Anatomy of a Humorous Speech

Following my victories at the Toastmasters District Humorous Speech and Table Topics Contests in Hamburg, many people have asked me how I go about preparing for a contest. In particular, they have asked how I crafted my humorous speech once I got the idea for the subject. I’ve given the matter some thought and decided that a good way to explain might be to analyze the speech here on my blog.

Below I have set out the final written version of my speech with comments added. Black is the text of the speech; red is commentary that gives some insight into why I wrote something a certain way when drafting the speech; blue is additional commentary, particularly things that were going through my mind while on stage.

For those of you who wish to compete in a contest or just give a humorous speech, I hope that this analysis is helpful and that you come away with some ideas and inspiration for your own speeches.

Before reading further, I recommend that you watch the video of my speech which can be found by clicking the link above in this paragraph or going to the post immediately below this one. Then read the analysis. You might also find it helpful to watch the video a second time and follow with the text.


Humorous Speech – “A Way Out”

(Note that the Contest Chair finished the introduction at 0:15. Yet I did not start the speech for another 9 or 10 seconds. Always wait for the Contest Chair to be seated before beginning. Time does not start until you speak; you get a few more seconds to get used to the setting; and you look poised.)

In 1697, the English playwright William Congreve wrote those famous words: “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” (Starting with a quote is a classic way of opening any speech. This one was particularly good given the subject.) Today … not much has changed. (The pause after “today” is important. It sets up the light humour that follows and did get a chuckle.)

A year ago, I was having a beer with two friends.(Note that I did not give any introduction. I go straight to a story.) We were depressed. My first friend spoke, “Last night my wife and I had a big fight and when it was over she locked me out of the bedroom.”

My other friend said, “Last night my wife and I had a big fight and when it was over she locked me out of the house!”

I looked at them, “Last night my wife and I had a big fight and when it was over she came crawling to me on her hands and knees.” My friends were astounded. “That’s incredible! What did she say?”

(A few points about the last three paragraphs: (1) Repetition of the phrase “Last night my wife and I had a big fight”. Repetition is a powerful technique, especially in humorous speaking. (2) Escalation: locked out of the bedroom; locked out of the house . . . it gets people wondering what I will say that will top that. (3) Surprise on the last point – she came crawling on her hands and knees. This is so unexpected that it is funny. But in fact, it is only a set up for what follows, which is even more unexpected.)

She said, “You can’t hide under that bed all night you coward! Come out and fight like a man!” (This was the perfect place for my biggest physical gesture of the speech.) (I got a good reaction to this line and while I was still on the floor, I was thinking “They are into it, which is great, but watch your time!” For the contest, I had a maximum of 7:30. One second more and I would be disqualified.)

Contest chair, fellow Toastmasters, and all you men out there who know just how tight it is under a bed. (Playing on the joke about the bed.)

For centuries, (links back to the 1697 quote by Congreve)we men have been powerless in the face of a woman’s fury. Our logic is shot down; our arguments are ground into dust; our reasoning melts like butter on toast. (Another set of three, each with a different gesture and each using a vivid metaphor or simile.) (Note the mistake when I tripped up on the word “logic”. I had started to say “reasoning” and should have just continued with it and used “logic” next. The correction was not major but could have been avoided. Often when you make a mistake, your audience will not notice it – unless you correct yourself like I did!) We’ve had no defence. We’ve found no way out. (Linking back to the title of the speech.) Until now. (This last line creates a bit of suspense about what is to follow.)

That night, after the beer with my friends, I lay in bed pondering our predicament. I mean on top of the bed. (Again, playing on the joke about being under the bed.) Where did we go wrong? What was our mistake?

Then it occurred to me. Maybe men aren’t the problem. Maybe women just don’t know how to argue properly! Maybe all they need is a little direction. (This is where the audience gets the first clear idea of where the speech is going.)

But how to give it? Then I had a mad idea. At Toastmasters, we evaluate each other all the time. The next time my wife got angry, I’d evaluate her. (One of the keys to delivering a good humorous speech is to pick a topic with which everyone can identify. I had already set the stage for the age old subject of conflict between men and women, but here I added a second element, Toastmasters, because most of the 300 people in the audience were members of Toastmasters. So now I had two hooks that brought together two subjects with which the audience could identify. Of course, the idea of evaluating your spouse when she is fuming is outlandish, but that is what made the speech funny. I took a common event – speech evaluations – and applied it in an uncommon way.)

I was able to test my theory the following week. I’d gone out, lost track of time and came home very late. And I forgot to call. When I opened the door, she was waiting.

“Have you lost your mind?” (A chance for some vocal variety and gesturing.) And she proceeded to tear into me for 10 minutes. (Emphasizing the 10 minutes with my hands was intentional. Later, I come back to the 10 minutes with a good line and having the audience remember the time is important for setting up the laugh.)

