Toastmasters International

Humour can help make speaking in public easier (Kuki Mendoza)

From Louise Howell, President of 4th Dimension Toastmasters in South Africa:

Humour in speaking[]

Many people labour under the misapprehension that they are not humorous. They are afraid to use humour in their presentations and the thought of entering the humorous speech contest is unthinkable. Edward De Bono describes humour as the classic example of lateral thinking: it is taking any situation and looking at it in a different way.


Humour in the form of jokes is basically comprised of four elements:

Word Play (including puns)[]

Where we use a word or words in a different context to the rest of the story as the punch line: “an angler is a jerk on one end of a line, waiting for a jerk on the other end”


In which the seriousness of the event is made humorous by understating the impact. It is almost as if the person does not fully understand the significance: “saving is easy if your parents did it for you” Sequence of events This is very similar to word play. However, the joke takes us down a particular path and at the end we find we have been actually on a different path to the original concept: “Two old diggers met after ANZAC Day and were reminiscing and trying to outdo each other. Finally the topic turned to women. “Well”, said one old Dig, “How long is it since you made love to a woman?” The other considered carefully. “About 1945”, he replied. “Call that virile?” scoffed the other. “Well”, said the other digger looking at his watch, “it is only 2040 now.”

Gross exaggeration and hyperbole[]

In which a situation is taken to an unbelievable length. I have heard it said that there are realy only about 10 jokes in the world and that humour is the classic case of recycling.

Personal anecdotes and actual events[]

Like jokes, personal anecdotes are also portable and can be used to fit many situations. What happened to someone else at a wedding can be transferred to fit a situation that happened to you at a party.

Choose your topic[]

See section Choose a topic for more ideas. Go through your library of joke and quote books. Try to get about 25 to 30 jokes, anecdotes or one-liners before you write your speech. This will be reduced to the best and most appropriate 6 or 7, but one needs as much material as possible to begin with. Write down as many situations relating to the topic as possible.


What follows below is an example of what someone used with a “Toastmaster meeting” as topic:

  • He thought CTM stands for “CAN TALK MONOTONOUSLY”
  • What the speech lacked in interest, it gained in length
  • The evaluator gave the speech more of super enzyme power bleach than a whitewash
  • The speech was a success, but the audience was a disaster
  • The toastmaster who always went overtime in speeches joined a self-help group called “On and one Anon”
  • The new member soon discovered that an Icebreaker was not a ship sailing in polar regions.

GIVE YOUR IMAGINATIONS WINGS! (And some Red Bull if needed) J All the best in your prep for your next speech. 4th Dimension greetings!

Adapting Jokes to Make Them Personal

So perhaps you think that you are not creative or a good joke teller. Or you don't want to rattle off a string of one-liners. There is another approach to humor that you might find useful.

This approach involves taking a funny joke or a short funny story that you can personally relate to and modifying it so that it becomes a joke or story about you. You fill in the story with details that are partially about you and partially a stretch of the truth. If your audience knows you quite well, they may fall for the trap as you mix truth and fiction.

The best example that I can give was a joke about an Air Force photographer that was commanded by the base commander to go photograph the crash site of a airplane crash that had only just happened. The photographer put on his flight suit and rushed out to a waiting helicopter and told the pilot to take off and head for the smoke. About halfway to the crash site the photographer starts telling the pilot about himself and describing their mission together. To which the pilot replies, "So you are not my flight instructor?"

Well it just so happens that I meet my wife at an Army Base, where she was a civilian photographer. I could easily relate to that particular joke. I retold the joke giving the audience information about how I met my wife. I described what work I was doing, what kind of work she was doing, where we meet, and other interesting details about working for an Army Flight Test facility. After setting the scene I launched into the joke by putting my wife in the role as the aerial photographer.

By telling the audience some truthful information about myself and providing descriptive details so the audience could visualize the environment I was able to enhance the original joke. The joke in its new form took several minutes to tell and the audience never saw what was coming. It got a big laugh and it did not take any hard work on my part because 90 percent of material for telling the whole story was from my own experiences.

I recommend that you look for a joke that you can adapt to fit an experience in your life and tell the joke as if it actually happened to you or someone you know. It's also a much safer way to tell a joke if the "butt of the joke" is yourself and or someone you have received permission from. Unlike the one-liners shown above, self deprecating jokes are less like to offend or hurt someone.

- Gribbly Snard