A Guide to Humor

Humor is one of the toughest areas of Oratory for any competitor to perfect, but if used well humor can elevate any speech. Humor requires a balance of so many elements that very few actually utilize it to the fullest. On one side, it is very delicate and can be extremely cutting if it is not used with care. On the other, it can be used to push the line--but if crossed it can be devastating. A simple word or aspect of timing can make or break a joke. Humor is something where one cannot be reckless. In order to better understand how to use humor, this article will explain the do’s and don’ts of humor and how they can be best employed. By doing so, more rounds will be won because of humor’s edge above the typical speaker.

The Don’ts of Humor

It is important to note that there are several techniques in which humor should never be implemented. First of all, never forget that Oratory is a professional event. Competitors should have fun and not be afraid to push a few buttons, but remember to have respect for an audience and the event itself. One of the first mistakes orators make in regards to humor involves political jokes. It is not a good idea to make a political joke about any party. Think about it. If joking about the right, there are going to be judges who are registered Republicans. Will they appreciate a snide comment about George Bush or Karl Rove? If teasing the left, how many Democratic judges will approve of stomping on Barack Obama? Competitors who make political jokes risk not only isolating themselves from the judge, but also from other competitors. Even if audiences do agree with the joke, does it matter? In the end, political jokes are not that funny and are a risky endeavor.

Another type of humor that should be avoided is racial humor. Regardless of the predominant race of the local area, racial jokes add tension to a round and are grossly inappropriate for this venue. As a matter of fact, stay away from racial distinctions altogether. It is too easy for even well-meaning comments to be misconstrued as something derogatory. It is just not worth it.

A last type of humor to avoid is that which involves cursing. Oratory is a category of professionalism, and cursing is viewed as unnecessary, colorful, and “bad” language to be used in an intellectual context. Also, because of the social norm of viewing cursing as anti-intellectual, the use of an expletive is almost always seen as a lowering of self. In rare circumstances cursing can be used in a tasteful way when quoted. The selected quote can hold weight and merit if it helps with furthering development of the thesis. But when using unnecessary, gratuitous use of cussing for a laugh, it is deemed “potty” humor. It is not funny, and it is definitely not original. Everyone knows what swearing is, and this is not the chance for a raunchy stand-up comedy routine. Instead, use the speech as an opportunity to catch people off guard and win them over with an understanding of timing--not how many foul-mouthed words that can be crammed into a ten minute speech.

The Do’s of Humor

Although there are numerous types of humor to avoid, there are two tips that should definitely be capitalized on. The first involves the introduction. The introduction is when a speaker makes a first impression. Use this time to grab the audience by making them laugh! The reason for this is that when an orator is able to captivate their audience within the first minute, they control their emotions for the rest of the speech. In other words, bait them in and then persuading them will be much easier. In the introduction, use timing techniques and the element of surprise to get the audience’s interest. This will break down any and all barriers that exist.

The other type of humor that must be utilized in the speech is the art of self-deprecating humor. There are way too many sensitive orators out there who lack the self-esteem to make fun of themselves. Being capable of teasing oneself works for many reasons. First of all, no one can be offended as the target is the deliverer of the joke. Secondly, if done well a speaker will actually look brilliant. The reason for this is that by adding levels of humor, humility, good speaking skills, great writing, etc. a judge can see an orator’s range. Also, humor is yet one more way to connect with an audience. Laughter draws people together. In addition, humor not only builds inner speaker confidence, but it allows the audience to see that an orator has a secure and confident aura surrounding them.

Like any other help guide, these are just a few of the do’s and don’ts concerning humor. The examples above are some of the most underused. Find a style and perfect it. Do not be afraid to grow over time and have the confidence to use personal stories as a form of humor. It will help gain respect and ultimately help with ranking, while progressing throughout the year.