I watched, I listened, I took notes.(There is something about the “rule of 3” in humorous speaking. People just find it funny. The idea is to have three sentences or phrases, each with the same cadence or rhythm. But where the first two are serious, the third is unexpected. Think of phrases like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” or “I came, I saw, I conquered” or others. How could you change the last item to make the whole thing funny? Here, it is one thing to watch and listen to your spouse when she is angry. But to take notes? It was so outrageous that it got a huge laugh.) (I got a bigger laugh on this than I expected – 9 seconds – and this confirmed my earlier concerns. I realized that I was at risk of going overtime. It was here that I made the decision to cut certain bits out. You will see where. In the end, I finished in just under 7 minutes and so had 30 seconds to spare. Still, much better to be in that situation and be able to finish leisurely than to see that red light flashing and have to rush the conclusion.)

When she finished, she looked at me: “Well, what do you have to say for yourself?”

I took a deep breath and began:(This is one of my favourite lines in the speech. But it got no laughs and I did not expect any. It was a transition line. So why was it one of my favourites? One of the best things you can do on stage for your voice is to breathe. It gets the blood flowing and relaxes you. I realized that I had the chance to work in a line that fit perfectly and that would actually allow me to take a really deep breath and have it look completely normal for the occasion. So I took the deepest breath I could and immediately felt refreshed for the second half of the speech.)

Honey, that was a terrific performance. (I should have paused more here.)

Great content and delivered with lots of emotion. I really enjoyed it. I’m going to tell you some things that I particularly liked (I was all set to keep going, but I caught myself in time to let the laughter run.) and then I’ll point out some areas where I think you could improve. (Playing on a common opening in a Toastmasters evaluation.) (Here I got laughs and applause. Laughter is great; applause is even better. There was no way I was going to stop it, so I let it run and kept thinking about where I could make cuts.)

Your opening was terrific. You asked a provocative question: Have I lost my mind? It’s been said that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, and I certainly don’t want to waste mine let alone lose it. I was intrigued and wanted to hear more.

Second, your facial expressions were fantastic! At one point, your eyes were bulging out to here. (I should have paused more here.) I thought your head was going to burst into flames. Well done. (I cut the last sentence.)

Finally, (I’ll let you in on a secret. I actually blanked here for a couple of seconds. I could not think of the next line. But this is a good example of the power of pauses. The word “finally” lends itself naturally to a pause because it signals that something is coming. I took advantage of that, and of the last bits of laughter from the previous line, to look down, find the point and continue. It happens very fast, but on stage it felt as though time had stopped while I was trying to think of the line. I suppose adrenaline will do that to you.) excellent use of props. When you threw that dish at my head … I was engaged. (The pauses after “props” and “head” were planned. The pauses here really make the joke as they let the audience visualize the moment.) You had my attention.(I cut the last sentence.)

Now, how could you make that diatribe even more effective? (I should have paused more here.) I have three suggestions.

First, stay on topic. You were berating me for staying out so late and that was good. But you got off track and started complaining about my job, my friends, the way I leave my dirty socks on the floor. I found it a bit confusing. Leonardo da Vinci (I could not remember da Vinci and so went straight to the “simplicity” point) said that the simplicity is the ultimate sophistication, so remember to keep your message simple and stay on topic.

Second, use more vocal variety. You screamed the whole time. (The laughs were great. People got the point. No need to expand so I cut the next two sentences.) You need to lower your voice now and then. It’s much more effective and also easier on your listeners.

Finally, the time. Ten minutes is too long. (Coming back to my earlier point about emphasizing the time.) When we’re angry, we see red, so you probably didn’t notice this card after 7 minutes. (This worked very well as all Toastmasters know what it is like to see the red card or light when giving a speech. But what made the joke even better was that nobody expected me to pull something out of my jacket. Props are great; to the extent that you can keep them hidden until you use them – which is sometimes just not possible – you get the bonus of a surprise.)

But as speakers we must stop talking before our audience stops listening. (I cut the next line; the previous sentence was funny enough without it.)I can only absorb so much, so when you see this card, you need wrap up and move on.

But overall, a great performance and I look forward to our next fight. (A play on the well know “I look forward to your next speech”.)

My wife looked at me with this odd expression and then said: “Um, OK. Are you coming to bed?” Was this for real? I told my two friends. They tried it and it worked for them too!

I was like a caveman who had discovered fire; an alchemist who had invented gold; a prisoner who had found … a way out! (Both a tricolon and again linking back to the title of the speech.)

This discovery had to be shared with men everywhere. But how? Again, Toastmasters provided the answer.(Continuing with the theme of Toastmasters.)

