Humor for Speakers

Tips on Your Opening Lines

by John Cantu ©

I have written previously that the non-comedian / humorist should avoid opening their speech / presentation with a joke. But for the pro public speaker, you should have humor in the opening of your speech. You have a choice of two options: You can use the meet-greet then start your jokes method. Or you can use the opening with joke(s) meshed in as part of your greeting method.

Greet & meet the audience and then start your speech. Probably the best at this was Johnny Carson. For years, he always opened his monologue with "Hi, I'm Johnny Carson." (Did anyone not know who he was?) Then he would start his first one-liner.

Or you can also use the opening joke(s) as part of the greeting method. But if you just start with an out and out joke without connecting with the audience, you run the risk of what Jack Benny described as sounding like "an act."

You want to be conversational and have the audience perceive you as someone who is not "performing," but just having a conversation with them punctuated by laughs.

For maximum effect with the greeting & joke(s) technique, you should ideally tie in your first joke with your greeting. If you can do a greeting and segue into your act at the same time, then you have a powerful and effective opening.

I think one of the best examples of this is comedian Paul Gile's opening:

"Hi. It's nice to be here at the (WHATEVER VENUE HE WAS IN)." (Great example of seemingly just chatting directly with people and including a compliment to them on their choice of venue. Gee, this must be pretty special place if the performer is happy and doesn't just feel he had to show up just to work.)

"I don't usually perform on (WHATEVER DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS)." ("Wow. He doesn't do this normally. He is doing this just for us tonight? Aren't we extra lucky?" And here Giles uses the technique of specifying to make material more personal.)

"I usually go to the VD clinic to pick up a date for the weekend. (BIG LAUGH. ONLY THREE SENTENCES INTO GREETING/MEETING AND ALREADY LAUGHTER.)

"You laugh? (SECOND LAUGH)

"It's not easy picking up a date the VD clinic. (THIRD LAUGH)

"I try to be communicable. (FOURTH LAUGH? and what seemed like innocuous chatter has taken the audience from his greeting full-bore into his act without their being aware of it - with four big laughs to boot).

The point is, even though he was getting laughs it sounded as if he was ad-libbing chatter. The audience thought of course that he had to be making it up since this was (WHATEVER DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS) and he's doing something that he doesn't normally do on (WHATEVER DAY OF THE WEEK IT IS). He came down to do it just for us. As Dana Carvey would say, "Isn't that special?"

NEXT: Transitions & Segues

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