Serious, yet funny: Ellen Degeneres shows us how it’s done

Ellen DeGeneres’ speech to the Class of 2009 at Tulane University is an excellent example of how to deliver a serious message with humour.  This 9-minute speech has humour, it has relevant stories, it has an inspirational message, and it has a call-to-action to set her listeners on the right foot as they leave university for the real world.

Ellen is blessed with a deadpan humour that leaves her audience in stitches (especially the man sitting to her right, who is seen laughing throughout most of the video).  In the first two minutes of the speech, she doesn’t actually say much of anything – but her jokes and funny delivery warm up her audience and leaves them wanting more.  And isn’t that the purpose of any speech introduction anyway?

In the body of the speech, the more serious topics come out.  She tells stories about difficulties encountered while growing up, living in a flea-ridden apartment, conversations with God, and friends dying.  Yet she peppers these serious stories with light humour. This ensures that her speech never gets too heavy, but at the same time, the humour never takes away from the impact of these stories.  The core messages of these stories are never too far behind – that some of the most devastating things will teach you the most, that visions of success change as you grow and evolve, and that it’s important to follow your dreams and be true to yourself.

She wraps up the speech with reminders of her core messages and inspired calls-to-action, all the while cracking jokes and keeping her audience hanging on her every word.

Could she have done anything differently?  My only suggestion would be that she could have smiled once she concluded her speech.  When receiving the very appreciative applause of an audience,  it’s just natural to smile.  I was left wondering if she was actually suppressing it.  That being said, dancing on the stage and then running down the aisle may have made up for it…

Watch the full video and let me know what you think!
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