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If there is one thing that can truly fail in a keynote, it’s humor. Nothing makes a speech as flat as jokes that don’t elicit a response, and a badly considered joke can turn an audience against you in a way it’s impossible to get back from. Many a scandal has been born from failed attempts at humor during a keynote.

So should you use jokes and humor in your keynote? 

The answer is simple: Do not use jokes just to use jokes, and particularly don’t use other people’s jokes in an attempt to be as funny as they are. Do, however, think about what kind of funny you are, how an audience views you, and what kind of funny might work for you. 

Consider for instance two keynote speakers, one a powerful man, the other a woman who is seen as highly professional but also very strait-laced. Now consider both of them telling a very dirty joke during their keynote. The results should be obvious to everyone. 

The man might end up getting a laugh, but he’ll also risk being seen as a bit of a bully, not to mention a creep. The woman, on the other hand, might not get as big of a laugh, but she will have endeared herself to a big part of the audience by playing against type and showing another side of herself.

We are all funny, in our own way. Some of us have fancy titles, others no titles at all. Some of us are naturals at telling a joke, others are more wryly funny. So start from the realization that you, as you are, have a funny side to you. Develop this, rather than trying to copy someone else version of being funny. 

If you don’t feel comfortable delivering jokes or punchlines, don’t. Focus on wit and amusing anecdotes instead. If you’re most comfortable with physical gags, go for it. Just make it you being funny, not you trying to be.

Also remember that we’re all funny. Some of us have funny jobs, others funny accents. Some of us have big noses, or narrow shoulders. Other people will see, hear and know this. As a keynote speaker, you’re well served by using this as a self-depreciating way to endear yourself to the audience. Remember, arrogance is never funny.