Humor: Expecting What You Were Not Expecting

Humor: Expecting What You Were Not Expecting

“Jack (pronounced yaack) do you have a spare tire?” that was the beginning of a great speech presented by the second place winner of the 2019 World Championship of Public Speaking, Luisa Montalvo. She hosted a humor 101 workshop for Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters members. What a grand entry? Everybody was bewitched by her usage of language, her impersonation, her bold gestures, and the deep key message – let go of the first impressions of the misjudgments. 

She started her workshop with the definition of humor: humor is expecting what you were not expecting. She then explained a few things in her speech: 

  1. Props. She cleverly used her strategically-placed props like the beanie, the hammer and the spanner to portray someone tough, so the stranger in her story would “fear” her and leave her alone. She emphasized it’s important to step out of your comfort zone to make a fool of yourself to engage the audience with humor. 
  2. Accent. “Jack (pronounced yaack) do you have a spare tire?” Her impersonation of typical Mexican pronunciation of certain words added humor and depth to the characters she is working with. 
  3. Key message. It’s important not to let humor overtake the speech. A memorable speech needs a strong message. Bring subtle humor in everyday life to the international competition stage can have dramatic effect when done right. And remember some of the most embarrassing moments could potentially be the most insightful topics. 

Louisa further shared a few useful tips on engaging humor: 

  1. Never laugh at your own jokes. Pinch yourself to remind yourself not to laugh while saying the joke, or think of something serious. She mentioned that comedian Dave Chappelle is great at laughing at his own jokes, but this is not her forte. 
  2. Use self-deprecating humor. Self-deprecating humor can be about looks, height, long hair, attire. In her speech, she “attacked” herself, her culture, her belief, and her language. People usually relate to what they can identify with. She pointed out her Mexican heritage in her talk and made people realize that there are several stereotypes that Mexicans usually associate themselves with – enunciation of certain words, drinking on Saturday, wearing a cross necklace, etc. She ended up building those into the speech to “attack” herself. Avoid attacking the audience. Few comedians mastered “attacking” the audience in her opinion. If that’s your cup of tea, check out Don Rickles. 
  3. Use accent to build personality. She did a great job in her speech to include various accents about her Mexican fellow. She also pointed out that making jokes about pronunciation in the style of speaking can keep the audience in splits.
  4. Time the audience’s laughter. Audience’s laughter often follows a bell curve. She recommends giving enough time for the audience to laugh and come in around “1” marked on the x-axis in the graph below to ensure smooth connection. 
Humor, Humor: Expecting What You Were Not Expecting

She ended with an informative Q&A, where I learned the most on mastering humor. Here are a few that the audience asked: 

  1. How do you know a joke would work? You don’t. Your audience is different each time. If it doesn’t work, write it down and test it with other audiences until you grasp the humor for various audiences, so you can react and respond in real time. She even performed the way to say “DO NOT LAUGH AT THIS!!” in front of us and made everybody go into fits of laughter. Different ways of saying the same sentence can have different effect.
  2. How does a speaker control ones’ laughter? Think of something serious. 
  3. Did you come up with the key message first or the story on changing the tire first? The key message was there first, but it wasn’t polished. I changed the story the night before the competition. Changing the tires was a real story, but I added elements to it so it flows nicely with the story. 
  4. What pieces of advice do you have for people competing in the competition in August?
    • Have your speech down solid. Do not run over time. 
    • Practice in front of as many people as possible. 
    • Don’t get offended about evaluation. Ask why they don’t think it’s funny? 
    • Make sure it’s appropriate on the global stage for different age group 
    • Don’t practice in front of your friends and family who always say you are the best thing ever. 
  5. How to find funny material? One member reminisced about the difficulty she had writing humorous speeches and Louisa immediately stepped in by adding jokes she often read from magazines. She also suggested to think of an incident that you were truly embarrassed about and that tends to make a good story. And writing anything that makes you laugh is a good start to collecting material.
  6. How do we prepare for tall tale competition?  Need to have imagination! 
  7. How do you find out your strength? 
    • First thing first – Ask what you are okay with. Are you okay with people laughing at you? Are you strong enough to admit what you are embarrassed about?
    • Try pointing out the obvious and see if people laugh 
    • Ask people why I’m funny or why I’m not funny  

At the end of the session all the participants were inspired by Louisa’s authenticity, humor, and cleverness. Women L.E.A.D. Toastmasters encourages all readers to embed everyday events into talks and engage humor in their speeches.

Here’s the workshop for your reference.


Come attend our next meeting tonight 7pm PDT, where we talk about Effective Women Leaders.

Humor, Humor: Expecting What You Were Not Expecting

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