What makes things funny


An interesting take on what makes humour here…

So what is violation and what is benign and how do we mix them?

Think about how you might incorporate that into your speeches or presentations.



You can also learn from his presentation skills.

Notice his use of notes,

his slides and how he uses them,

how he times his laughter and how he uses it,

his language – he is talking to academics, I think,

and his fluency.


And whether any perceived faults or slips in his presentation style overcame the novelty and usefulness of his message.


What did you think – comment below …

Enjoy the special flavour of the unpredictable

There never has been security. No man has ever known what he would meet around the next corner;
if life were predictable it would cease to be life, and be without flavour.

Eleanor Roosevelt.


Harsh words, those, especially for those of us who like to be prepared.

“Never.” … “There never has been security.”

Still, we try to achieve it as much as we can,

prepare for all eventualities,

do our best to avoid the embarrassment of fumbling for an answer, for forgotten words, for a prepared logical flow.

And yet we know, underneath, that what Eleanor Roosevelt said is entirely true.

There will always be the unpredictable.

And we will prepare for that too.


What about the flavour it brings though?

The flavour of life … the flavour of an unpredictable speaking experience.

I like to think that being a speaker operates on at least 3 levels.

There is me, you, the speaker.

There is what I call the eagle eye – the ability we have to watch ourselves and our audiences from above and evaluate how things are going, in order to adapt.

And then there is the concept that beside the conversation we are having with our audience is another experience, the shared experience of being together in a presentation.

We can leverage that with little moments of quirking an eyebrow at the audience as if to say “See what I did there?”, or less subtly discussing what is actually going on. We can create a shared experience in this level.

If the experience is unexpected, this is where we can really capitalise on that flavour Eleanor mentioned – enjoy the moment together with the audience,

forge a bond of shared experience,

of response to the unexpected

with humour, with pathos or with jointly created action.

So while those un-predictable events can be challenging, especially if we worry too much about them beforehand, or label them failures afterwards,

they can also be the source of some of the most powerful and enjoyable experiences a speaker can have.

What to do when you present in a boring, repetitive monotone – follow TED speaker Robert’s example

This is a TED Talk by Robert Ballard, deep-sea explorer.

If you can, watch it without listening to the words, just to the pitch of his voice, especially about half way through the talk, at about 7.30.

The majority of his speech is incredibly monotonous.

He gives the impression that he is ashamed of what he is saying, that his audience will find it boring and that it needs to be hurried, get it out of the way as soon as it can be done.

There were times when I thought I would stop watching.

It was that bad!

I didn’t stop watching.


Because …

he compensated with some fabulous, very successful strategies that had his audience engaged despite the monotony.

What were these strategies and can we use them ourselves?

There were six that I noted, and all of them are powerful – they needed to be!!

1. The message is simple and strong

He has a very simple, well articulated message. Why are we spending so much time and money on space exploration and so little on exploring our oceans? It is repeated. The whole presentation supports it. And the fact that it is regularly stated as a question keeps it hooked into his audience’s minds and hearts.

2. He uses the unexpected

Several of his statements stand out for me but there are others. The first that aroused my attention was the one about how everything he learned at school in his field was wrong. The second was about the map. Normally when we see a blank space on a map we assume it is just an area of similar topography. A space like that on a map of the sea is blank because it is not mapped. Life under the sea exists in ways no life should. Water is upside down. Volcanoes work in ways volcanoes shouldn’t. He sets his audience up and hits them regularly with the unexpected and each point made that way hits strongly.

3. He uses images.

There are 57 image slides in this presentation with no words. There is no conflict in his audience’s minds between spoken and written words. The images reinforce what he is saying and his audience is more likely to remember a point made and supported by an image than one that is only made verbally. I can still see in my mind’s eye the little girl with her mouth open in amazement.

4. Humour

He’s not exactly a humorous speaker, nor a comedian, but he uses subtle humour, and again often the unexpected. There is self effacing humour, and his use of the name Easter Bunny, the statement “I would not let an adult drive a robot. He doesn’t have the gaming experience.” just three examples. And the audience laughs. But they laugh and they are acknowledging the humour but they are also being drawn to the point he is making at the time. The humour simply highlights it.

5. Clever use of Pause

Robert uses pause to highlight a particular point and his uses it powerfully, interspersing it between questions and single words.

He also uses pause as an antidote to a long session of fast-paced narrative. And that is powerful too.

6. Repetition

He repeated the main message. He repeated his main points. He repeated his humorous “Easter Bunny” statement. And it wasn’t saying the same thing over again. It was calling back to it, later in the speech. It’s a powerful technique, puts the segment just completed, monotonous though it may be, into perspective and creates support for the point he is making, or the idea he has introduced.

7. Passion

This man believes in what he is doing.

He is excited by it.

He is passionate about the possibilities it offers and about creating excitement in his audience and in the world, about his project.

And it shows, when he allows it, in his use of pause, in his enthusiasm, and in his energy.

These are not rhetorical devices he just inserted into his speech. They are the result of his enthusiasm and dedication and excitement.

