Here some ideas on how to open a speech with humor.
1. I love to open a speech with observational humor. It’s fresh and in-the-moment. Observational humor is powerful and it almost always connects with the audience because it’s about them and their immediate experience. Check our an article on why spontaneous humor is powerful, another article on making spontaneous humor work, and some case studies on Observational Humor.
2. Plan a Book-End. If you open your talk with humor try to close it with humor that is related to the opening. Read our article on book-ending. It’s the feature article in our April 1 Humor Power Tips Ezine.
3. Your Speaker Introduction. Build some laughs into the introduction which is read before you take the microphone. Or write a line for the introducer which will set up a laugh for you early in your speech. For example, the introducer might read a very flattering quote about you or your programs. In your opening, you might say: “That was so nice for Susan to read a quote from my mother!” Not a super-funny line, but an example of how the technique could be used.
4. Slide Show. This works great as an opener if you’re not especially funny. Bill Gates used this technique to carry the opening humor at his opening keynote for the 2007 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
5. Canned Joke. This is NOT recommended as an opener. You want something original. Something that is yours. If you must do a canned joke “that belongs to the public domain”…at least make it relevant to the talk.
6. Funny Story. Story-telling is a perfect vehicle for delivering the laughs. For great story-telling resources, visit Doug Stevenson’s web site.
7. Cartoon. Again look for something original. Can you come up with your own cartoon? You may need to enlist the help of an artist. And maybe a humor writer. Nancy Lininger, a compliance expert, designs her own cartoons and writes original captions for her business holiday card each year. If she gave a speech, she could easily use one of those cartoon sets as an opener for a talk.
8. Quote. Use a funny quote. Get it from the world of business and literature, NEVER something “borrowed” from a professional speaker or comedian. Give credit. The audience knows it’s borrowed wit and wisdom. You get the laughs.
9. Audience Participation. I frequently open my talks with comedy-magic. It involves the audience. They love it when one of them is on stage having fun. An improv game could also be a humor vehicle for involving the audience at the start of your talk. I’ve seen speakers open with an audience member doing some silk juggling. Simple, silly and fun. It works.
10. Props. Some speakers use a comedy prop to open a talk. A wig. A clown nose. A rubber chicken. Or other prop designed to get a laugh. Magicians have a variety of comedy props which they use. Silk handkerchief which changes to a lapel rose (Silk To Rose), break-away wand, instant-change necktie, etc. If what you’d like is a quick visual gag, a stop at a magic store might be a good idea. I have a break-away table, where the front legs fall off one at a time…to be replaced by a set of human legs. It’s a good opener for my comedy magic programs. I’ve never tried it for a speech opener, but maybe I should!
11. Humorous poem or limerick. With a little practice you can learn to write your own material. We practice this art form in our improv workshops and can write a poem or limerick on-the-spot on almost any topic.
12. A Contest. Audiences love contests, especially now that television features a variety of reality-contest programs. Design a game show or trivia contest and give away prizes. A trivia contest could be about the company sponsoring the program or about the host city. I’ve done it. Works great.
13. Open with a song parody or spoof fake-book-cover-titles. I almost never use these techniques, but David Glickman is an expert in these humor vehicles.
14. Use a mastermind group to refine your opening humor ideas. If you don’t have a mastermind group, look for a couple of friends who make you laugh and start a new group. A group can fine-tune a humor line better than an individual.
15. Make it relevant. Your humor should support the rest of your program. Sometimes I think that my openings are for the sake of the laughs. To get the audience moving and having fun. I’ve often called my comedy-magic speech opener “my Ed McMahon.” Just as Ed would warm up the audience for Johnny Carson, my comedy-magic warms up the audience for me. But it’s interesting to note that my opening magic, although not designed to support a specific point in the speech, is still a relevant part of the talk because I speak about the power of humor and having fun.
16. Open your talk with humor. Wake the audience up. Build a connection. You’re off and running. Enjoy!