Six months ago I chartered a special club for couples only: Me Tarzan, You Jane Toastmasters. The women give all the speeches and the men do all the evaluations. It is thriving.(In earlier versions of the speech, I formed three clubs and they were for men only. But I wasn’t happy with the structure. I much prefer the single club for couples approach as it flow better with the core idea of the speech.)

The men are delighted that the women are getting to the point in less than seven minutes. The women are thrilled that the men are listening.
Those couples that complete the programme will receive their DCA – Distinguished Couple Award. And, like the DTMs in mainstream Toastmasters, they too will have the privilege of being able to wear a shiny gold badge the size of a flat screen TV. (A final play on some well known aspects of Toastmasters and a good-natured ribbing of our DTMs who have reached the pinnacle of Toastmasters success.)

So guys, the next time your spouse or partner gets angry, there is a way out and it’s not under your bed. Listen to her. Evaluate what she’s saying. And never forget that she just might have a point. (A humorous speech is particularly effective if there is a serious message in it. I wanted to get across the idea that, in fact, we should listen to our partners when they are angry and that they are sometimes right. In previous versions of the speech I had a much more syrupy ending: my wife and did not, in fact, talk to each other that way; we love and respect each other; we listen to each other; and so in that respect, we are like Toastmasters. But I was not happy with it as it brought the whole speech down after all the fun to that point. So, with some great insights from my friends and fellow Toastmasters Alistair Scott (Lausanne Toastmasters), Ben Parsons and Kevin McKenna (both of International Geneva Toastmasters), I reworked the ending, making it shorter and much cleaner.)


So there you have it. My take on my humorous speech. I hope it helps and welcome any comments or questions that you might have. And I wish you the best of luck with your next humorous speech!

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  1. Really great analysis of a truly great speech by a thoroughly great speaker (see … I’m learning the Rule of Three). Thanks John.
    Very informative … and thanks for the acknowledgment at the end. Much appreciated.
    Next stop the Internationals in the States. Go for it!

  2. John, that is an amazing speech!!! It’s brilliant on so many levels, it’s no wonder you won!!! I LOVE the element of surprise when you talk about your wife crawling to you on your hands and knees, then we discover you’re under your bed. That was the golden line of the speech for me. The rest of it was great too – the Distinguished Couple award… wow, I can only imagine the volume of laughs you must have got. Way to go!
    I competed at my District humorous contest earlier this month and got 2nd. I thought it was a pretty good speech at the time…but now I realize I have a lot of room for improvement.
    Thanks for sharing this speech with us!

    1. Thanks very much, Alex. Glad you enjoyed it. Congrats on taking second in your District. That is an excellent result even if it is tough to just miss out. But that leaves you with something to shoot for next year. Go for it!

  3. That was hysterical. I hope your wife was in the audience. I laughed out loud just sitting at my computer, and I’m a woman. Your audience must have rocked the house with laughter. Way to go!

  4. John,

    Funny speech! I really liked your taking us “inside your head”, analyzing what you had done, why. Very helpful!

    Other humor resources you may find useful: In my blog on using humor to combat stress, I share some other good resources for humor. I especially like Melvin Helitzer’s book “Comedy Writing Secrets”. Mel does a great job of teaching common patterns and techniques of humor. I found being armed with that information makes it MUCH easier to create original humor.

  5. John,
    I *loved* this version even more that the previous incarnation, and your analysis and tips from “behind the delivery” are priceless!
    Congratulations on a well-deserved District 59 (Europe-wide) win – and yes, I *do* look forward to your future speeches! 🙂

  6. Fantastic. I don’t think great speakers dive in to the anatomy of their speeches often enough giving insight into their thought process. Thank you for the commentary.

  7. Great job! Congratulations for winning the first prize at the district level. With a speech like that you deserved it. Thanks for posting it.

  8. That was fantastic. I am new to Toastmasters and was told, after my first speech, that I should enter the “Humorous Speech” Contest. I learned so much from your post! And it was a huge added bonus being able to watch your speech as I followed along with the transcript and accompanying “anatomy of the speech.”

    1. Thanks very much, John. Glad you enjoyed it. And do enter the contest. It will force you out of your comfort zone, especially if and when you advance, and will help you raise your game to a new level. Cheers!

  9. Fantastic, John. I loved the entire concept. Certainly with this type of diplomacy, it is evident why you are a good lawyer, too!
    Thank you for sharing your thought process. Best wishes for many more wins!

  10. John – your speech was not only very funny and incredibly well delivered, the thing you did best (in my opinion), that won the contest (also my opinion) was your on-the-fly editing. Brilliant!

    That is one of the best humorous TM speeches I’ve ever seen.

