Where’s the Humor in THAT?

The annual Toastmasters Humorous Speech contest is coming up again. I love competing in these contests; it makes me up my game and try even harder to do my best.

Where's the Humor in THAT?

Since I did not make it past the initial (club) level last year, I am trying to get an earlier start this year, so I can refine my material as well as my delivery.

The problem? I am stuck re: coming up with a topic for my 5-7 minute humorous speech.

Content counts for 55/100 points of the judges’ score. “Content” breaks down to:

Speech Development (Structure, Organization, Support Material) – 15 points

Effectiveness (Achievement of Purpose, Interest, Reception) – 10 points

Speech Value (Ideas, Logic, Original Thought) – 15 points

Audience Response (Attentiveness, Laughter, Interest, Recognition)

What should I talk about in this speech??!!

The winner of our District Humorous Speech contest last year had a great speech that was a play on The Little Blue Pill (it was about a pill that would deal with prolonged sports fixation and it was HILARIOUS).

Having seen one humorous speech contest and watched quite a few winning humorous speeches on YouTube, I know what appeals to me and seems to be part of the winning equation.

Great Content I guess that’s obvious, since it’s leading me to write this post and content counts for more than half of the judging score. Here is a fun speech from “Randy”with relateable content:

A Delivery That Doesn’t Hit You Over The Head Many of the winning humorous speeches I have seen in my relatively brief Toastmasters career have been more subdued than “stand up comic pulling in laugh after laugh” in nature. Rather, they have been well-told stories with a satirical, sardonic, whimsical tone. (Note: this one from Jurgita Pundziute made the cut with me because it’s about a contact center. Those always get me after my years at Healthy Kids.)

On the Other Hand, Humorous Speeches With an Element of Performance Can Rock I started watching this speech from John Zimmer to fit it into the one of the other categories, but decided it deserves its own.

An Element of Surprise Isn’t it nice when you have been listening to a speech, and your mind is just on the verge of wandering (but you have still held on to the main thread) and BAM! the speaker takes your thoughts on a uturn and suddenly you don’t want to be anywhere except IN THAT CAR WITH THAT EXHILARATING SPEAKER?! I didn’t love this speech from Clarence Featherson for the first three minutes but it “got me” by minute 4. Watch it and you’ll see why!

A Confident Presenter One component to all of the effective humorous speeches I have seen is the confidence of the presenter. I think if the speaker’s inner monologue is “oh gosh I hope they get this,” then you’re probably not going to connect with them. Jenny Locklin does a great job of exuding confidence in this speech:

Let’s Talk Topic Ideas

If I am going to draw from speeches I have already given, my favorite is the “Don’t be an Elf on the Shelf Hater” speech which I gave all in “elf persona,” describing why the Elf on the Shelf has been maligned. I had a lot of fun developing and giving that speech.

I have also thought about:

  • ToastMoms: If Abby Lee Miller ran Toastmasters as if it were Dance Moms
  • Keeping Up with the Toastmastians (a takeoff on Keeping Up With the Kardashians)
  • Real Toastmasters of Leon County
  • Match.com and other online relationship services (having helped a friend write his profile recently, I have THOUGHTS on the comic potential of this)
  • Some takeoff on “Mean Tweets” (where celebrities read derogatory sentiments people have tweeted about them – click here to see President Obama’s Mean Tweets Segment)
  • “Ode to Cookie Dough” – about an incident at work where someone was caught scooping dough out of someone else’s container, thinking he was unseen (and the subsequent fallout).
  • There’s probably also plenty of material in fitness and running — I did a speech once about funny running and triathlon signs which was fun to do.
  • There’s probably something about my role as my father-in-law’s caregiver, but I’m not sure I can straddle the humor/stress DMZ line very well right now.
  • The conversation thread that made me laugh the hardest recently was born from my friend Chloe, from Chloe of the Mountain, a labor and delivery nurse, who stated on Facebook: “You are so clever and unique giving your child an unpronounceable, incomprehensible, and unspellable name.” What followed was a hilarious exchange among many women (yes, they were all women, not a guy in the bunch) with naming horror and humor stories.

The challenge with some of these ideas is the general frame of reference of the audience. With the Elf on the Shelf speech, for example, it is possible attendees who don’t have young children or don’t spend time on social media (seeing everyone plot their elf’s “adventures” or snark at how overboard some people go) will need an “elf primer” before getting into the meat of the story. The same goes for something like “ToastMoms” because as much as our family would get pretty much any reference to DanceMoms (like “the pyramid“), there’s a bit of background someone would need to understand it. (In addition, I’m not sure it’s possible to really understand the satirical potential of Dance Moms if you haven’t seen it.)

The challenge with the “baby name” idea is my inability to do it without offending someone — whether it be someone who chose a name some would consider odd but others in their culture would consider precious or whether it be someone who just can’t see the pitfalls of a name choice like La-a (prounounced LaDASHa).

Which leads me back around to:

What should I talk about in this speech??!!

Is there a story I’ve told you, some observation I’ve made, or some experience we’ve shared that could be converted into a winning humorous speech?

Obviously, the lion’s share of the work still remains to be done even after I pick a topic. I have to flesh out the content and figure out the most effective way to present it (and, of course, practice, practice, practice). The other categories of judging are delivery (30%) and language (15% for appropriateness and correctness).

Todd Stocker said, “A speaker should approach his preparation not by what he wants to say, but by what he wants to learn.” I sort of like that twist.

I need to learn how to tickle your funny bone with my words. Want to help?

For reference, this is the speech I competed with last year:

Where's the Humor in THAT?

Going back to the TM Corral and hoping to rustle up some laughs!

6 thoughts on “Where’s the Humor in THAT?

  1. Those were great videos. It’s going to be challenging finding the right topic. I really like the match.com topic. I think you can have loads of fun with that one. You may be able to do something for back to school too “why high school didn’t prepare you for your first hear of college.”

    • OOH the high school to college idea is a good one. I could tell you some stories about my rocky transition!!! The match.com situation just basically makes me very happy I am in a stable 23 (almost) year marriage — no one really is who they want you to believe they are.

  2. One of the biggest differences I see in humorous presentation is the command of body language. Timing and physicality are a huge part of a successful humorous presentation, well ahead of content. I still think about Howie Mandel’s early routines where all he did was scream at the audience. It was hilarious, and no content whatsoever. Just something to think about.

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