Using Spontaneous and Observational Humor
An impromptu quip will hit the target more often
than a canned joke.
Imagine this. I arrive at a junior high school auditorium for a teacher
inservice program. While setting up my session, I note two unrelated signs
posted one above the other. Most of the 300 arriving faculty members had
seen those signs many times. But probably none saw them as I did. In my
opening remarks, I shared with them, "This is a unique facility. Look at
the sign over the back door. 'Restroom_Capacity 475!'" That fresh and
creative bit of humor helped me attract interest and build a relationship
with the audience.
Spontaneous humor is a wonderful way to connect with an audience. An
impromptu quip will hit the target more often than a canned joke. Audiences
are flattered when the humor is created just for them. The teachers knew the
comment about the signs was not a part of my script. And often, an
improvised touch of humor lends a fresh appeal to your entire talk.
Here are four keys to the effective use of spontaneous humor:
First, let's look at preparation.
What? Prepare to be spontaneous? Of course! Have you ever visited a
comedy club and observed how the stand-up comic has an "off-the-cuff" ad lib
for nearly anything that comes up? Think of those times when the comic chats
with people in the front row and makes a witty remark if someone happens to
be from Chicago, or works in the medical field, or is visiting the club with
someone other than his or her own spouse. Such exchanges appear to be very
spontaneous. But in reality, the comic is often making the "spontaneous"
remark for the 50th or 100th time! The seasoned comic has prepared to be
In speaking situations, it's a good idea to be prepared with humor to
handle unexpected events. For example, what will you do or say if the lights
go out or the sound system fails? If you're armed with a humorous ad lib,
the audience will be won over when they see the problem hasn't gotten the
best of you.
Preparation should also include a study of your audience. If you
circulate a preprogram questionnaire to obtain "inside information" about the
group, you'll be able to customize your humor and make it seem much more
Here's another tip: carefully note any effective off-the-cuff humorous
remark made by you or an audience member, then recycle it during your next
talk. Although it may seem contradictory, being ready with a few humorous
quips can actually create an illusion of spontaneity.
The second key is observation. Since most humor is based on
relationships, the more observant you are, the more likely you'll be able to
create humorous relationships and pictures in the minds of your audience.
"Restrooms_Capacity 475" is an example of being observant. It was a bit
of humor that created a funny picture in the minds of the audience.
On another occasion, while attending a holiday luncheon, I noticed a
gentleman wearing loud green and red plaid pants with a black sports coat.
On my way up to the stage, I passed by his table and asked him to join me.
Once in front of the audience I said, "Bob has started a new tradition today.
To carry on this tradition, next year when you arrive at your holiday
luncheon, you'll be required to exchange an article of clothing with someone
seated next to you. Would the gentleman wearing the other half of Bob's suit
please stand up." With only a simple gesture and without any advance
coordination, a gentleman wearing a loud plaid sports coat with black pants
stood up! It brought the house down.
It's also a good idea to listen and observe as other speakers make
remarks and presentations before you speak. At a company awards luncheon
it seemed as though nearly everyone receiving 5, 10 and 15-year service
awards had started in the company's telemarketing department and had
subsequently worked their way into other jobs. I added a new line to my
opening monologue. "People call me a comedy magician because they laugh at
my magic and they're mystified by my jokes. But I wasn't always a comedy
magician. I used to work in telemarketing!" It was on target and received a
great response. The audience appreciated the fresh, spontaneous nature of
Then there was the time I attended a function where a wide variety of
recognition were being given for club service. During the course of the
ceremony I noticed that some of the recipients were present and some were
absent that evening. So one of my best lines came from a simple observation:
"This is my kind of club. You gave out perfect attendance awards to two
people who weren't even here!" Simple? Of course. But highly effective.
After you've prepared and remembered to be observant, you'll need to
exercise the third key...courage! There's no doubt about it: Trying out new
jokes takes guts. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you'll
become. It's worth the risk. Besides, if your audience doesn't laugh, just
pretend you were serious!
The fourth key is practice. You learn humor and spontaneity only by
exercising your skills. I recommend you set a goal of using some humor in
every presentation you give. Your humor comfort zone will increase and so
will your spontaneity as you gain confidence.
A great way to practice your use of spontaneous humor is to join a
Toastmasters club. Their meetings help you hone your critical speaking
skills. You have the opportunity to give prepared and impromptu speeches.
Testing your humorous ideas, you'll sharpen your skills. When the
opportunity comes to say a few words at the close of a meeting, for example,
use a bit of observational humor created out of the circumstances of the
meeting. Or, if you're assigned to present a joke during the meeting, bring
a "hip-pocket" joke only as a backup. Then, during the meeting, attempt to
create a fresh, new joke by exercising your observational skills. It's not
as difficult as it might seem at first. You'll become more observant and
will eventually be able to create five or six pieces of observational humor
by the close of every meeting. You can practice this technique at any type
By using these keys of preparation, observation, courage and practice
you'll become more spontaneous. You'll add a freshness to your presentation
as you customize humor to your audience and your environment. Your talk will
hit the mark...and the funnybone!
Copyright 2006 by John Kinde
You may republish this article with the following credit line:
"Copyright by John Kinde, who is a humor specialist in the training and speaking business for over 30 years specializing in teambuilding, customer service and stress management. Free Special Reports: Show Me The Funny -- Tips for Adding Humor to Your Presentations and When They Don't Laugh -- What To Do When the Laughter Doesn't Come. Humor Power Tips newsletter, articles and blog are available at www.humorpower.com."