    1. Datta, thanks for the kind words. I am glad that you enjoyed the speech. I had a lot of fun delivering it. I have just visited your website (Higher Speech) – very impressive. I plan to spend some time there soon. All the best for 2010!

      1. Thanks. I’ve seen a lot of TM speeches (over 1000), and yours is one of my personal favorites.
        I assume you will be in the spring International Speech contest?

        I am in the process of having my site re-done, and I would be honored if you would preview the new version it before it goes live (in the next couple of weeks).

        May 2010 be your best year so far!

      2. Hey John,

        Congratulations on your mention in Toastmasters’ Magazine! That’s big. I also agree with them – you are an expert at humor.

        If you are still willing, I would be honored if you would check out my new site (still not launched, but I am working on it) and let me know what you think. Any suggestions or other feedback would be greatly appreciated. I trust all’s well in your world.


        Datta Groover

  11. Hi John!
    I was there in Hamburg, I was the contestant that made the “Michael Jackson” impersonation to my father-in-law… , I’ve had the fortune to see you live and even that I already had seen you on YouTube (the Terminator winning speech), you surpassed my expectations!
    You were amazing, and it’s an example for me to keep growing! In my case your humorous speeches are real lessons because I want to work as a real comedian one day, so to find your speech analysis is to find GOLD for me! 🙂
    I’ve learned so much seeing you and today reading your analysis, thank you very, very much!
    I’ve met you in person in Hamburg and the most important quality that I saw in you was HUMILITY, it’s amazing to see a so skilled person in public speaking and the same time you act as you were beginning!
    Amazing. An example and inspiration for me!
    See you and congratulations for your blog!
    Best Regards,
    Charles (Madrid)

    1. Charles,
      Thank you for the very kind words. I remember your speech well and have watched it again on YouTube. I believe that, with dedication, you can have a promising career ahead of you. I am glad that you enjoy the blog and hope that you are able to find one or two things in here to help you along your journey.
      Best regards and I hope to see you at another Toastmasters event in the future.

  12. Wow! That speech was brilliant. What a cool twist! And thanks so much for your annotated version. I learned a TON about humor and what it takes to make speeches funny from listening to your speech and reading your commentary.
    I’m going to put it to use too!
    And congratulations on your very well-deserved gold medal!

    1. Elisabeth, thanks much for the very kind words. I am glad that you enjoyed the speech and were able to get something out of it. Best of luck with your own speeches, humorous or otherwise.

  13. I heard you saying this of the red card in your keynote speech in Oporto and didn’t know about this speech; only now that I see it do I get the whole message.
    Great speech and very good analysis! Thanks.

  14. Hey John,
    I was LMAO in hearing this speech. I too am a married man and this speech should be shown to all men who want to evaluate their wife after a discussion. You brought so much humor to something that we all have struggled with when it comes to really listening to our wives. I have also been a Toastmaster and I can honestly say I would have given you a Platinum medal if one existed in Toastmaster evaluations of a humorous speech contest.
    All the best

    1. Hey, JB. Thanks for the comments. Very glad that you enjoyed the speech. It is probably the most fun that I have had on stage. There were 300 people in the room, the atmosphere was electric and I was genuinely sad when it had to end.

    1. Thank you very much for the comment. I had great fun doing the speech and I always appreciate it when people tell me how much they liked it. I was very lucky that someone filmed it for me – – so that those who were not in the audience can at least get a sense of how it went.
      Thanks again.

  15. I am a HUGE fan of yours. 🙂
    Almost memorized your speech about the trenches. I learned a lot from you. From how you develop the content to the actual delivery of it, every second of your speech has something to learn!
    This speech was my FAVORITE, it really deserves a LOL.
    Thanks a lot!

  16. Hi John,
    Thank you very much for not only sharing the video of your inspiring speech but also taking the time to analyse and write it out. I am sure many humorous speech contestants like me appreciate the valuable analysis.
    I do wonder where everyone gets this knowledge about linking back, the rule of 3, … Is it because I am only at CC2 level that I have not read up on it just yet? I just won my club level contest and am trying to improve on my speech. No one laughed has as much as I had hoped. Specially the first minute of silence was killing me. I thought I was funny 😛 I think you inspired me to restructure the beginning and improve my toolset using more “known” techniques. I will now look around your site to find further gems 🙂
    PS, I put up my speech as

