If you think you lack the ability to tell a funny story, I am here to tell you it is not as difficult as you might
believe. I have been in Toastmasters for 15 months and recently won two trophies in a Humorous Speech contest. Here are
the ideas I embraced to make a humorous story out of catching a mouse.
- Topic: You can discuss practically anything, from finding rattlesnakes to ordinary experiences. My simple speech
was about catching a mouse. An 83-year old Toastmaster told us how and why she “showed her goods” to a funny-looking
antique dealer. The winner explained the wrinkles on her neck. All of those topics are fairly simple real-life
situations, and they all got lots of laughs. I bet you have countless experiences just like them.
- Writer’s Liberty: Your humorous speech can be a complete fantasy. One fellow at our contest recited a poem about
all of the things that went wrong at his ice-breaker speech. In the end, it was just a dream. My own speech was
spiced up by referring to my adversary as Mighty Mouse. Naturally, everybody knew that I didn’t really meet Mighty
Mouse, but my fib lent a personality to the real mouse and depth to the story. Therefore, feel free to let the
- Animation: A humorous speech begs for exaggerated facial expressions and wild gestures. At our contest, the
audience was laughing out loud as the lady with the wrinkled neck stretched her face into all sorts of funny positions.
In my case, a mouse gave me the “HEEBIE JEEBIES”. Can you imagine how I illustrated that? Your humorous speeches will
be much more effective when you replace the restraints of adulthood with the wonderful whims of the child inside you.
- Characters: When a speaker verbally “Creates Characters”, rather than merely “talks about” somebody, the audience
members form their own mental pictures of the characters and inject those images into the speech. In my speech, there
were five different personalities and each one was assigned a different voice. All of that variety provided the
antithesis to a monotone and brought the characters to life. In addition to distinct voices, one should enhance
characters with colorful descriptions. For instance, if you are talking about a best friend who is a scatter-brain, give
the audience an example of how that led to a funny experience. Another trick is to exaggerate their features. How could
you illustrate a fat barber? Employ these techniques to make up wacky characters and they will do most of the hard work
- Pace: Most speakers understand changing the volume and pitch once in a while, but they rarely modify their pace. As
the speech unfolds watch for great opportunities to speed up or slow down…or even stop. When I was talking about the mouse
running around in a cabinet, I spoke as quickly as I could. When I spoke about the mouse just lying there, dead on the
lawn, I slowed way down. At one point I was moving along very rapidly, then I suddenly slammed on the brakes and paused
for a full seven seconds. As I scanned the listeners, they were all frozen in full-facial smiles as they anxiously waited
for the punch line. Vocal variety will enliven any speech, especially humorous ones; but, don’t forget to vary the pace.
- Finish strong: In a humorous speech, you are granted absolute latitude to move the segments around as you see fit.
Therefore, look for ways to move your best material toward the end of your presentation. You could start out like this:
"You might be curious to discover why I ended up spending the night in a cave with a Siamese cat that I didn’t even
know." By telling the ending first, you have allowed yourself to tell something that happened previously near the end.
If the listeners are still laughing or at least smiling when you conclude your speech, they are left with the impression that
they just couldn’t stop laughing the whole time.
- Courage: Beginning speakers are overly concerned about making mistakes, but at Toastmasters we soon realize if we mess
something up, our fellow Toastmasters simply make constructive recommendations and encourage us to try again. All that
positive reinforcement is just like a verbal hug. What a great way to reward courage.
Naturally, there are many other traditional practices that apply to every speech, including humorous ones; but, humorous
speeches offer extra opportunities for those who grant themselves a license to take risks and act like a kid again. So give it
a try. The worst thing that happens is you get a wonderful verbal hug.