- Ann Richards's 1988 keynote to the Democratic National Convention brought the house down with her humor and well-timed jokes--including one about being a rare woman keynoter.
- Bella Abzug's parody of an American Express ad was used to deliver a serious message about the time when women couldn't have their own credit cards, an issue she fought as a Member of Congress.
- Carol Burnett's live-audience Q&A sessions shows this comic as the improvisational adept that she is, but here, she's playing off the audience in live sessions she held at every taping of her popular television variety show.
- Caroline Kennedy's eulogy for Senator Ted Kennedy used a quiet, wry humor throughout this heartfelt speech to reflect their relationship and his outsize personality in a winning way.
- Diane Kelly's TEDMED talk on what we don't know about penis anatomy had the audience in inadvertent stitches throughout. A scientist, she deadpans with ease and assured the audience that yes, she *has* heard all the jokes about penises...then tells us something new she discovered.
- Weight Watchers founder Jean Nidetch told the story of her epiphany about "thin" as a joke on herself, with a lesson embedded: She shared this tale again and again in talks to Weight Watchers groups and general audiences to share her own self-deception in a clever way that anyone can relate to.
- Julie Andrews's 1964 Golden Globes acceptance speech is charming, perfectly correct--and a nose-tweaking of a studio head who didn't cast her in a big role, allowing her to take the role that led to this top award. It's so quickly done, you might miss it, but for her own double-take at the end. The audience of top stars certainly understood it.
- Lucille Ball at her Variety Club tribute, a lifetime achievement award, was a serious acknowledgment of her slapstick comedy success and her role as a top television executive. The jokes are there, but used with care amidst her heartfelt response to the tribute, an exercise in judicious use of humor.
- Margaret Edson's 2008 Smith College commencement speech is not only remarkable because it's extemporaneous, but because of her sly humor. Pay attention to her use of humor in the speech's acknowledgments, a staple of commencement speeches that, in her hands, became the opposite of rote and boring.
- Margaret Thatcher's "Iron Lady" speech, a serious speech that earned her the nickname, nonetheless includes humor as a tool to barb, parry, and thrust her way through a pointed delivery.
- Mary Roach's TED talk on 10 things you didn't know about orgasm sees the speaker laughing along with the audience when her topic gets uncomfortable or odd--but she moves on. Here, deadpan delivery and basing her talk in research helps balance the humor.
- Maya Angelou's eulogy for Coretta Scott King keeps the funeral from being cloying by sharing personal secrets of her friendship with King, including telling dirty jokes to make her laugh--which got a laugh from the mourners.
- Melissa Rivers's tribute to Joan Rivers, honoring the comedy queen after her unexpected death, was a heartfelt tribute that reflected precisely how her mother would have acted at such an event--with humor.
- Mindy Kaling at Harvard Law School's Class Day is a skillful study in self-deprecating humor, not something everyone can pull off, but highly effective here.
- Nellie McClung's "Should Men Vote?" took an earnest, often humorless cause--votes for women--and turned the tables by staging a debate using men's words about women's suffrage to skewer them and consider whether men should vote. Hilarious!
- Norah Ephron's commencement address at Wellesley College demonstrates humor in the hands of the master screenwriter. She skewers her class, her college, and society on the way to sharing important advice with the graduates.
- Phyllis Diller on comedy at the 92nd Street Y is a case study in precise timing--she aimed for 12 jokes a minute--in this not-quite-a-lecture that shares insights into how comedy is created from a true artist.
- Stella Young's "I'm not your inspiration" uses a big dose of humor to dispel the myth that every disabled person is inspiring by definition, poking fun and holes in her audience members' assumptions.
- Rep. Terri Sewell's remarks at the 50th anniversary of the march on Selma relates a funny story about an iconic civil rights "foot soldier" who marched on that historic day--and made President Barack Obama laugh. It's a great example of using levity to make a point on a serious anniversary.
Friday, March 25, 2016
They say women can't be funny, and like so many other myths, that one is designed to keep women silent and separate them from this wonderful speaking gift. Fortunately, these 19 women ignored that myth and forged ahead with these famous and funny speeches we've collected in The Eloquent Woman Index of Famous Speeches by Women. They come from politicians, professional comedians, scientists, entrepreneurs, actors, authors, and activists, showing the full range of how to use humor in public speaking. Stay tuned next week, when we dig further into the concept that women can't be funny, and how that limits women as speakers. But for now, enjoy some laughs courtesy of these famous speeches. At the links, you'll find video, audio, and/or text, where available, along with tips you can use in your own public speaking:
Posted by Denise Graveline at Friday, March 25, 2016