Before I give a speech, I get nervous. I’ve learned over the years that that is a good thing. If I’m not nervous, it’s because I am overconfident, and then I usually bomb. So, I don’t dread being nervous, but I like to get over it pretty quickly after beginning my talk.

Therefore, I like to start with some humor. It helps relax me…when it gets the intended reaction from the audience, that is. Humor is a great thing, but it can be dangerous, if it comes across as inappropriate, demeaning, politically incorrect, etc., or just not funny.

Tom Antion, the Great Public Speaking guru, has a couple of recent posts dealing with both tips on opening comments, and speaker humor.

His suggestions on beginning your talk include:

  • “Make points that folks agree on first. Never create controversy early, unless you are doing it for dramatic effect.
  • “Never tell a long involved story unless it is HIGHLY TESTED. If it bombs, you will have a tough fight to win back the audience.
  • “Never tell any story or joke that has a remote chance of offending someone. After you warm up the audience, you may be bolder.
  • “Somewhere in your opening you must tell the audience why you are there. They need some selfish reason to listen to you.
  • “Using humor in your opening tells the audience that yours is going to be a fun presentation. It tells them that they might actually enjoy it. Don’t disappoint them by telling an opening joke and boring them the rest of the time.”

His humor post has more than a dozen funny lines from famous people. Take a look. You may find one that safely fits into the topic of your speech.

Most of all, when giving a speech, have fun.  Your audience will enjoy the experience more, and so will you.