The Power of Humor

While I was Area 13 Governor, one of my favorite things to do was to run the area humorous and international speech contests.  I got a rush from the planning, filling roles, keeping track of contestants, and pushing to get everything done usually under the wire.  After everything was done, I enjoyed acting as the Toastmaster for the affair.  I probably enjoyed being the center of attention a little too much.

One of the many experiences I had with the contest was communicating, via email, with one of the contestants of the Area 13 International Speech Contest.  This contestant had lost, but was concerned that the winner’s speech seemed like it belonged in the humorous speech contest rather than the International Speech Contest.  The contestant didn’t understand the power of humor in inspiring people to do extraordinary things.  I thought about the question for a few days, then I wrote the text below in a reply.

First of all, may I say congratulations. Many people, after losing a contest, decide not to compete again. I saw nothing in your email that leads me to believe you intend to give up. Between this contest and the humorous speech contest, last fall, we all have seen you have stories to share with the world and I hope you continue to do so.

There are no rules against any specific speeches in the International Speech contest. Think of it this way. The International Speech Contest speeches are Speech 10 from the Competent Communicator Manual, except they’re 5 to 7 minutes instead of 8 to 10 minutes. You both did that, but your specific question is, “Why did her speech seem to belong in the humorous speech contests?” The simple answer is, because most of the winning speeches in the International Speech contest are humorous speeches.

The theory is, you draw the audience in with a good story and humor, and you keep their attention with more humor. While you have their attention, you teach them the lesson you want them to learn. This is a theory that has been tested over the centuries and has been proven to be absolutely correct. Some of the greatest speakers in history have had some of the strangest senses of humor. Why they were so successful in getting their message across was, when their audience was laughing, they let their guard down. They identified with the speaker and, even if it was for a split second, they were his/her friend. This is what happened last Saturday with Linda’s speech. It is not an accident that judges will pick a humorous speech over a more serious speech. It’s simply the way our minds work.

Most people at the club and Area levels, tend to think of inspirational speeches as serious, thoughtful and deep. But at the District and International levels, the competitors know that inspirational speeches are thoughtful and deep, but they don’t have to be serious. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you wouldn’t have known unless you did some heavy duty research. Tips for writing an international contest speech are on line, but they’re not the easiest to find. Most of the information you need to write a good contest speech has to be gleaned from Youtube videos of other contest speeches. Even then, you will most certainly not get all sides of the issue.

Something else you can do is ask someone who’s been to the District level or beyond. Not to blow my own horn, but I am one of those people. In 2008, I Started out with a speech that was relatively serious. At the area contest, someone who had made it all the way to the international contest in 2003 strongly recommended that I use humor in my speech. What I ended up with was a roller coaster ride of a speech. I had people rolling in the isles at one point and tearing up at another. I won the District 38 contest with that speech.

If you plan to compete next year, and I hope you do, I strongly recommend attending the Division E contest on Thursday and the District 38 contest in Harrisburg.  This will give you a chance to see real competition speeches as they happen and get a feel of the atmosphere. You’ll also have a chance to talk to the competitors and get their perspective on things. It could be a very powerful experience.

I also recommend goggling, “Toastmasters contest speeches,” and check the video results. You should find some videos of some winning contest speeches there. I am also available to answer any of your questions. Call me at any time, I’ll make time for you.

I hope this answers all of your questions and concerns. I hope to see you and the rest of the crew soon.


2 responses to “The Power of Humor

  1. Sounds like a great contest. We run a similar one for inspirational speakers.


  2. speakingwithmike

    Thanks for the comment. I believe competing teaches so much more about speaking, because it forces you to reach much deeper than you would otherwise. By the way, you have a very interesting blog over there at Speaker’s Gold. I’ll certainly stop by often.


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