    1. Hi Ben,
      Thanks for the kind words. Glad that you enjoyed the speech. It was a lot of fun to do.
      I have always been a big fan of good comedy so some of the “techniques” are things that I have picked up over time. But there is also lots of good information on the web that you can read up on. As for great TM speeches to watch, this one from Andy Dooley is a must: It offers great insight into what makes a great humorous speech great.
      Congratulations on your own speech and good luck in the Area Contest. The idea is a good one, but I see what you mean about the first minute being a killer! Don’t worry, I know how you feel. In 2008 at the Division Humorous Speech Contest, I didn’t get a laugh for the first two minutes. Now, this was in part because I needed the time to set up the big joke that came afterwards, but it was still unnerving at the time. When I won and went to District, I made some key changes to get more laughs earlier. It paid off. Here’s the link if you haven’t seen it:
      One suggestion to make your beginning snappier, if you want to use the mid-life crisis angle. I would drop the first 10 seconds of preliminary remarks and go straight into something like this: “Last week I had a mid-life crisis [PAUSE] for the third time [PAUSE] and I’m only 31!” Does that make sense? It’s just an idea, but it’s a good example of the power of pauses and the power of an unexpected concluding remark.
      Best of luck with it! Keep us posted as to how you do.

      1. Hi John,
        Thank you for taking the time to reply and even watch my speech!
        It’s funny you mention those speeches because they were both my main source of funny toastmaster speeches I could try to take example from before I wrote my own speech. It’s even funnier because today I actually rewrote the entire beginning of my club level speech and I actually also quote Tony Robbins as part of it.
        When I watch again and again my own speech, I must say that I am surprised how well it actually went even though the delivery clearly had its set of flaws. I am even a little sad to have rewritten the beginning. To a certain extent I am even a little scared. I have integrated many rule of 3 techniques, and I have made some parts of the “jokes” simpler. I guess I am just scared that I will not be able to deliver as well as last time. Coming Saturday will tell whether I was right to go ahead so aggressively about it or not. I will be sure to rehearse a lot beforehand.
        Thank you for your kind wishes. I will keep you up to date.
        Again thank you for sharing your experience with me and others.
        Kind regards,

        1. Hi John,
          Thank you once more for your support and advice. I am updating you as promised.
          I sadly did not make it to the top 3 in the contest. I even butchered parts of it because my references (such as Tony Robbins or Robin Williams) were too foreign to my local audience.
          I believe it gave me hands-on experience that no matter how great I think my ideas and speech might have seemed to me, unless I want to just enjoy it alone, I need to work – hard – to make it interesting for others. My current assumption is that my speech was too difficult to digest. That the topics were not as interesting to others than I thought they were to me. That I need to learn how to use a mic and still be completely present. 🙂 In fact I noticed I was the only one to make a speech with the microphone. Amateur mistake from my part I guess. 😉
          Even though I have gotten very busy lately and could not attend my TM meetings, I am very thankful I can at least bridge the gap with your very insightful posts.
          Thanks again!
          PS: The video is almost the same as the earlier one but maybe with references you are not familiar with (oriented towards my HK audience) but if you do wish to still view it

          1. Hi Ben. Congratulations nonetheless on having made it to the Area Contest. From your message, it is clear that you learned a lot from the experience and that will stand you in good stead the next time. Humorous speeches are, indeed, tricky, but with perseverance, they can be done. I think that one thing that might have worked against you was the the speech started too slowly. You got most of your laughs in the second half; if you had cut out the first part and started around the middle, perhaps you could have developed the theme a bit more.
            The hand-held microphone is a tricky thing. You need to be heard, but it clearly limited your hand gestures. I cannot be sure because I was not there, but it did not seem like a very big room. Perhaps you could have done without it. But again, a lesson for the future.
            Thanks for the kind words about the blog and best of luck going forward.

      1. Hi Barnabas. The problem with using my speech at your club contest is that you would violate the Toastmasters contest rule that says that the speech must be substantially original. If you deliver my speech, it would not be original. On the other hand, you could deliver the speech (or parts of it) but would have to credit me. But then you would probably not get great marks from the judges anyway.
        My suggestion is to try to come up with an idea on your own. There are thousands of possibilities. By all means, try to use some of the techniques that I discuss in my analysis; but the speech really should be your own.
        Good luck with it.

  17. That is so hilarious! Absolutely fantastic! LOL… Lf my husband tries this on me, I am going to forget the very reason I got angry about and burst into breathless laughter! You see, we both are Toastmasters ourselves and so … I am going to show him your speech! Of course I am going to highlight your ending lines “Listen to her. Evaluate what she’s saying. And never forget that she just might have a point.” … Just reinforcing what he already knows!

    1. Much appreciated! Glad you enjoyed the speech. I had a great time with it at the District Conference. Having 300 people in stitches was a fabulous feeling and I was genuinely sad when it was over. It was that much fun. Hope your husband likes it.

  18. Hello John,

    Thank you for your post on the humorous speech! Delivering the text of your speech along with red and blue commentary helped me understand your thinking. We cannot know a speaker’s mind without his cooperation. You were brave and selfless to share with us your mental process. Your speech is a great example of knowing and speaking to your audience. I’ll try your suggestions and deliver a humorous speech tailored to my club.