He left the best for last when he talked about being able to ignite that same enthusiasm and excitement in middle-schoolers, when he talked about “creating the classroom of the future” and how you “win or lose a scientist by 8th grade”.

This is what we want.  This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game.  She's watching exploration thousands of miles away and it's just dawning on her what she is seeing.  And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind ...

This is what we want. This is a young lady not watching a football game, not watching a basketball game. She’s watching exploration thousands of miles away and it’s just dawning on her what she is seeing. And when you get a jaw dropping, you can inform, you can put so much information into that mind …

And he had a standing ovation.

Monotonous, maybe, boring no!

There’s more to humour than just making people laugh


Everyone admires a good comedian.

They groan loudly at someone they think is a bad comedian.

Most speakers either harness humour or wish they could.

We love to laugh and we love the sound of laughter.

But there’s more to it than that.

Behind these thoughts and opinions about humour and laughter, is the understanding that we like people who make us smile.

We are more likely to love people who make us laugh.

What does this mean to you as a speaker – having an audience like you?

What if you have a heavy message – something that has to be said, but has the potential to be weighty? Humour will lighten it.

What happens if you are presenting an idea that is new to the audience, an idea that maybe they find objectionable, if you have to persuade them? Introduce humour, have the audience liking that experience and maybe liking you, relaxing a little, and you have made it a little easier to bring in that new idea.

Behind this phenomenon of liking someone who makes us smile is also then, the ability for us as speakers, to reinforce our credibility. It allows us to answer the questions usually present in every audience member’s mind – who is this person? Why should I listen? Use humour to acknowledge those questions … and answer them. Create a smile and you have opened a door to friendship. Share some self-effacing humour and you introduce authenticity, and the possibility that you are maybe, just maybe, not going to be a boring presenter.

You have grabbed attention and engagement.

When it comes to engaging a specific audience, there are many techniques you can use. Refer to the location if you can. Refer to the local sports team, a local iconic building, or to a national characteristic that they are happy to laugh at. Research or meet the audience. Is there someone whom everyone knows, who is in the audience and who would not mind having an idiosyncrasy used humorously?

Not only does this create engagement between us as speakers and our audiences, it also creates a bond between members of the audience. They are in this experience together. And if there is one thing successful speakers do every time they speak, it is to create an experience. This is all the more powerful if it is felt to be shared.

And this makes event organisers heave a sigh of relief. “That speaker was worth hiring, did you hear the audience laughing?”

Event organisers will remember you (and re-hire you).

That audience will remember as well. Humour makes your points more memorable. They will remember and repeat – you and your message.

Finally, a little personal support, (and as speakers we need that at times!).. humour allows us to deal with disasters. Create a laugh to share with your audience about something that has gone wrong, and any anxiety and awkwardness is dissipated.

So while it may seem that a speaker has just thrown a joke or two into their speech to lighten things up, in reality, what they were doing was guaranteeing their success – creating an experience, creating engagement, easing the process of persuasion and ensuring future gigs. Not bad for a joke or two, and certainly worth the investment.

Brilliant speech by Tim Minchin to the students at the Uni of Western Australia

Tim Minchin, the former UWA arts student described as “sublimely talented, witty, smart and unabashedly offensive” in a musical career that has taken the world by storm, is awarded an honorary doctorate by The University of Western Australia.


He speaks our language!!

I just loved this presentation, this speech – not just his style, but his content, based around our culture and our language – so wise and so hilarious.

Persuasion/inspiration/information/entertainment at its best!

[Public Speaking quotation] Once you get people laughing

Quote about laughter from Herbert Gardner

Public speaking quotation – True humour

True humor is fun – it does not put down, kid, or mock. It makes people feel wonderful, not separate, different, and cut off. True humor has beneath it the understanding that we are all in this together.

-Hugh Prather

You’re not a natural comedian? That’s fine …. here’s how to find humour to use in your presentations

Most audiences will respond to humour. You don’t need to be a comedian, or even a humorous speaker, if it is not your style. You can still use humour to engage with an audience and have them be comfortable with you and your presentation.

“But I’m just not funny and I’m hopeless at telling jokes” Yes, I know – me too. So where do we find humour to use in our speeches? There are three main places to find humour. They are readily available to you, and they are used by all successful speakers and comedians. Those places are life, jokes and situations. Let’s look at how to extract the humour from them.

The first place to find humour is to look around you – look at your life – look at everything within it. Look at the conversations that make people laugh. Use them. Or look at what worked to make people laugh and use that. When you find yourself laughing or even smiling, look at why. What made you smile? Yes, I know you have your own sense of humour, but it is your own sense of humour that will make the humour in your presentations authentic, strong and personal. Select from that, what you think will appeal to your audience and what will best support your points.

Seek out humour. Look at the internet – not to copy jokes (we’ll look at that in a minute) but, again to see what makes you laugh. What makes other people laugh? Go to the library. Look into magazines and ezines. Read humorous writers, go to comedy clubs, listen and watch radio and television. What works and what doesn’t and why? When you find out what works and what doesn’t and why, then you can go back to your own life and watch for those same things, what works, what doesn’t and why – those same conversations, those same situations. See the humour and how that humour can be used in your presentations.

