Humour Is a Serious Matter

The Metrics of Humorous Speeches

Humour is a serious matter! Unfortunately, the best way to connect with your audience is… humour. The inconvenient truth is that making people laugh is the safest path to keep the audience with you in a speech. With the risk of a bore out, this means that studying and analysing humour in speeches is a worthwhile and enriching learning experience. In doing so, you will discover your own style of humour that will help you to convey your message, be more memorable and sell your idea! If you don’t want that, start doing something that might cheer you up 😉

I love and live for sarcasm and irony. And I know only 20% of an audience can appreciate that. How would I know? I have been studying humorous speeches for three years now. But I also learnt that every speaker – yes, even you! – can be funny! And funny here means: making people laugh, regardless of culture, sex, religion, language, humour preference, age etc… I personally hate lists of lessons learned, but someone told me that they are a fashionable way to communicate in blog posts. What will they think of next? So, here are the 7 lessons I learned from analysing humorous speeches.


#1: Count the Laughs

The start of my personal learning journey was the article The surprising metric presenters should analyze by Lars Sudmann, DTM. He states that every speaker should check his Laughs Per Minute because humour simply is important. I found this to be a correct thesis.

Darren Lacroix became World Champion of Public Speaking in 2001 with a speech that contained 20 laughs. Surprising? Absolutely! The better humorous speeches at Toastmasters have an average of 30 laughs per speech.

By the way, did you know that this outnumbers the laughs per speech of most stand-up comedians? And they are the professionals! Anyway, counting the laughs of your speech is a basic metric for any speech, because it reflects the audience response!

The author’s notes from the Dutch district contest in Amsterdam. In this case, predicting the winner was quite obvious with 29 laughs for Renaat Toppets and “only” 16 for the runner-up.
The author’s notes from the Dutch district contest in Amsterdam. In this case, predicting the winner was quite obvious, with 29 laughs for Renaat Toppets and “only” 16 for the runner-up.

#2: Strive for Epic Laughs

An epic laugh is an audience response where people are not just laughing, but also applaud and shout their appreciation. As a speaker, that is a super exciting experience. It is the ultimate reward of your efforts, even more than winning any contest! But the effort starts with analysing the audience and thinking of universal issues. Who is the audience? What is something that everybody experienced? What did they just experience together?

A great example is this:

At 5:50, Mark Yoshikawa uses the universal experience of breaking a traffic rule.

#3: Make Fun of Yourself

Be a clown. Allowing people to laugh at you, shows how confident you are. And it is funny. It is the technique that is used the most and makes you look very likeable — even if in real life, you are not 😉 The audience loves it.

This is an excellent example:

Kailey Peng gets 40 laughs and 4 epic laughs in her speech. I love this example because Kaily is a woman — and I am not being sarcastic now – who makes fun of her unmarried status. In my study, women are underrepresented. And that is a shame, since I highly appreciate women… as clowns.

#4: Find a Killer Theme

You will probably appreciate another style of humour than your neighbour. The same goes for subjects, themes or performers. I like women clowns, but that is subordinate to all metrics. If the audience laughs, you have your response.

However, there seem to be clusters of themes. At Toastmasters, we all know the specific Toastmasters rituals. So, in this context, there is that kind of commonality that you might pull a Toastmasters joke or have a complete speech on a Toastmasters subject. In your company or organisation, it is a good bet to fish for epic laughs when you use things only the audience can know. But don’t try this at home 😉

Another theme is what I call “boy meets girl” or vice versa. To be in love or in a relationship: RomCom stereotypes always work. A third theme is national differences. The rigorous German, the Italian lover… Combine the specific accent with lesson #3 and the “boys meets girl” theme, and you will make them laugh. But luckily, there are other fun themes like very personal stories, getting babies and funerals.

#5: Get the Rhythm Right

If you want an audience response of 30 laughs in a 6 minute speech, you will need your first laugh very early, like within the first 20 seconds. It seems a good bet to start getting response from your audience in the opening seconds of your speech. But that is not necessarily true. Take for example Mark Yoshikawa (lesson #2): he only gets his first audience response after 45 seconds, but will make it to 33 laughs and 2 epic laughs. Extraordinary, because he must receive all these laughs in a shorter period. That is the technique of “setting the scene“. However, if the audience doesn’t respond within the first minute, you will not make it to the podium of a humorous speech contest.  You can of course always pray for Namibian fellow contestants who speak Russian with a Scottish accent.

#6: Stick to European English

Stand-up comedy may use explicit, indecent and rude language. Needless to say that is simply inappropriate if you want to connect with a large part of your audience. And if you are not a native speaker, you might not even understand what is being said. On the other hand, being a native English speaker doesn’t give you an advantage. You won’t get more laughs, simply because the audience doesn’t have your knowledge of the language. You need to have simple phrases that make the humor and jokes easy to grasp. However, if you need to speak and think on your feet, like in Table Topics, a native speaker does have an advantage. So, if you can prepare and test your jokes upfront, anyone can entertain an audience — even an Italian!

#7: Warm up Your Audience

In order to get audience response, the audience needs to be ready! This is a tough job, but as a speaker, you need to be aware of your role. Are you warming up the audience, or are you competing or delivering a speech with humour? If you want the attention of an unprepared audience, you will simply have to work harder to get to them. You can let someone do the warming up for you. You can always ask someone to announce you and find a fun way to be introduced. Also, make sure that audience members are close to each other instead of being scattered around the room. And remember: you just need one person who starts laughing to contaminate the room.  And no, don’t bring your mom. Like I said, humour is a serious matter.

About the author
Karl Indigne, ACS, is a member of Toastmasters Gent and Artful Orators. He competed three years in a row in the English Humorous Speaking Contests and analysed over 100 speeches live. Karl likes to predict the winners of humorous speaking contest based on his metrics: number of laughs per speech, number of epic laughs (applause during the speech) and time of the first laugh of the speech. With these simple metrics, he predicted 7 out of 9 speakers on the podiums in the last three district contests of humorous speaking and he had a 100% prediction score of the winners of the table topics contests (which are NOT a humorous speech contests) and thus could have made a lot of money!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close