    My Renaissance Toastmasters club in San Francisco just hosted a visitor from the Geneva International Toastmasters Club. He delivered a great informative speech with humor about Geneva fondue, Vietnamese noodle soup, and democracies.

    My best regards,


    1. Dear George,

      Many thanks for the kind comment. I am glad that you found the post informative. I am happy to share what I can about public speaking. I have found that, in life, what goes around comes around. Plus, it is fun to help others!
      Would you mind telling me the name of the person from my club whom you met? I’m most curious.

  19. Hi John,

    I enjoyed your speech very much. The annotations were particularly helpful, as I am in the process of writing up a speech for my club contest. I have never participated but thought to try. Humour is such a wonderful way to connect with others but I have a hard time coming up with funny or witty things to say. This is a real challenge and that is why I am doing it.

    I wish you continued success in your Toastmasters journey!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nishat. Glad you found the post helpful. And good for you to “throw your hat in the ring” and give the Humorous a try. Many people are put off from the Humorous because they think that they are not funny. But humour abounds in our lives, if only we stop long enough to notice and appreciate it.

      Best of luck with it!

  20. Dear John, I have watched your other speeches also. All are fantastic, especially, ‘A way out’. I showed it to my family and we all had a great time enjoying your humor. My husband and I recently joined Toastmasters and your presentation helps us a lot. Wish you all success.

    1. Dear Suneela,

      Thanks very much for the kind comment. I am glad that you enjoyed the speeches. “A Way Out” is still one of my favourite speeches because I had so much fun delivering it. Great to see that you and your husband have joined Toastmasters.

      My best wishes for success as you embark on your public speaking journey.

  21. This is really helpful John, and hilarious – thanks for sharing!

    It’s very hard to find funny speeches online with analysis. So it’s great that you provide so many notes interspersed with the script.

    I entered the humorous speech contest for the first time last year. Didn’t get past the club level, but I learnt from and enjoyed the experience.

    Just finished my CC now, and one of my next manuals is the one on humorous speeches, so your post has given me a lot to think about in the coming weeks!

    Would love to get to the stage you’re at and post videos on my blog, but I think that’ll be years in the making!
    Anyway, thanks for helping everyone learn from your experience – that’s the true spirit of a Toastmaster.

    1. Hey Craig,

      Thanks a lot for the comment. Glad that you enjoyed the post (and the speech). It was a lot of fun to do. Good on you for entering the contest. The results are less important than the experience. And besides, there’s always another contest just around the corner. Best of luck in the next one!

      1. I just won my club level contest, and your speech was definitely part of what contributed to my small success.

        Hope I can make it through the Area level next.

        1. Congratulations, Brian. Well done. Glad that you found my speech helpful.

          For Area, you now have to go through the speech and look for things to trim and add. If you won, it means that there is already a lot that is good with it. Now things like wordplay, pausing, expressions become even more important. Get feedback from those who saw the speech and then decide what to take and what to reject.

          Good luck for the next round. Keep us posted.

  22. Amazing speech, John. The speech indeed is very engaging; however, the commentaries were more like letting the reader into your brains real time, more like Sherlock Holmes explaining the finer points, we tend to overlook. Beautifully put forward, thanks for sharing.:)

    – Ankitha

  23. I liked your speech.

    I have a new speech that is substantially original, that I want to use in a contest.

    I was inspired by a part of your speech and one similar part. Would this violate toastmasters rules? The part of your speech that I would be using would comprise 15% of my otherwise substantially original speech.

    The following is what I would like to include:

    “At home my wife gave me the death stare! “Have you gone crazy?”

    When she finished screaming, she said: “What do you have to say for yourself?”

    I took a deep breath and began:

    First your opening was terrific. You asked a personal question: “Have you gone crazy?” I wanted to hear more.
    Second, great expressions! Your veins were bulging. I thought you were going to explode. Well done!
    Now, how could your speech be even better?

    Your speech was a bit confusing and lacked focus. Try to make 2-3 main points.
    Also use more vocal variety. You screamed the whole time. Lowe your voice now and then it’s easier on your listeners.”

    If you think this would violate the toastmasters rules then how do people handle this?

    Do I have to first say: “The next 15% of my speech was inspired by John Zimmer’s a way out.”

    Or do you think that I am ok without having to preceed that part of the speech without saying anything?

    1. Hello and thanks for the comment. I am flattered that my speech inspired you enough to include part of it in one of your speeches.

      As for your question … I don’t have a problem with you using part of my speech, but my gut feeling says that it might get you into problems if anyone recognizes it. I say this because I was told of a TM contest at the District level in the UK where the speaker essentially took my speech and used it as his own in a District Contest. Some people recognized the speech and informed the Chief Judge. The contestant was ultimately disqualified (but he actually won the contest base on the judges’ ballots!).

