The art of humorous speaking

Dan Magill – 2019 District 91 Humorous Contest Winner

In August 2017 I signed the forms to become a member of Croydon Communicators and informed the Club President, Mike Majuru, that I wanted to give my first speech at the next meeting.

I’d never spoken in public before and was terrified beyond belief.

“Ah, that’s our Humorous Speech Contest night.” Mike said.

“Not to worry, I’ll wait until the meeting after that.” 

“Unless, you’d like to take part?”

Well, it didn’t really make much difference to me whether I gave my first speech in a contest or on a regular club night. Either way I was going to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment, dreading it.

So I agreed.

I wrote a speech and delivered it at the contest.

Looking back, it wasn’t all that funny, and my delivery wasn’t good at all, but somehow or other, I won.

In fairness, there were only three contestants that night. One went over time and was disqualified and the other was called Dan too, so I think there may have been some confusion with the judges’ voting.

I came back down to earth with a bump at the Area Contest though. We only had five contestants but I think I managed to finish around 8th. The other speakers seemed so funny and confident.

A few weeks later, I went to the Autumn Conference at Gatwick to watch the District Final of the Humorous Speaking Contest.

The standard was immense, but the eventual and fully-deserved winner, of the 2017 Humourous Speech contests really captured my attention. He was so funny and had put together such a clever speech.

I realised just how far away I was from the standard required to win one of these contests, but I resolved to spend the next year working as hard as I could on my speaking skills and then come back for another crack at the contest.

The following summer, a few weeks before contest season was due to start, I was at a loss for what I could speak about.

I had no material at all. Let alone funny material.

Then a message popped up in my Whatsapp feed…

…It was an invitation from the winner of the 2017 Humourous Speech contest winner – to join his humorous speaking workshop.

I didn’t think there was much point in me attending. I had no ideas. I wasn’t funny. And the guy was so funny. What chance did I ever have of beating him if he decided to compete again?

“Maybe if he has some sort of accident and can’t compete.” I thought.

“That’s my only chance.”

I laughed to myself at the thought of me trying to sabotage him so I could win.

And that’s when the idea came.

Two hours later I’d written a ridiculous speech which involved me undertaking a madcap caper across London, where I’d create an alibi by giving a general evaluation at another club, then sneak away and sabotage his workshop.

I wasn’t sure others would find it amusing – but every time I read it, it made me laugh.

So, I went with it.

8 months later, after winning at Club, Area, and Division levels, I found myself in the District Final with my speech … and I won. I couldn’t believe it.

Daniel Magill winning at District Conference

It’s a cliché, but ahead of this year’s Autumn contests, my advice to everybody would be to just go for it.

Personally, I’ve found contests to be the place I have learnt and grown the most.

And, as lovely as it is to win, we always learn far more when we don’t win.

The biggest factor in me winning the 2019 Humorous Speech Contest was me comfortably losing at the previous year’s Area contest.

If you don’t think you have something funny to speak about, or you’re not a funny person, or you’re not competitive enough, or contests aren’t for you, then great – you’re the same as almost everybody competing – definitely including myself.

So, as September rolls around and contest season gets underway again, I am getting ready to have another crack at the Humorous Speech Contest and it tickles me to think there might be somebody out there planning on sabotaging me so that they can win.

I should be so lucky!

Good luck to everyone competing and let’s remember to thank all the contest functionaries and judges who give so much to help run the contests at this time of year.

Last Updated on 7th October 2020 by Susan Rayner

1 thought on “The art of humorous speaking”

  1. Truly authentic telling of tales – got me laughing as I read this, having heard it many times before! Great to have Dan as our VPE at The Reigate Rhetoric, Surrey’s newest TM club…come and visit us.

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