Using Humor in a Serious Speech

How to Use Humor in a Serious Speech

Many speakers can get laughs with a humorous story. However, what about when you have a serious story? Is it still appropriate to use humor?  The answer is, “Sure, but it shouldn’t feel forced.” It should not feel like the humor came out of left field. It should feel congruent. Below you will find one surefire process for uncovering humor in an organic, congruent way.

Why should you use humor in the midst of a serious story?

You probably already know this but the reason to use humor in the midst of a serious story is for levity. When you take your audience down a heavy road, eventually they will need to breathe. Humor gives them that air to breathe and prepares them for what’s to come.

How can you use humor in the midst of a serious story?

There is one tool I like to use several times per speech that gets a laugh in the middle of a serious story. In order to figure out what that tool is, listen to the following excerpts from two different serious stories. See if you can figure out what these excerpts have in common.


Time: 64 seconds


Time: 103 seconds

Welcome back. Are you ready for the process? Great. It’s simple.

If you’ve followed me, you know that a great way to uncover humor in a speech is through character dialogue. Well, here’s the key to finding humor in a serious speech.

Have another character (a character that is not you)
give the funny line of dialogue?

For example, Scott said, “I don’t know, I don’t read” and the limo driver looked at me as if to say, “Man, I still have to take you back?!” Characters other than me were the ones to say the funny lines.

Why is it important for the line to come from someone else?

It’s important for the line to come from another character because I (my character) am in not in the emotional state to be funny? It would feel forced and incongruent if, in the middle of my suffering, I just all of a sudden popped out and said something funny.

However, the limo driver is not in MY emotional state. He’s not suffering so it makes perfect sense for him to be able to say something funny. Scott was not in my emotional state so it makes perfect sense for him to say something funny. Give the funny lines to your other characters.

Your Turn

Do you have a serious story in which you went through a conflict or some sort of suffering? Was there someone else in the story who said something funny as you went through your situation? Who was it? What did he or she say? Perhaps someone just looked at you in a strange way. What did his or her expression say? Answer these questions and you’re likely to find some humor.

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Craig Valentine, MBA, an award-winning speaker and trainer, has traveled the world helping hundreds of organizations reap the profitable rewards that come from embracing change. As a motivational speaker, he has spoken in the United States, Taiwan, Canada, Jamaica, Qatar (Doha), England, Bahamas, Hong Kong, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Australia giving as many as 160 presentations per year. He is the 1999 World Champion of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International, winning out of more than 25,000 contestants in 14 countries. To learn more about Craig, visit his website at www.CraigValentine.com.

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