Is there a place for humor in speechwriting?

Speechwriting expert James F. Fox gives the inside scoop on using humor successfully.

Should you avoid using jokes in speeches?

Except for the person with natural and exceptional talents, most executives don’t tell jokes well. They have little sense of the timing, little ability to use the dramatic body language and subtle inflections of the professional stand-up comedian. They end up embarrassing audiences. Often, without their awareness, the audience is laughing at them, not with them. …

Some few executives, of course, are superb humorists. They can deliver a half-hour talk, without notes, that makes two or three simple points strung together with endless bits of humor. Such a person probably needs no help from you.

What goes wrong with humor? Too often the jokes or anecdotes are not relevant; they don’t help the speaker make a point. There are some situations in which humor of any kind is either inappropriate or disturbing. Further, it is most possible that any joke you have heard or that your client has heard has also been heard by most members of the audience. And, once again, the comedian’s art is one that the occasional speaker is not likely to master.

Does that mean that you must forego humor?

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