10 Tips to be a Funnier Keynote Speaker
If you’re a professional speaker, you’ll know that the most memorable speakers always incorporate humour into their work. Laughter creates positive emotional connections between people and has been shown to increase recall of information. It also releases endorphins, lifts our mood, and lowers the stress hormone cortisol. No wonder funnier speakers make more money!
As an internationally touring stand-up comedian, I have spent over a decade learning and practicing the art of turning personal stories into big laughs for audiences from Bangkok to Berlin, the Edinburgh Fringe to Melbourne Comedy Festival. Keep reading for my 10 tips to being the funniest speaker you can be!
1. Write for Yourself
There are SO MANY reasons why you should stop trying to figure out what other people want to hear, and start trying to figure out what you want to say. If I could scream about one thing into your face while I shake you by the shoulders until you cry, it would be this.
From relatability, to the depth of emotion and detail you’ll be able to draw on, to your ability to perform and deliver what you’re saying in a comfortable way; telling stories and discussing ideas you actually care about and feel connected to is the SECOND best tip I have for being a funnier speaker.
The MOST important will come last, and yes this is a massive hint about structure!
2. Break your Stories Down into ‘Beats’
When I was a brand-new, open mic comedian in 2012, one of the best bits of advice I got was that everything you say in a story should either 1) Tell the audience something about you (or someone else in your story), 2) Progress the narrative, or 3) Be funny.
The best lines in a story do all three of these things at the same time, but if you’re saying something and it’s not serving any of these functions, it probably needs to go.
3. Word Economy
We all love the sound of our own voices otherwise we would never have decided to get on a stage in the first place, but the quicker you can get from the start of a joke/story/idea to the punchline, the more you’ll hold people’s attention. Laughter makes people feel good, so the more people are laughing, the more they’ll be listening. Make them laugh as much as you possibly can, and they’ll hang off every word you say!
4. Learn to Write a Punchline
I could talk forever about joke structure and setups and withholding information, but the most important thing about a punchline is to pick the perfect word to end on. You want everyone to get the joke at the same time, so you need to order your sentence in the right way so that the final word delivers that last crucial piece of information to make the joke CLICK into place. Doing this correctly can be the difference between polite titters and a breathless applause-break.
5. Pick the Perfect Word
This is going to sound silly, but as an extension of that last point, words with strong, hard consonant sounds like ‘b’ and ‘k’ are funnier in punchlines than soft sounds like ‘f’ and ‘sh’. Also alliteration and rhyme can help elevate a punchline, and add that extra element of surprise while also drawing peoples’ attention to a phrase. Steer clear of cliches and well-worn phrases as these are just shortcuts that will stop you from writing from your own, unique perspective.
6. Tell the Truth
Remember when I said you should talk about things you care about? Well a handy way to do that is to tell true stories from your own life and then relate them back to the themes you want to discuss in your speech. There’s a reason you care about the things that you care about. Usually, our formative experiences end up creating underlying themes in our lives, so if you can find those stories and tell them, that’s the hardest part done.
7. Mine your Stories for Detail
When you’re telling a story you’ll start with the obvious parts: where were you? Who else was there? What happened? Once you’ve got that, then start looking for weird little details that stand out to enrich the story and add depth.
When I wrote a stand-up show about meeting my Colombian, biological father in 2019, I spent months telling the story of the day I spent at his house when he pulled down a bunch of traditional instruments he’d made by hand, and played them for me. The story was doing well, but what took it to the next level was the added detail that during this entire heartfelt sequence of life-changing family bonding in his home, he was wearing a giant, traditional, Colombian hat.
Be relentless in your search for those details.
8. Answer the Audience’s Questions
I don’t mean do a question and answer session at the end of your speech, I mean you can do that, but it’s none of my business!
What I mean is, when you’re telling a story or discussing an idea, think about any questions that people might have, and answer them in the speech. Listen when people ask you questions after (or during!) a speech, and incorporate answers into the story for next time. You can even lead the audience into asking the same question all together in their heads, and then answer it for them! They’ll think you’re magic.
Listen to your friends and colleagues when they give you feedback on your speeches. Listen to the audience when you’re on stage telling your stories. Listen to yourself when you tell the same story to everyone in your life for a week straight before you realise that you should probably be telling that story on stage! And listen back to recordings of your speeches the day after you do them, so you can make them better for next time.
10. Have fun!
Once you’ve done all the work and prepared as much as you can, remember to go on stage and enjoy it! Smile at the audience, say hello, and take your time. Getting up on stage in front of people and being given the chance to speak is one of the great joys that can be afforded to us in this life, so drink it in! If you’re having fun, they will too, and we can all enjoy this moment together.
If you are ready to earn more as a professional keynote speaker, I can help you find humour in your own personal stories. Contact me directly here via email and let's chat!