How to Incorporate Humor In Your Speech: Use Appropriate Tones (Part 2)
In part one of this article, you learned about using humor to make your speeches more engaging. But your humor won’t work without good delivery. Not the pizza delivery you snack on while writing your speech, but rather, the way you present your speech (hopefully not in a cardboard box!). Much like tasty pineapple and banana toppings on a pizza, your delivery style can improve the audience’s experience of your speech.
When it comes to the delivery style, one of the most crucial elements you can play with and adjust during your speech is your tone. By “tone,” what we really mean is the feeling that’s conveyed by both the sound of your voice and the words you use. There’s a huge range of tones you can show during a speech and it would be boring if you only show one feeling. You want to take your audience on an emotional journey, and you can do this by varying your tone.
The most important rule is that your tone should match the content. A fun tone is more appropriate for a relatable and lighthearted hook. If you make a joke or tell a personal story, you might have a casual tone, like if you were talking with friends. A shocking tone is good for emphasizing a problem or introducing evidence. A somber, or even angry, tone will usually be necessary if you show a reason why something happened and an impact. The words would be more formal. When you want to inspire your audience to take action on something or to change how they view their world, you want your tone to be filled with energy and show hope.
When you’re using humor, it’s important to transition your tone between the serious parts and the funny parts, so the contrast doesn’t feel too jarring. Timing is everything. Otherwise, the experience will be ruined because they either won’t laugh at your joke, or they’ll think you’re not taking your topic seriously and won’t care about it. Or both. For example, it’d be a bad idea to talk about a tragedy and then follow that with a joke. The tone would be wrong. Also, bear in mind that jokes on sensitive issues might not be a good idea as they can end up offending your audience. Avoid jokes about sensitive issues, including race, religion, people’s traumatic experiences, or about certain identity groups. Good ways to avoid making such a mistake is to know your audience and try to think about the joke from their perspective, or to ask yourself whether you could tell this joke to your mom. If you have any doubt, change or remove the joke. You must achieve the right tone.
Since your goal is not only to communicate information but also to entertain, you should avoid strict, and often dry, essay language, and have some fun being
creative with your words. For example, you can use hooks not only to start your speech, but to introduce new points. Rather than just saying, “My next point will be about the social nature of guinea pigs,” say, “Did you know that in Switzerland it’s illegal to own just one guinea pig? Guinea pigs are such social animals that they’re considered victims of abuse if they’re left alone.” This is much more entertaining.
Now what about a shocking tone? Let’s say you’re giving a speech about cyber-bullying. You could start one of your arguments like this: “A study recently found that 95% of people type things that otherwise they would never say in person. This basically means that most of our conversations online would never happen in person”. In debate, you should usually explain your claim and reasoning before any evidence. However, in some speeches, you can flip the order and start with shocking evidence because this makes the audience more curious about the issue.
To add drama and emphasize impact, you can also vary the length of your sentences. For instance, instead of saying “please remember that recycling regularly will improve the condition of the ozone layer and allow us to have better living conditions on Earth,” you can say: “When we recycle, we heal the planet. We save lives.”
One final tip. In public speaking and debate, it’s common to use the pronouns “we” and “us” instead of “I” and “you” to help the audience feel more connected; more together – and therefore more invested in your message.
So, let’s recap. Next time you start writing a speech, try to incorporate some kind of appropriate humor. Make sure you know your audience, and then you can craft your message and plan how to match your tone to support it. Transition between serious and funny, and keep your audience entertained with hooks (which can include shocking evidence), and by speaking about “we” and “us,” and by varying the length of your sentences.
Now you’re ready to face up to the challenge – please, never face down!