Did You Write A Speech That You Thought Was Funny But It Flopped?

If you write a funny speech or presentation and it looks funny on paper, it should be funny when you deliver it to an audience, right?

That question identifies one of the biggest and persistent myths that exists in any type of public speaking which is this:

Myth: If it’s funny on paper, then it will be funny when delivered.

In this article, I am going to completely expose this pervasive myth that is supported by so called “experts” far and wide. Not only that…

I am going to explain how to avoid the “funny writing” trap that permeates public speaking and stand-up comedy.

But before I go there, please note…

A Vital Message About Writing Funny Speech Material

If you get anything from this article, burn this statement into your brain right now if you want to avoid flopping in front of audiences with your speech or presentation:

There is a HUGE difference between “writing” the way you were taught to write in school from childhood and “writing down” what you want to say and express to an audience the way you naturally communicate when you talk.

Should your speech or presentation be written down? The answer is YES, particularly any parts that are intended to be funny. Not only that…

What you write down should be word-for-word the way you would say it to another person in your own natural speaking voice — even if you are simply going to read your entire speech to an audience.

But if you want to truly want to influence and entertain an audience, you DO NOT want to “write” a speech or presentation the way you were taught to write in school for reasons I will outline below.

Here’s why your speech or presentation should be written down (again, especially any part that you are purposefully trying to generate laughter):

  • You cannot see words and sentences as they leave your mouth. If you can, most likely an emergency medical intervention is warranted. 😂
  • Subsequently, in order to be able to edit, add, delete, rearrange, organize or otherwise structure what you want to say and express to an audience it needs to be written down.
  • How you structure your speech or presentation material on paper can have a significant impact on your ability to add punchlines to that material if appropriate.

But again, I am NOT talking about “writing” anything the way you have been trained like Pavlov’s dogs to do to produce a book report for school or an after action report for work.

When writing your speech or presentation material, you should focus on writing as you speak. This means being yourself, using your own natural speaking voice and writing down exactly what you want to say. It doesn’t mean trying to write like someone else or following strict rules about grammar and syntax.

The goal of writing your speech or presentation material is to get your ideas down on paper in a way that is clear, concise and engaging. You want your words to come across as natural and effortless, as if you were having a conversation with your audience.

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So, what should you do when writing your funny speech or presentation material?

  • Be yourself: Don’t try to imitate someone else’s style or voice. Use your own voice and personality to connect with your audience.
  • Write the way you speak: Write down exactly what you would say if you were talking to someone in person.
  • Use humor naturally: Don’t force jokes into your speech or presentation. If you’re naturally funny, it will come across in your writing.
  • Edit and revise: Once you have your material written down, take the time to edit and revise it. Look for places where you can add more humor or clarify your message.
  • Practice, practice, practice: The more you practice your material, the more comfortable you will become with it. Practice in front of a mirror or with a friend to get feedback and make improvements.

Remember, the goal of writing funny speech or presentation material is to engage and entertain your audience. By focusing on writing in your own natural voice, you can create material that is both funny and effective.

I’m specifically referring to “writing down” what you want to say the way you normally do it.

Keep this in mind as you continue:

Talking is easy. We do it effortlessly everyday with any number of people.

Honestly, you have to admit – talking falls squarely in the “pretty darn easy to do” category for most people.

Writing on the other hand is tough. It is specifically designed to communicate with an individual READER. It is certainly not designed for a live audience that you are trying to influence and entertain with a lively speech or presentation.

Writer’s block happens when people are trying to fabricate content for an individual reader to consume. It also happens when you try to “write” a humorous speech and you are trying to “figure out” what the funny parts will be.

I want you to reflect back to the last time you were involved in a conversation with colleagues at work and you said something that made them laugh. Did you stop in mid conversation to ponder what you were going to say to get the laughs that you got?

No – because if you did the conversation would be over and all your colleagues would already be back working.

Interestingly enough, nobody seems to suffer from “talker’s block”.

Now, let’s talk about why that funny speech you wrote flopped and didn’t generate the laughs that you wanted.

One Dimensional Vs. Multidimensional

When we talk to others, whether it be in casual conversations, on stage or from behind a podium, there is more than words involved.

As a matter of fact, words only make up a small portion of the total spoken word communication process.

Body language, hand gestures, facial expressions, voice inflection and tone variations, etc. play a major role in the information conveyed when speaking. I refer to these aspects as expressive traits.

It is an individual’s expressive traits that not only allow them to use less words to communicate the information they want to convey, but also play a critical role in generating laughter (in any environment – when you are with friends or standing in front of an audience of strangers).

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So let’s talk about that funny speech or presentation that you “wrote” that wasn’t funny…

Writing anything using conventional writing methods is largely one dimensional – it’s words and sentences without the integration of the expressive traits that are incorporated when a person talks (which is multidimensional).

Let me cut to the chase:

Sometimes the “written” word will read funny AND be funny when spoken. But MOST of the time…

What will actually be funny on paper will not be funny when spoken and expressed. As a matter of fact…

The MAJORITY of hilarious material for a speech or presentation usually won’t “read” funny at all.

That’s because the expressive traits that will be used in conjunction with the words can’t be captured on paper.

Bottom line: You should NEVER depend on how funny your speech or presentation material “reads” from paper as a means to determine whether or not you will be able to generate the laughs you want. You will be routinely disappointed if you do.

Wrap Up

There’s some powerful and important information in this article if you are serious about entertaining audiences at a high level in the world of public speaking. Here’s a recap:

1. Words and sentences on paper represent an editable map of what you want to say and express to an audience. What you have written down should NEVER be used as an indicator of how funny a speech or presentation may be.

That is because the actual expressive traits that you will use when you talk cannot be adequately captured on paper.

2. Transcribe talking instead of attempting to “write” a humorous speech or presentation. Nobody gets “talker’s block” – so transcribe yourself talking instead of trying to figure out what to “write” for a reader.

3. If any “expert” offers to review a speech or presentation claiming they can tell you if it is funny or not without reviewing a video of you in action in front of an audience, be aware that YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS OF GETTING SCAMMED.

With decades of study and experience under my belt, I am one of the few people on the planet with the ability to identify how any spoken word comedy works down to the syllable and/or gesture.

But I cannot or will not attempt to read a funny speech or presentation (or stand-up routine for that matter) that someone has “written” and try to make any sort of determination if any part of it is funny without reviewing a video of the presenter in action first.

It would be no different than trying to listen to just the drum part of any popular song to somehow magically determine what song is being played.

Steve Roye is one of the world's foremost experts in the field of spoken word comedy development and delivery for stand-up comedians and public speaking professionals alike. For details about Steve's diverse background and extensive experience, click here.

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