      That is the biggest risk that you run. I think that TM allows you to have up to 25% of the speech based on another speech as long as you provide appropriate credit. (But please don’t take my word for it; check the contest rules.) And this brings up your second question. Attributing this part of your speech to me would provide you with “a way out” on this issue. But, it would probably kill any chance that your speech would win. It would just be too glaring an admission.

      So that is my sense. I think you face problems whichever way you go. Can you rewrite this part of the speech to make it different enough? That would be the best option.

      I realize that this might not be the answer that you wanted to hear, but I hope it is helpful.

      Good luck with the contest!

  24. Very nice speech, I cleared my Area Level yesterday, and will be participating in the Division next week. I used prop as a surprise factor as you did (taking out only when it was needed). And power of three in my starting of speech. I am now working on to make my speech more effective and more humorous (probably removing unnecessary words and bringing something more humorous). Any advice you will like to share?

    1. Hi Aditya. Congratulations on making it to Area. Well done! I think humour works best when the “punchline” is short and takes the audience in a different direction from the one they expected, so look for ways in which to do that. Also, when rehearsing, be sure to build in time for laughter (just pause for a few seconds) to give you a sense of where you will come in. As you advance in the contest, the laughs start to take up more and more time. Good luck!

      1. Hi John,

        Thanks for your suggestions. Building time for laughter actually helped me manage time. And now I have cleared my Division level as well. I will be competing at district level in couple of months. Do you think changing the speech now will be right?

        Thanks in advance.


        1. Congratulations on winning Division, Aditya. Well done!

          There is nothing wrong with making changes to the speech. But … you don’t want to mess around with the speech too much. There is a tendency for people to make too many changes that actually hurts the speech. Also, there is the issue of how much time you have before District.

          My advice is to go through the speech with a few people who are experienced speakers. Look for areas to tighten, either by cutting a bit or adding some more humour. Also, if your speech was videoed, you should be able to find what worked well and what didn’t.

          Best of luck!

  25. Thank you for your detailed notes and taking the time to share what you learned.
    I loved your speech. I will be appying your suggestions to the revision of
    my humorous speech.

  26. Wow your speech is amazing. 😊 I have recently joined toastmasters and came across your speech as I’m trying to write my own on my Liffey swim. 😊

  27. Hi John. Thank you for your insightful blog post. I found it when I Googled “how to win a humorous speech contest.” Because you said to start with humor, I added a sentence that is basically a one-liner to open my speech on the difference between men and women (“Men and women are basically the same, except for two minor differences; everything they say and everything they do”). Now I’m looking to see if I can find a good place to use the rule of three. I finished second in the area contest and so I move up to the division contest tomorrow. I want try to improve this so that I can do better than I did 2 weeks ago. I appreciate your notes, they’re helping me already. Thanks!

    1. Hi Cathere. Thank you for the comment. I am glad that you found the post useful. Congratulations on your achievements in the contest thus far. I hope that you are pleased with your performance at Division, no matter how it may have turned out. I hope that you won and, if so, best of luck for the next round. If not, I hope that you had a great experience and that you come back next time a better speaker.

  28. Wow. Just wow John! I’ve been a part of Toastmasters since 2009 (ironically the post is from then) but this is the best speech I’ve come across! Hope to meet you some day in person 🙂
    – Harsha, Singapore

    1. Thank you for the comment, Harsha. Much appreciated. In fact, I was in Singapore last summer and managed to visit a couple of Toastmasters clubs while I was there. There is a very vibrant TM community in Singagpore!

  29. Hi John – Great speech! Unfortunately, it was plagiarized completely by our District champion in 2015, and nobody protested until after he got the award. So brazen! Such a shame!

    1. Thanks for the comment. Somebody had already told me about this and, in fact, it is the third or fourth time that I have heard about someone else using the speech in a District Contest. In the other cases, the person was disqualified before the results were known. And, someone in the know for one of those contests told me that had the person not been disqualified, he would have won! So I suppose I can claim three District titles with that one speech!

      While I a flattered that people like the speech enough to copy it, and while it doesn’t bother me that this person won, they aren’t doing themselves a favour. As you say, everyone now knows that the speech was copied so it doesn’t help their reputation.

      I’ll tell you two instances where my speech was copied in the right way. Neither was in a contest. In one case, a fellow contacted me to say that he had translated my speech into German and wanted to try it out on his club with full credit back to me. Of course, I said yes. In another case, a fellow in Florida gave my speech at his club because he wanted to get a sense of what it was like to give a District-winning speech and he was forthright about his objective with his club. Again, I had no problem with that.

      Which District are you in?

      1. District 27. Very large…there were at least 300 people in the room. I find it hard to believe that *nobody* recognized the speech until after the award was made.

