I was a motivational speaker for a large healthcare organization. Just before the speech, several staff members came up to me laughing under their breath suggesting I should poke fun of the CEO because he was passing gas in the coffee room.
I asked, don't you think he would be publicly offended? They unanimously reported that he, along with the whole audience, would find this hilarious.
Obviously, I would never poke fun of the CEO in this way. However, it does give me valuable clues to this audiences unique sense of humor. In this case, the group loved "black humor" which is often taboo for other groups.
Black humor, also called Gallows Humor, pokes fun at gross, unpleasant or painful experiences. Things like bodily fluids and function are up for grabs in this humor style. Gallows can also laugh at serious matters like war, disease, crime and more.
Working in healthcare, black humor is often part of the job, because they deal with people (and bodily function) every day.
The other clue to the audiences unique humor is they like to poke fun at each other. Any audience who feels open to joking with (or about) the CEO obviously has a very informal atmosphere where poking fun at each other helps them maintain their sanity.
Poking fun at any audience member is tricky, it has to be done with taste and tact. Erring on the side of caution, lightly bringing up nuances or clues to the group's culture can create a bond and unite the team. However, if you go too far or publicly embarrass people, it will backfire.
Some audiences are diverse and rarely get the chance to engage and see each others. They can be standoffish or even an envious bunch, competitive and guarded. They carry a general air of professionalism. Opening up and engaging is difficult for this group because it may be seen as an occupational hazard.
As a humorous motivational speaker my job is to break down the barriers and try to get this group to open up and build rapport. Some audiences take longer for this to happen and the opportunity to engage this group is usually a playful interaction with a key influential member of the audience. The other key is to layer in a lot of industry specific content to build credibility.
Other audiences can be more naturally ready to open up and laugh together. These groups tend to be a real pleasure to speak for as they naturally get wrapped up in a motivational speech. The map to their soul is much easier to navigate as they show their emotion much quicker and obviously.
Usually association audiences of this nature are health care professionals like nurses, social workers, dentists and other human service professions. Next to this parks and recreation, some administrative professional groups, credit unions and more.
Some blue collar professionals and military audiences can be very naturally warm and engaged while others take more time to drop their reservations.
I usually find upper level leadership groups ( CEO's and business owners) are very engaging.
Surprisingly, engineers and architects are great crowds while production and operations professionals are harder to warm up. Productions professionals are very hands on and require more interaction and involvement layered into the motivational speech.
As funny motivational speakers learn, the audience loves to be a part of the comedy, but not in an embarrassing way.