When they are situations and conversations and events that have happened to you or around you or to those around you, they have so much more impact. They have all the added benefits that storytelling brings to a speech. They are authentic and not some joke that you are repeating and trying to twist to suit your point. And they are certainly not a joke that your audience has heard before.

Another source of humour is our own speaking experience. You will discover, as you speak, what people find humorous about you and your style. Sometimes you may make an aside or a throw away remark that was not intended to be humorous, but that makes people laugh. You may make a point using exaggerated body language and people laugh. You might create a situation with the audience or the stage that creates a laugh. Note it well, and use it again. Next time it will be deliberate, certainly, but you can make it look spontaneous if need be. If it works, keep it!

Other people’s jokes are a very dangerous source of material for your humour. Part of the danger lies in the way people use jokes. Some speakers, desperate to be humorous, plan to simply tell jokes to get a laugh, relax their audience and create engagement. If it is not your joke, you risk it falling flat. If it is just a joke on its own, you increase the risk because everything is riding on that joke being funny, you telling it well, the audience being in the mood for that sort of humour – all sorts of pitfalls. If, on the other hand, you choose to use the joke as a support for a point you are making, then you decrease the chances of failure. If worst comes to worst and your audience does not respond, you can just carry on as if it were a story and not necessarily a funny joke. If it succeeds then you have got double value from the joke in creating a memorable tag for the point you were making. You can find jokes in all of the places I mentioned above – the internet, the library, magazines, other comedians and so on. You can use quotations and crazy predictions. You can search in the area of the subject of your presentation or in the expertise of your audience. Just be very careful that the joke suits you audience and the occasion, that it suits your style and your sense of humour and that it suits the point you are trying to make.

The final source of humour is one that works really well. I will call it situational humour. Find humour in the situation you find yourself in, for this speech. You can use geographical humour – compare your home country with this country. Tell the story of something funny that happened here on this occasion, or on another occasion. Use the organisation or the people in the audience or the event. Research the history of the organisation and its culture. Find (appropriate) humour in that. Find humour in your relationship with someone in the audience – something funny that has happened or that the person said had happened. Turn someone’s idiosyncrasies into humour if t can be done respectfully. Use current events – in the world, the country, this town or this audience. All of these are particularly useful in your opening segments that will help relax the audience and to make build engagement with them.

If you don’t want your humour to fall flat, get to know your audience

Think about your favourite speaker, or perhaps about a speaker you admire hugely. Chances are they use humour. Humour is certainly one of the elements of success as a speaker. Many successful speakers use it. That does not mean, however, that we should all use humour in every speech we give. It may not be our personal speaking style, and it needs far more skill and finesse than just throwing some good jokes into our speeches.

What may be a “good” joke on one occasion may be an absolute insult on another. And that will depend largely on the audience. Before you speak at any occasion, you need to know about that audience so that you do not insult them. Research their interests, their political persuasion, beliefs, this customs and their history. If you want to avoid insulting your audience be very aware of their culture.

Robert Orven said “I’m beyond being shocked – but I’m not beyond being offended.” Questionable humour may suit one audience but not another. So be very sure of your audience when you choose your humour. Be sure you are aware of your audience’s mores and beliefs and their humour buttons.

While you are researching your audience you are also gathering material that you can use to create humour. Imagine being able to share a joke with your audience about the event or the venue – something that they find humorous or ironic about their situation. It will be powerful because they are already open to the humour in that situation. Perhaps there is someone within the group who is already using humour in some way and you can call back to that and share in it. Maybe there is someone who has a particular character trait that they are used to being ribbed about. Be careful! If you can turn the humour against yourself because you share that same character trait it will be so much better.

So research your audience to mine possible situational humour. Find out their favourite sports teams, their home town, well-known people within the group and its history. You can send a pre-presentation survey or questionnaire. You can interview the program coordinator or event organiser or the person who invited you to speak. Read the organisation’s own publications and those of their particular area of involvement in the world or their profession. Talk to people who have been members of the group for a long time. Gather the stories. What are their idiosyncrasies? Find out what they think is funny. Uncover any running gags. There you have a source for humour customised and tailored to work for this group.

And that means you don’t need to bring in generic jokes that someone else has written, unless you re-write them to suit the situation. Being able to relate your humour to the people in your audience is a powerful way to connect with them and to take them on the journey of your presentation.

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© Bronwyn Ritchie … If you want to include this article in your publication, please do, but please include the following information with it:
Bronwyn Ritchie is a professional librarian, writer, award-winning speaker and trainer. She is a certified corporate trainer and speech contest judge with POWERtalk, a certified World Class Speaking coach, and has had 30 years’ experience speaking to audiences and training in public speaking. In just 6 months time, you could be well on the way to being admired, rehired as a speaker, confident and sucessful, with the 30 speaking tips. Click here for 30 speaking tips for FREE. Join now or go to http://www.30speakingtips.com