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Chapter Eleven. Get Personal > Some do's and don'ts

Some do's and don'ts

Here are some suggestions about the use of humor in speeches:

  • Never repeat a punch line. The mark of a clumsy joke teller is repetition of the punch line. It's like saying, ''I want to be sure you dumbbells got it, so I'm going to repeat it.''

  • When you use a laugh line, don't pause and wait for the audience to start laughing. That's begging. Instead, go right on. After the laughter starts—if it does—pause until it subsides.

  • Don't get flustered if your humor bombs. Professional comics have their own ways to recover after a joke falls flat. Unless you're a professional, you're better off to go on and ignore the bomb.

  • Never ad lib a joke. Don't tell one unless you have rehearsed it enough to have the pacing, timing, and punch line down pat. The success of a joke depends on timing, which is just as much a part of the telling as are the words. It's a good idea to try out your joke on two or three people who won't be in the audience.

  • Don't make your joke too complex. Or too long. You want the audience to understand it easily, and you don't want them to doze off before you get to the punch line.

  • If you tell a joke, make sure it ties in with your topic. Resist the temptation to tell a joke for the sake of the joke. If you're just bursting to tell a joke you've heard, but you can't find a way to tie it in to your subject, save it for the right occasion.

  • Humor can be slightly irreverent, but it should never be vicious. Although the ''silver foot'' remark by Governor Richards about President Bush was both irreverent and biting, it could by no means be considered vicious. Will Rogers once said, ''I ain't got it in for nobody. I don't like to make jokes that hurt anybody.'' Good rule to follow.

  • Never use ethnic humor. There was a time when good-natured ethnic banter was acceptable. It still is to some people, but in these times of hypersensitivity, you're best advised to stay away from that kind of humor. Even in ''roasts,'' which are supposed to be affairs in which anything goes, speakers have come to grief for using ethnic terms.

    The same is true of humor based on religion, gender, physical disability, obesity, appearance, sexual orientation, and any number of other human characteristics. A joke about a blind person might be acceptable if the person telling it is blind. The same joke by a sighted person might be offensive.

  • Be careful about using profanity and off-color remarks . Although mildly risqué remarks can spice up a speech for some audiences and some occasions, there's a line that a speaker should not cross. That's a line I can't draw for you. You have to know the audience, the occasion, and yourself. What's right for one audience may be totally out of place for another. What works for one occasion may not work for another. What one speaker can do well, another might botch. My advice is to avoid humor or language that is obscene, blatantly sexual, or scatological.

  • Don't overdo it. Unless you're a humorist, don't try to crack one joke after another. Keep the humor content of your speech in the right proportion to the serious content.



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