I was recently crowned the District 71 Champion for the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest. District 71 is made up of Scotland, Ireland and the majority of England and Wales.

The objective of the competition is simple: deliver a 5-7 minute humorous speech. Be funny. Make people laugh. Try not to embarrass yourself too much…. Sounds easy, right?

The main danger with giving a humorous speech is that if the audience is expecting a humorous speech it is much harder to actually be funny. The key to humour is surprise and it’s hard to surprise someone who is anticipating it. For example, imagine that someone is walking through the Indiana Jones Temple of Doom. If they expect a trap, they’re less likely to fall into the trap.

Normally when we’re expecting humour and someone gives an ok speech we tend to let off a polite laugh out of social awkwardness (the sort of laugh people use in an office when the boss tells a joke). Of course, that’s not what I was aiming for. I wanted the audience to fall off their seats and roll around on the floor in an uncontrollable fit of rapturous giggles. I wanted them to snigger, chuckle, chortle and cackle. We’ve got to aim high, right?

Another danger that arises when delivering a humorous speech is that the audience will actually laugh. I am about the sort of laughter where you need to invoke all your willpower to suppress the niggling giggles of insanity. That didn’t happen during my speech… Having said that, it was quite distracting that throughout most of my speech there was a lady in the front row hyperventilating with her hands on her face clearly trying (and failing) to hold back a serious bout of giggles.

The key to making an audience laugh is to do something that the audience doesn’t expect. A former Speechwriter for Ronald Regan once told me that humour is all about ‘setup, setup, setup, twist!’. Spontaneity and timing are often considered to be key features for humorous speaking.

I was very lucky when I delivered my speech because one of the previous contestants spoke about a similar topic which I was then able to reference in mine. This seemed to work particularly well on the audience.

I knew that if I were to win this speech I would have to do something new, something daring and something utterly and totally random. So that’s exactly what I did. I won’t tell you what the speech was about because it might ruin the fun of it when you watch the video. The video should hopefully be released soon. Watch this space…


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