Should You Use Humor in Your Presentations?

Humor in Your Presentations

Funny Presentations: They’re the Ones You Remember

One of the most powerful communication tools you can use to deliver your message is humor. It’s what makes you real. And when it’s used appropriately, it can be one of the most effective ways to make your presentation memorable.

Why do I say “when used appropriately?” Because there is such thing as too much of a good thing. Your presentation can’t be one joke after another–you’re not there to put on a stand-up comedy routine. No, when I say you have to use presentation humor appropriately, I mean you should use it to break up tension or offer a brief release from the intensity of your presentation. The average human adult can focus their attention for about five minutes, so it’s a good rule of thumb to add a humorous element to your speech at least that often. This breaks up your presentation into manageable chunks of time (in terms of your listener’s attention span) to keep your audience interested so that you have their focus for another five minutes.

Use Humor in a Business Presentation

Unless your business is selling clown costumes (and really, even if it is) business presentations are heavy. They’re laden with numbers and facts and all sorts of jargon. It’s easy for all of that serious business talk to cause a person’s attention span to bottom out. That’s why using humor in a business presentation is just as important as adding it to an informative or instructional presentation.

The best time to deliver a serious point—one you really want to drive home with your listeners—is right after they laugh. Why? Because laughing is a tension reliever. When your audience is relaxed and attentive, you can hit them with something you really want them to remember.

How to Use Humor in Presentations

For presentation humor to be effective, you need to plan for it. Sure, there are times when you can ad lib (like when something unexpectedly goes wrong—humor can be a great way to recover from a presentation mishap), but it really should be an element that you plan and execute deliberately.

Part of the planning process is knowing the audience will “get” your humor. Jokes that reference pop culture won’t get the same response from a group of seniors as they will from a room full of teenagers. A quip about ledgers and income statements will be lost on people who don’t know the first thing about accounting. Take the demographics and general interests of your audience into consideration. Everyone loves a good laugh—so the more information you have on your listeners, the easier it will be to tickle their funny bones. Needs a few ideas on how exactly you can add some humor to your next presentation? Try these:

Personal anecdotes: The easiest (and usually best) person to poke fun at is yourself. Share a personal story that will lend itself to the point you’re trying to make. Personal stories are always full of funny details, and when you talk about something that’s happened to you, people can relate sometimes that’s the whole reason the story is funny.

The best part of using a story from the pages of your own life is you already know how to tell it because you’ve probably been sharing it for years (unless it’s something that happened on the way to the presentation). If sharing a story based on your personal experience is going to help make a point in your presentation, use it!

Funny quotes: Did you know that the Beatles songs “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Eight Days a Week” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” came from Ringo Starr mixing up his words? People say the darnedest things and it can be pure gold—just ask the Fab Four.

Find a funny quote that lends itself to your topic, and use it at the appropriate time. Jump on Google and search for “funny quotes,” but remember to do your homework and verify that a) the quote is accurate; and b) it’s attributed to the correct person.

Funny analogies: Winston Churchill once said “a good speech should be like a woman’s skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest.” This is a double whammy—not only is that a funny quote, but it’s a great analogy, too.

An analogy draws a comparison between two different objects or concepts in order to highlight some sort of similarity. They’re not always easy to come up with yourself, so listen to what the people around you are saying. When you hear a funny analogy, make note of it. Even if it’s not perfect for your presentation, you can always swap out a few words or facts that will make it work.

Cartoons: If you’re going to use Powerpoint for your presentation, the least you could do is add a funny cartoon or two to your slides. How many times have you been talking to someone and the conversation reminds of you of a funny cartoon or meme you saw on Facebook? Why can’t that be the same for a presentation?  Whatever your topic, there’s a good chance there’s a funny cartoon floating around about it. Visual aids are great for public speaking—and if they’re funny, even better.

Funny Signs: I recently saw a sign outside of a local greenhouse read, “Spring is here! We’re so excited, we wet our plants.” It’s a great play on words, but it’s also a funny sign—and a memorable one at that. There are probably five nurseries within about a 10-block area, but the one I remember the most—and its exact location—is the one with that sign out front.

Funny signs are everywhere. Once I saw a “Dead End” sign posted next to a cemetery. (OK, maybe that one was more ironic than it was funny.) The point is, if you keep your eyes open, great material is out there, and it’s all up for grabs for your next presentation.

Use Presentation Humor Sparingly

Humor is a great way to break the ice with your audience, to keep your listeners interested, and to ensure your presentation is memorable, but don’t feel like you have to be a comedian. A few well-placed jokes to show your human side is all you really need.

If you’re not sure who will be in the audience, stick to humor that won’t isolate or target a segment of the audience, and pick “clean” jokes that don’t rely on profanity to make a point. And no matter what, your humor should never be at the expense of others.

Do you use humor in your presentations? Is it effective? Tell us about it in the Comments section. And don’t forget we are always posting useful public speaking tips on our social media channels, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

10 Responses

  1. Some great tips here. Thanks Mike…I recently attended one you workshops and it was nothing like I expected. It was entertaining and that’s what made it memorable. I’ve been slowly trying to add some humor into my presentations and it seems to draw the audience in. Thanks again

  2. I have never been one to use humor though I wish I knew how. I tried a few times and it just ended awkwardly. Someone else I work with, a man names Stuart Williams… He does this effortlessly. He said you have to work with what you have worked with, in other words… Make fun of your own experiences.

  3. This is absolutely true. There are way too many dry, boring presentations. The ones I remember are the ones I have truly enjoyed, and without exception, they’ve all be presentations where the speaker was funny and personable. That alone kept me engaged.

  4. I think humor, in almost any situation, makes life a bit better. So I definitely agree that it’s appropriate in a business presentation. But yes — plan it ahead and be careful not to do it at anyone’s expense. Don’t go into Michael Scott territory:P

  5. I don’t think it’s ever a bad idea to add a little humor, as long as it’s appropriate and in good taste.

  6. I find humor is a tough skill to master if you don’t know who’s in the audience. People can be really sensitive!

  7. Presentations that don’t have any humor are so hard to pay attention. I easily find myself drifting off and not tracking with the speaker. Bad Presentations!

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