How to Unlock Your Own Style of Humor to Make a Speech Memorable

The last couple of articles, we’ve been covering all the bases regarding how to make a speech memorable. We shared a general guide for beginning speakers as well as another article showcasing specific advice on using authenticity to be more impactful; and, today we’re going to be sharing one of the most important, yet trickiest, skills to hone — and that’s how to properly leverage humor to make a speech memorable. 

To help you dig into your own comedic power, we’ve gathered some great tips from Drew Tarvin, a keynote speaker and CEO of Humor That Works, a leadership development company who teaches professionals how to use humor more effectively and achieve better business results. 

According to Tarvin, humor is a skill that can be learned, shaped and honed. Much like mastering the art and skill of public speaking, you can get better at utilizing humor with practice. So with that in mind, the question to explore is: “What kind of funny do you want to be?”

To help you answer that, we’ve outlined seven “humor personas'' below. These were a result of Tarvin and his company digging into some data to define patterns they saw in order to help their clients unlock their own style of humor.

Most likely you are a combination of a few; and, as a professional speaker, there will be times you’ll want to adapt and use each one. As you read through them, pay attention to the humor personas that seem most aligned with your natural gifts, as well as the ones that you’d like to integrate more into your presentations and business.


    The first two are more about the style of one’s sense of humor. An Enthusiast is, unexpectedly, very enthusiastic for other people. They’re also very supportive and generally someone who laughs a lot, smiles a lot, they nod along with you, and they’re having a good time. These are the people you LOVE to have in your audience. As a performer, if you’re an Enthusiast, you’re creating a warm, effervescent environment where laughter is peppered throughout. 


    Like the Enthusiast, the Curator is also enthusiastic, but they’re someone who recognizes you need to be the creator of humor to use it. Instead, the Curator collects and shares the on-point humor of others for the perfect situation. This could be sharing funny memes during a group chat or a presentation, or even following up a sales conversation with a corporate client with a “business in the front” email body and a “party P.S.” that shares a funny (but not denigrating) meme about their company that you’ve found. This shows the kind of subtle joy you can bring to the table, without hammering it over the top. 


    The Inventor is all about the creation of humor. They see the humor in the things that happen to them and are able to turn them into a story. The Inventor also represents the writing of the material, the shaping of it and the behind-the-scenes-work of a memorable speech or comedic set. If this is a skillset you want to develop, Tarvin recommends looking into strategic methods like the Comic Triple, Association or any number of comedic approaches. 


    This is about the delivery of humor. The Entertainer knows how to speak in such a way that other people listen. This is a big part of the craft of being on stage —  this is understanding and mastering the art of timing, voice inflection, pausing and giving enough time for the audience to actually laugh without running over your own joke. All professional speakers have some element of the Entertainer within them, but not all have explored their ability to utilize humor as a part of their act. 

    The Engineer uses humor to solve problems. The Engineer is strategic, specific and intentional with their humor, potentially dipping into all styles and persona when necessary. The Engineer knows that when you use humor to solve problems, that’s when others who might be more skeptical or “serious” begin to see the value of humor. 

    For example, Tarvin has had some fairly “serious” clients: the Red Cross, the United Nations and the FBI just to name a few. What value did the FBI see in using humor? For their work in the private sector, they wanted to see if they could use humor to increase rapport and reduce status differentials between contacts. So, those were the specific humor skills that Tarvin taught them.  


    The Advocate creates the space for humor. As a speaker, this could be facilitating a game onstage where others can be funny, or posing questions that allow others to say the funny punchline. Outside of speaking, the Advocate can be useful when leading workshops or corporate meetings, where you make the space for others to create humor and have fun, which has the added bonus of putting people in positions to succeed and revealing others’ humor styles and strengths. 


    The Skeptic is the person who doesn't believe they can’t be funny. Or, they don’t see the value of using humor for their very serious topic. Those who have corporate clients might feel they need to be more serious, rather than humorous in their speeches. However, if you take a note from the Engineer, you can see that humor has all sorts of applications for different environments. It can also be used to engage people during a “serious” topic. Likewise, it’s important to recognize when giving a speech — there will be Skeptics in your audience. When preparing for, and giving, a presentation, consider how you can engage them, pull them in and make a speech memorable, even to someone who isn’t on your side from the get-go. 


In Closing…

As a professional speaker, understanding your own style of humor and being able to harness its power will make you a better speaker and help you build a better business. If you’re not sure where to begin, we recommend starting with one of these personas and exploring it. All of them can be learned, improved and integrated into your presentations and business. 

Listen to the entirety of the Speakernomics episode, Using Humor with Drew Tarvin, to hear his thoughts on using standup and open mics to hone his comedic muscle and work on his speech material. Want more advice on using humor to make a speech memorable? Check out this blog: 5 Easy Tips for Using Humor to Win Over Your Crowd