Why your keynote speaker MUST be funny

Why is it important to hire a funny keynote speaker especially when you are primarily interested in “killer content” for your audience?

Content + Humor: A Full-on Fusion Boosts Your Meeting’s Success

You know your organization’s objectives for the meeting. You spend time and effort to create the perfect event to support those goals. And then a dry, boring speaker single-handedly makes sure that attendees carry away nothing of value … except maybe a few bottled waters.

In today’s work world, a humorous keynote speaker is crucial to your meeting’s success. Studies show that people acquire more information and are more likely to retain and implement what they hear if they laugh along the way.  In recent years, advertisers, newscasters and educators have infused humor into their efforts to persuade, inform and instruct. They’ve realized that without original humor (not old, stale jokes), people just won’t tune in or pay close attention. Nothing against Walter Cronkite, but he just wasn’t funny – “and that’s the way it is!”

As we get busier and more distracted, it takes humor to grab an audience’s attention so the message can be delivered. Studies of college lecturers who use humor in the classroom indicate that humor positively affects attention, motivation and comprehension.

Done right, humor also improves recall of the subject or idea being communicated. Combining good content with original humor is a must at today’s meetings. Who hasn’t listened to some high-cost motivational speaker who wrote a fantastic book but who’s only halfway through the presentation before you realize the information would be really valuable if you could just stay awake for it?  Who hasn’t checked the watch or phone as boredom sets in and been surprised to realize that 10 minutes was all the speaker needed to completely lose the audience?

Subjected to speakers like that, attendees who provide conference feedback will comment “I thought the information was good,” which is code for “The speaker was not!” When association members under age 45 are asked why they no longer attend the annual meeting in their industry, they often say, “Well, the speakers are boring and I can get that information online.” The speaker you choose for your event creates the impact and memorable experience you desire for your attendees. If studies show that effective teaching in college classrooms revolves around the connection established between the instructor and the student, then your event should be built around speakers who establish that connection and make the content memorable. Humor is key to both.

And yet, the combination of real business content and original humor is not always easy to find. Some speakers are mainly humorists who tell loads of funny stories with little relevance; other speakers who offer rock-solid content can really struggle to include humor that produces a laugh. Your best results will come from a speaker who understands that it’s not so much a balance of content and humor; it’s a full-on fusion of the two.

This kind of speaker uses funny stories that are on point; in fact, the humor exists to make the point. This kind of speaker makes sure that anecdotes and jokes provide a memorable context for information recall.4 There’s little comparison to speakers who rely on clownish humor that undercuts their authority. Frankly, silly doesn’t fly among VP types. Silly might attract attention but it doesn’t sell the message. It makes your event memorable for the wrong reasons.

It’s worth the search to find that speaker whose expert use of humor keeps your group engaged and taking notes on information they can use to forward their success. When your aim is to have people leave your event feeling informed and energized, forgoing the humor is no laughing matter.

“Comedy is truth – only faster. Things are funny because they’re true. If people relate, they retain.”

Garrison Wynn, on the power of comedy to cement lessons in an audience’s mind

1 Studies from Bandes (1988), Bryant et al. (1979), Wandersee (1982), and Gorham & Christophel (1990), cited in Kher N, Molstad S, Donahue R, 1999: “Using humor in the college classroom to enhance teaching effectiveness in ‘dread courses,’” College Student Journal 33(3): 400. Available at http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0FCR/is_3_33/ai_62839448/, accessed April 22, 2011.

2 Conclusion reached in study by Hill (1988), cited in Kher, Molstad & Donahue (1999).

3 Pollio HR and Humphreys WL (1996): “What award-winning lecturers say about their teaching: It’s all about connection.” College Teaching 44, 101-106.

4 Kher, Molstad & Donahue (1999), citing study by Hill (1988).

Additional Resources: Basics of verbal communication using humor , Funny Business Entertainment Agency

12 Responses to Why your keynote speaker MUST be funny

  1. jenny says:

    A motivational speaker has talent to inspire and motivate an audience to succeed. He motivates others through speaking. I also heard International Motivational Speaker Kevin Kelly’s speach. He is highly skilled at motivating others through public speaking.

  2. Garrison Wynn says:

    It does not matter how important your message is if know-one wants to hear it! Humor is the critical ingredient to influence. Just watch the news and commercials and notice how much they have changed in 10 years

  3. Humor is the best way to touch everybodys hearts. Thanks!

  4. Humor is great – as long as the keynote can pull it off.

    I attend about 12 conferences/trade shows each year and my pet peeve is a great keynote address that is RUINED by bad jokes. If your keynote bombs, it looks just as bad on your organization as it does the unfunny speaker.

    Just my $0.02!

  5. Alex Mason says:

    I just came back from one of those conferences with the boring speakers you describe in your article. You are right, when I want to know more about a topic, I just google it. If the guy tells 30 minute of prepared jokes with 10 minutes of actual information, I find myself feeling like I’ve been shortchanged. I enjoy those speakers who take normal, everyday situations and infuse them with humor and then relate them to the topic in a way that makes me go “hmmm…that’s so true” or “that makes total sense.” Those are the speakers I talk about when I get back to the office.

  6. So true… A boring speaker kills the attraction quickly, and makes us forget why we even attended in the first place. Charisma plays a big part in engaging audiences, and ‘being’ or ‘acting’ natural goes a long way into feigning a charismatic persona. People pay attention to those they find interesting, although that person may not be as intelligent as themselves.

  7. Michelle says:

    I can’t tell you how bad a boring speaker can be for the people in the audience. Nothing loses peoples interest faster than monotone, boring, or non-humerous content. someone can have the greatest info ever, but if they can’t share that information, then it does no good.

  8. Hi,

    In my opinion, the message itself is very important but the way it is transmitted is the most important, that’s what makes the difference between two messages, the way it is transmitted. It is very important to know how to talk, to motivate, to make others curious about a product or something generally speaking. Thanks for sharing!


  9. It is interesting to see what actually captures people’s attention. I recently watched a TEDtalk which was supposedly about science but featured magician David Blaine. Truth be told, his talk was fascinating but had very little to do with actual science ( to see his talk visit where magic meets science). What I think really captivated the audience was his delivery. He used a great mix of humor, anticipation and fear to capture our attention. To top it off, the talk lasted 20 minutes and I hung on to his every word!

  10. The importance of having the aspect of humor is very helpful in these situations. It really helps everyone relax and feel connected to each other, both the audience and the speaker. Great post !!

  11. I appreciate this post. A few years ago an arts organization I run hired a speaker for quite a bit of money. She had good content, but didn’t include much humor. We got some negative comments about her – I think people would have listened much better and been more engaged if she had a few lighthearted stories to share.

    Thanks again,

    American Composer Ralph Kendrick

  12. Nick Hurst says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, if I have to sit down and listen to anyone who isn’t slightly amusing, or a has a level of charisma I start to loose interest very quickly. By being funny or perhaps just plain interesting you’ll hold your audiences attention much longer. Good post.

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