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How to use humor in public speech

Whoever has watched Croatian politicians and those who just want to become MP during parliamentary elections in recent weeks has witnessed more than masochistic performances. Apart from exceptions, there were insults, fierce quarrels and attacks, unargued statements, unrealistic promises, lies and bad humor.

Some people were completely unprepared to appear in front of the media unsuccessfully trying to squeeze out a few logical sentences. The result was a catastrophe. Their competencies, knowledge and previous experience were questionable because they were not able to speak in a structured way in front of people for just seven minutes.

A small book could be written about how humor was used in this campaign. It was most often used to attack an opponent and to ridicule dissidents.

On the use of humor as an effective rhetorical strategy, perhaps the best advice in my opinion was given by  prof. Patrick Henry Winston, a legendary professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

According to him, never start a speech with a joke, because people are unprepared for it at the beginning of your speech. There are several reasons why this is the case – the audience is still trying to settle comfortably; the participants are turning off or turning off their smartphones etc. And the most important reason among all is that the audience is still not used to your voice. If you tell a joke at the beginning and half of the participants do not hear it, you will find yourself in trouble at the beginning of the speech, nervousness may increase, and self-confidence may plummet.

He therefore recommends that you start with a promise about what you will give to the audience through your speech and what is new that they can find out and did not know when they entered the auditorium. Finishing a public speech with a joke is totally ok, because as American speakers say, the audience then gets the impression that they were having fun all the time!