Humor can be a delight in public speaking. A good joke well-timed instantly makes the speaker seem more connected to the audience. At its best, humor allows us to transcend the ordinary and connects us more deeply to others.
Humor is tricky though because not all humor is benign. Some jokes depend on targeting other humans to get to the punchline. Those jokes can often get laughter but can leave one feeling distrustful of the speaker. If they speak that way of others, perhaps they would speak that of us. I think any jokes which target a human, even if you are casting yourself as a punchline should probably be avoiding. While an audience can appreciate a little self-depreciation, this can easily negatively impact your authority. This is especially true for women, who are contending with stereotypes on a larger scale.
So what can you do be add humor to your speaking? You can practice it. When you hear jokes you find funny, write them down and practice delivering those jokes. Try to find the gap between what you found funny and how you deliver humor. Play with constructing a joke. A good joke needs a setup that the audience can imagine, some incongruity (the real against the funny), and some resolution that resolves that incongruity. That is a little technical but luckily, we know it when we see it.
If you really struggle with humor, maybe you should try an improv class. Improv is a great way to experiment with incongruity, being in the moment, and thinking on your feet. All things that will make you a better speaker in the end, even if you never crack a joke.
Gina Razón is the principal voice specialist at GROW Voice LLC, a full-service voice and speech studio in Boston’s Back Bay. She has over 16 years of experience both as a teacher of voice and speech, and a voraciously curious voice user. Gina has worked professionally as a classical singer for over a decade and more recently as a professional public speaker. For more information on the studio or to book Gina visit www.growvoice.com.