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!

Seven “Humbugs” and a “Ho Ho HOLD” on the Snark

I really enjoyed preparing the four posts I submitted to 12Most, such as this one about twelve great vine videos. There was one draft that never came to fruition, though, because every time I started writing it, I began feeling like its negativity would outweigh its informational value and that I may hurt the feelings of people I care about.

Writing about the topic I addressed in that draft on my personal blog seems a little less offensive, though, since I can just say my opinion and not be representing an entire cadre of writers. I am just going to get it out of my system once and move on (with, of course, a segue to a somewhat more positive ending).

The Humbug Part

I believe we have made some life events that are simply that, life events, hyperpublic and over produced. In doing, there is a danger that the personal, unique, cherished nature of these events may be diluted in favor of the public, commonplace, “how-could-I-top-that” qualities. These events include:


A promposal is an invitation to the prom that is elaborate enough to be classified as a proposal. There are some examples here. The high school student seen here had her intended date pulled over, had the cop fake an arrest, and waited in the back of the car with a sign that said “prom.”

My humbug about promposals: First of all, what if the intended date says no? Secondly, as much as I love a theme and a fun creative project, I am still just as charmed by a young man who approaches a young woman in person and simply says, “Will you come to prom with me?”

Prom Photo Sessions 

Prom photos have become more and more sophisticated (so click here to see what I mean).

My humbug about elaborate high school dance photo sessions:  If the girl felt beautiful, the guy felt handsome, and the family could afford the dollars, what does it matter? These sessions have an “engagement photo-like” feel that seems out of place for couples who may not be embarking on a long-term romance.

Marriage Proposals 

Maybe it is the ubiquitous nature of YouTube and our ability to create and share video documentation of our lives. Something is happening that has resulted in a proliferation of marriage proposals that goes far beyond one individual getting down on bended knee and asking the other individual to spend a life together.

For example, a sand art proposal whose story can be found here.


For more “beyond bended knee” proposals, click here.

My humbug: My humbug about this one is a little challenging to define. So many of the ones I have seen are full of love and beautifully done. These people are old enough to be somewhat confident the relationship will “stick,” which differentiates them from the high school students referred to earlier. I think I would distill my opinion down to: make sure you spend as much time clarifying that you feel the same way about money, kids, and sex as you do editing your proposal video.

Pregnancy Announcements 

When I got pregnant in 1995 and 1998, the  news traveled the “old fashioned” way–by word of mouth, phone call, email, and snail mail. This is no longer the case. Pregnancy announcements now fly over cyberspace as quickly as you can press “like” on a Facebook status or retweet someone on Twitter. The graphics behind these shares are pretty darned creative (like these).

My humbug: This is another one where I am blown away by the creativity but simultaneously a little taken aback. Maybe it’s the fact that such rapid shares separate the prospective parent from the recipient of the news. Half the fun of announcing your pregnancy is seeing the expression on the other individual’s face. I’m not sure 50 “likes” can do exactly the same thing.

Gender Reveals 

Putting aside those disciplined people who wait  until their baby is born to find out its gender (I was not one of them), the “gender reveal” process has gotten complicated! Here are three themes on one Pinterest Gender Reveal Board:

Ties or Tutus

Cupcake or Stud Muffin

Boots or Bows

For more including a gender “lottery,” click here.

My humbug: I am pretty sure the first gender reveal party I saw was on television. I can’t remember which celebrity it was, but the event was elaborate. There was a Hollywood party planner, caterer, favors, tents, the entire festivity checklist. Now I see them routinely on social media. Again, nothing is really damaged but having a gender reveal party but it seems easy to lose the exceptionally personal nature of the moment.

Maternity Photo Sessions 

I have seen some gorgeous maternity photos (such as these). What a beautiful way to commemorate that moment in a family’s life.

My humbug: My humbug is with the unduly revealing ones such as these. I am not a prude about the female body, especially the beauty of the pregnant female body but there is something about these photos that makes me feel like an invader (and I know, I can just “not look”).

Using A Baby’s Name Before They’re Born

Perhaps it is because we can now personalize pretty much anything that a baby is often given items with his or her name on them while they are in utero.

My humbug: I don’t know if this is a southern superstition or what, but I have always been leery of applying a child’s name to a product until they have been born. I am sure my feelings are influenced by having lost two pregnancies and by my mom’s having lost a baby, but loss happens. I just feel like it’s tempting fate.

In many of these cases, maybe my issue is green (and not the fun green of Christmas), but the green of envy. Since I couldn’t afford to throw a gender reveal party, for example, does that feed my humbugosity? If so, I own that but don’t think that’s the root of my opinion.

Switching Gears to the Positive

Since it’s Christmas, let’s address the most ubiquitous over-the-top phenomenon this time of the year, the Elf on the Shelf, who is hovering around many homes this season:

Thanksgiving Day Parade

Over the past few years, I have found myself increasingly thankful that the EotS wasn’t a “thing” when my teenagers were little. If it had worked to modify my kids’ behavior, though, maybe I would have bit.

My world, in-person and on social media, is filled with über creative types. These adults have possibly missed their calling in production design for major motion picture houses. For example, toilet fishing:


Source: www.diycandy.com

Toilet fishing is almost rudimentary compared to the attention to detail of my friend Diary of a Mom (I mean would you look at those little tiny oxygen tubes coming out of “Hazel’s” nasal passages?).

THEN there are the “alternate” EotS folks, who do tableaus like this (this was one of the tamer ones! Visit the Good Time Elf Facebook Page to see the others.):


The voices of the Elf on the Shelf detractors are louder than ever this year (at least it seems that way to me). This article, for example, outlines one parent’s view.

I have had the elf skeptic conversation with friends on Facebook about EotS. We all gleefully pile on (yes, me included), smirking our disdain for the effort, the misguidedness, the adult energy, time and effort required for a “children’s” phenomenon.

Here’s my Ho Ho HOLD the snark point: I am through snarking about EotS.  He isn’t for me, but if he had been a “thing” when my kids were little, I may very well have given in and loved every minute of it.

I have had teachers say EotS is a “friend” in the classroom, someone the kids love and enjoy. I see families I care about and respect enjoying the heck out of creating their EotS scenarios. I see kids who *may* be doubting Santa’s existence still looking forward to their elf’s whereabouts in the morning.

It’s not for me, but there’s enough snark this holiday season (and, let us admit, all year long). If EotS is your thing, enjoy! I’ll even send you a Big Green Pen for your elf’s use if you’re running out of ideas!

snark santa