How to Deliver Your Funny Speech
Note: In November, after working my way from being about as hilarious as a bundle of spinach to making it to the finals of Toastmasters humorous speech contest, I shared what I learned about how to write a funny speech. This is the second part of the series.
Have you ever listened to a speaker tell joke after joke and… the crowd is completely silent? There may be nothing more uncomfortable — unless, of course, you are that speaker.
Perhaps you’ve spent weeks crafting your funny speech. You’ve packed it with solid jokes, incorporating tactics such as benign violations, reversed expectations, and tagging. You’ve read through it dozens of times, and it’s hilarious. However, this isn’t even half the battle.
Delivery is important in any type of presentation, but in humorous speeches, it’s critical. You can have the most well-crafted content in the world, but if you don’t know how to deliver it, you’re going to bomb. You don’t want that. I don’t want that. The people sitting in the chairs who’ve battled traffic to be there and have a million other things they could be doing at the very moment — they don’t want that, either.
Fortunately, there are strategies you can use to do your material justice, as I’ve learned from analyzing dozens of comedians, from Stephen Colbert to Ali Wong. Here’s how to make your jokes land — and get the laughs they deserve.
Pause before the punchline (sometimes)
When you first start giving funny speeches, you might tell one joke after another, without thinking much about how the audience is processing what you’re saying. This is a mistake. To be surprised by a punchline, people need to have made a prediction — and formed an opinion — about what’s coming next. And in order to do that, you need to give them time.
In comedy, a “pregnant pause” is the short lull of silence just before the punchline — stand-up comedians use them in their sets constantly. An example from Pete Holmes, performing on Conan: