a Joke

There's no rule that you must start a business speech with a joke but it can work well sometimes. In this case you can drop the relevancy to some extent as the point of the joke is to relax the audience and make them more receptive. You can even be overt about this, continuing into the speech by saying "now that we're all loosened up, let's get cracking" or something along those lines.

However, remember that the start of your speech is one of the points where you will make a lasting impression and you don't want that to be a bad one. So consider the topic and, most importantly, the audience, before deciding to start a speech with some humour.

Working Humour into the Speech

Putting the starter joke to one side, the best approach for humour within a speech is to make it self-deprecating. This has the double advantage of getting the audience together and on your side, and of making sure that you don't offend anyone else, so you or your industry are the target.

Don't worry too much if you don't get business audiences laughing out loud. This isn't easy, even for experienced comics, and relies on the audience being in the right mood. This is why professional comic acts and TV shows have warm-up acts. As long as you get a bit of a grin and some knowing nods then you'll have done enough.

Resist the temptation to warn the audience that a joke or funny story is on the way as well. Much of the funny part of jokes and stories relies on the listeners not knowing what to expect. And if you tell people something funny is on the way and it falls flat you'll find it far harder to skim over it and carry on.

Humour can be Visual

Finally, remember that humour doesn't have to be verbal. One of the most memorable speeches at a local business breakfast club was one where a lawyer spoke about new initiatives at their firm. The lawyer introduced each of the sections of his talk with presentation slides with well known jokes and cartoons about lawyers.

It didn’t matter that they weren't new, since they raised a groan if not a laugh. And because they were about lawyers, no-one could be offended. This followed all the guidelines set out above and resulted in a well received speech that entertained as well as informed.

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