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Weave humor into your speech

Awaken your audience with a good laugh.

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in Leaders & Managers

If you’re planning to give a speech, don’t assume you must open with a joke. If it flops, your confidence will deflate faster than a burst balloon.

Telling a long joke with its inevitable buildup can test listeners’ patience. Unless you’re a comedian, your timing may be off or you may offend.

Stick to safe but satisfying humor. Quick asides or genial quips are less risky and provide an almost certain payoff. Some tips:

Allude to the news. This puts everyone in the know and gives your talk a topical edge.

For example, a manager discussing teamwork at a trade conference after November’s presidential election said, “I ask my team to vote on everything. And I don’t insist on a recount.”

Tell “instant smile” stories. You might assume that if you tell self-deprecating anecdotes, you’ll get the audience to laugh at your expense. Maybe you’re right, but there’s a better way: tell stories about kids, pets or grandparents.

Just the mention of a “wide-eyed six-month-old baby” or a “slobbering sheep dog” puts smiles on listeners’ faces, especially if you describe an action and then a reaction. You might talk about how an infant reacted to hearing your boss’s voice mail or how your dog sat riveted to your TV when your company’s commercial aired. Describing how your “sweet old grandma” navigated your firm’s Web site humanizes your message while reinforcing your point.

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