Making Them Laugh

Making Them Laugh


Humour is often the best tool that a speaker can use to get attention, establish rapport and relieve tension.

Here are a few tips on how and when to be funny.

A farmer hitches a mule to a wagon load of lumber and orders a new hired hand to get the load to the top of the hill. The hired hand climbs on to the wagon, flicks the reigns and commands the mule to “Get Up.” The mule doesn’t budge! The man gets off the wagon and tries to drag the animal onto its feet. The mule just lies there! The farmer finds a sturdy plank and whacks the mule on his rump. Immediately the mule gets up and starts to move up the hill. The bewildered new hire gapes questioningly at his boss, the farmer explains good naturedly, “First you got to get their attention!”

Just as the farmer, a good speaker, has to use a technique to capture the interest of the audience before starting a speech. Please just remember, if you decide to start with a joke, make sure it ties in with your message or else your audience will spend the next few minutes wondering what that anecdote had to do with the message.

How well a pertinent story or a well-turned phrase works depends on the speaker’s sense of humour, knowledge of the audience, and the ability to communicate. A speaker I heard recently had to respond to a governing body when a member of the council asked two questions concerning sensitive issues. The speaker paused, smiled and said “I’m so pleased you started with the easy questions first.” This diffused what was a tense moment, and things moved forward amicably.

What is humour really – What makes people laugh?

The dictionary states that laughter is the ability to appreciate or express what is funny, amusing or ludicrous. It’s the tension released when the punch-line is given, when we see ourselves in a similar situation, the ability to think funny and to deliver a story that causes pleasure and enjoyment, even if you have heard the story before.

It can be a subtle one-liner that a Vaudeville comedian used many years ago when he said “Take my wife (Pause) Please! ´ A pun or a spoonerism is usually quick and like salt on a baked potato, makes the talk more “tasty” or palatable. For example, I was once asked to propose a toast to the State President. I got up and said “Please join me in drinking a taste to the Toast President.” Well the audience thought it was funny which reminds us that people will laugh at us and with us. A dichotomy of sorts.

Laugh lines

Sudden incongruity presents itself in all types of humour. Wilson Mizmer quipped, “To my embarrassment I was born in bed with a lady.” Or a play on words from John Barrymore, “If it isn’t the sheriff, it’s the finance company, I’ve got more attachments on me than a vacuum cleaner.” Use exaggeration, If I don’t buy some electricity, we will have to watch TV by candle light. Understatement, as when Winston Churchill said “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up again and hurry off as if nothing happened.”

Warming-up the audience  

Using humour at the start of a speech allows you to ascertain the mood of your audience, how you start also sets a tone for what has to follow. Most important is that you keep your humour clean, please don’t embarrass them with smutty stories, stay away from sexist, political or religious anecdotes unless you know your audience so well that you can include such a story that they will enjoy. I once heard a speaker in Dallas who spoke about the terrible draught they had, he then went on to explain how the various religious groups used different ways to save water when they baptised their people, after having fun at the expense of the main-line churches he asked to be forgiven if he had not mentioned your particular faith and that it was not intentional. But then again, he was a professional and the people took it in good spirit.

And then, what happens when you tell a story that you felt was highly amusing and no one laughs?  The answer? If they want to be serious then pretend you too were serious, just continue speaking. Please don’t ask them to all stand so you can repeat your story and it won’t go over their heads, which is what one speaker did, well maybe some people appreciate corny tricks from a speaker.

In summary, remember laughter is the best medicine, have fun with your audience, tell humorous stories that illustrate your points and they will remember your message. A rookie speaker once asked a professional speaker, “Must I use humour in my talks?” He responded “Only if you want to get paid.”

A sense of humour allows you to overlook the unattractive, tolerate the unpleasant, cope with the unexpected and smile through the unbearable.

I once accused my brother-in-law of not having a sense of humour and he said, “What do you mean, no sense of humour, I married your sister didn’t I?


Have fun and let’s all laugh a little more.


Think and Grow Wealthy Healthy and Wise



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