  30. Amazing!

    I was looking for some pointers on delivering a humorous speech because I want to join again this year. I lost last year in the area level 🙁

    The anatomy of the speech is really great! Gives a whole new perspective in writing a speech.

    Thank you very much!

  31. thats an awesome speech! i could not stop the smiles coming 🙂

    I am currently preparing for humorous speech contest and this would hepl me structure my speech.

  32. Hello John, humor was sprinkled throughout your speech and I really enjoyed it! I am new to Toastmasters and I am preparing for the upcoming Humorous speech contest. My speech leans more towards a stand-up comedy with different jokes that link to a general purpose and ultimately towards a thoughtful conclusion. Most of the part is about my personal experience however there are 2-3 generic jokes. I am hesitant to remove them. Will they count for plagiarism? In addition, please give some tips for my kind of speech.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for the comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the speech. I don’t know if the jokes would count as plagiarism, especially when it is obvious that they are generic jokes. I’d be more concerned that people would know they were jokes and would thus find your speech unoriginal. As for advice, there is lots in the post. On top of that, I would stress that the humorous speech contest is not about joke telling, at least not too much. Rather it is about speaking humorously. So look for the humour that exists in your stories or message. Bring it out. Exaggerate it a bit and have fund with it. Good luck!

  33. That is an awesome speech. I loved the added comments explaining what you were thinking and how you made cuts throughout the speech, I have found it really helpful. Thanks heaps.

  34. That was hilarious.

    I really liked your innovating idea of connecting the speech content with Toastmasters.

    Can I use this content in my upcoming Toastmasters meeting??? (not as a speech but to start the meeting with a joke in a humorous way-with a modification). Credits will be given.

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Vasu,

      Many thanks for the comment. Glad you enjoyed the speech.

      If you provide credit, I am happy for you to use anything you find on my blog. In fact, a ToastMaster in Germany asked my permission to do my speech at his club in German, and another one gave the exact same speech at a club in Florida just to get a sense of what it was like to give a district-winning speech. So I am more than happy to share.

  35. Hi John,

    Wonderful speech and very helpful speech analysis! Thanks for sharing it!

    The tips are amazing. This autumn is my first time participating in a speech contest (even harder to be a humorous one). But I am up for the experience and improvement. So let’s see what happens.

    I regularly follow your blog and love it! There’s so much to learn from you 🙂

    Mariyana (Barcelona)

    1. Hi Maryana. Thank you for the comment. Glad you found the tips helpful. Good luck in the contest and good luck also with everything that is going on in Barcelona.

  36. I really enjoyed how you broke down this speech for teaching us your “thinking” and techniques for each paragraph. I think this format is the BEST way to learn the process. Awesome, just awesome.

  37. It was truly rib cracking experience. I’m also a toastmaster and for long wondering how to give a humorous speech. I liked the way you analyzed and the inputs. Keep doing it

  38. Hi John, excellent speech and beautifully presented with commentary and response. You made it entirely believable and rib tickiling funny. I learned a lot from your blog. Looking forward to next one

  39. A great speech and well explained for beginners as well. As i am a beginner in this field i learned a lot from your speech.
    from Pakistan.

  40. Dear John,
    You have just written a thesis on humour. I am learning so much from your article. Thank you very much.

  41. It was wonderful. Can you please help me in the topic of speech (humurous) ” Who is more complicated: Men or Women and why?

    1. Thank you for the comment, Tehreem. I’m glad you enjoyed the speech. Unfortunately, my schedule is full and I have had to turn down many requests for help from people participating in contests this year. But I wish you the best of success and hope that the tips in the post help.

  42. Hi John,
    This was great article on humour and so thankful was sharing….would be very happy if u could share the video of your speech

  43. Hi, Mr. John did you memorize your speech word per word? And how do you memorize a humorous speech without looking very rehearsed?

    1. Hello. I did not memorize the speech; rather, I knew the different points that I wanted to make and the order in which to make them. So when I delivered the speech on stage, the words came easily because I knew where I was going. That’s the secret: don’t memorize it; instead, internalize it so that you know the path that you are going to take and the points along the way.

      1. Thank you so much! This article and the video of your speech is a great help for the development of my humorous speech. Your timing was really great!

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

David Lindelöf

Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

Thomas Scott

National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

Jon Lopez

General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

Henning Dehler

CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

Eric Thuillard

Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

Diego Brait

Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

Be BOLD. Those two words got stuck in my head and in the heads of all those ADP leaders and associates that had the privilege to see John on stage. He was our keynote speaker at our annual convention in Barcelona, and his message still remains! John puts his heart in every word. Few speakers are so credible, humble and yet super strong with large audiences!

Guadalupe Garcia

Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International