Humorous Speech – What Makes It funny?

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Ron Fredericks writes: Well it’s that time of year again at Toastmasters International – the annual Humorous Speech Contest for clubs and their local areas.

Read the rules for detail on the format of this type of meeting: rules (as PDF document)

Two key points from the Toastmasters rules for humorous speech contest:

  • Speech should be from 5 to 7 minutes long
  • A humorous speech is not usually a funny speech with jokes, it’s more likely to be a serious speech told in a humorous manner.

But for those of us that find telling jokes or contemplate what is funny – this next section may help.

Helpful tips for adding humor to your next speech

Timing is one of the most important aspects. Here is one article on how to master the art of humor with effective timing along with some examples from famous comedians:

I recently found a list of ten familiar circumstances that produce laughter, taken from “The Film Director”, 2nd edition, by Richard L. Bare. Many of these points would have to be modified to be suitable for a Toastmasters club meeting, but the categories are useful as a reminder to me all the same:

  1. Any breach of the usual order of events, such as eating with chopsticks when one is accustomed to forks.
  2. Any forbidden breach of the usual order, such as belching in public.
  3. Any indecency, such as a man caught outside his house in his underwear.
  4. Any importing into one situation that which belongs in another, such as a drunk at a funeral service.
  5. Anything masquerading as something it is not, such as two people in a horse costume.
  6. Plays on words, such as puns, spoonerisms, etc.
  7. Nonsense, such as television’s 3rd Rock From the Sun.
  8. Minor misfortunes, such as a man who slips on a banana peel.
  9. Any incompetence, such as the paperhanger who gets tangled up in his paper.
  10. Veiled insults (Wife: “To you, marriage is just a word.” Husband: “It’s more than a word; it’s a sentence.”)

My experience in last year’s humorous speech contest

On September 30’th, 2008, I was the candidate from Blue Cube Toastmasters representing us at our area’s humorous speech contest using my prepared speech notes below. During the speech I outlined my how my experience with whales taught me to be a better project planner:

How whales have improved my understanding of project planning – humorous speech notes from Ron Fredericks area contest  2008

1) Speed is important: I overheard a girl at the Monterey Aquarium ask her dad what the gooey stuff between the killer whale’s teeth was? Another guy in the crowd told her “That gooey stuff was the slowest swimmer”. Project planning is an effort to rally a team to deliver a new or updated product within a certain amount of time. Speed is the essence around this effort.

2) Honesty leads to better results: My grandfather moved to the Bay Area and was easily taken advantage of by some vendors in this community. His worst purchase was a life insurance policy at 80 years old from a horrible little outfit. Afterwards, he was hit by a falling wooden whale hanging over a fish restaurant entrance in a freak accident. He filed an insurance claim stating he was “hit by a falling whale” – in Sunnyvale!  In turns out being hit by falling whales, was the only claim with a payout from that  insurance company. Project planning is an effort built on communication between management and technical expert stakeholders. Removal of time line padding from project estimates allows future project time estimates to be improved from experience gathered as current time line estimates run their course. Tracking actual earned value during the course of a project allows the project manager to schedule meetings between stakeholders to resolve time and budget deviations at the earliest possible moment.   Honesty combined with speed is the essence around this effort.

3) Do your research before executing your plan: I discussed the famous exploding whale incident on a beach in Oregon back in 1970. The park ranger decided to remove the carcass of a dead 8 ton 45 ft long beached whale with 1/2 ton of dynamite on the advice of the local military training center. The explosion spread blubber bits on everyone in the large crowd of spectators held back 1/4 mile for their own protection in a parking lot, with several cars completely crushed by the larger pieces. Half the whale was still on the beach too.  It was later realized that most communities tow their dead whales out to sea as a low impact environmentally friendly solution. No engineering project need be planned in a vacuum. Research the outcome and lessons learned from previous similar projects before launching a new project. Research combined with honesty and speed is the essence around this effort.

No, I didn’t win the humorous speech contest. I went over the time limit by 3 seconds – 3 important seconds past the disqualification mark. But I had a significant public speaking and leadership learning experience:

  • Walking up to give my speech while worrying if I could be humorous on demand in front of such a large audience,
  • Working with my club and our area before the event, and
  • Participating in the event itself.

I recommend you try out for the Toastmasters Humorous Speech and Evaluation contest in your local area too – even if you are a relatively new member. Perhaps you too will find new public speaking and leadership skills as the event unfolds.






8 responses to “Humorous Speech – What Makes It funny?”

  1. ronf Avatar

    For those not familiar with the exploding whale news story – here is one video source where you can watch the original news coverage

  2. Public Speaking Courses Avatar

    I am lucky enough to have a past District Champ of the humerous competition in my club. Here are some of the points I have picked up from observing him.

    1. Avoid telling a ‘funny story’. Invariably, ‘funny stories’ are just not funny. Rather, pick a ‘normal topic’ (eg, being a parent, being an employee) and describe the humerous sides to that. What are they? Well they are usually the parts that you complain about.

    2. Don’t give a speech based soley on self-depricating humour. No one wants to spend 5-7 miutes listening to you put yourself down.

    3. Research how humour works. There is a formula that you can follow to develop humerous lines. Learn and apply the formula.

    All the best.


    Darren Fleming
    Australia’s Public Speaking Coach

  3. ronf Avatar

    Thanks for your comment Darren.

    I will be “down under” in November for my first trip to Australia. Maybe I could drop by if you timing is right for each of us?

    Best regards,

    LectureMaker founder and VP o M for Blue Cube Toastmasters.

  4. Olivia Miller Avatar

    i remember when i was still in high school, i always fear public speaking engagments.’:-

  5. Samuel Hernandez Avatar

    i am always afraid of public speaking during my high school years, it gave me nervous breakdown.“:

  6. Detox Diet  Avatar

    i am also afraid to stand in front of the crowd and public speaking really cracks me up”*.

  7. PA Amplifier Avatar

    i think that everyone have a fear of public speaking in one way or another ;:,

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