One of the questions we get asked a lot at The Presentation Pros is: when is it appropriate to use humor in a presentation, or should it be used at all? Humor when use appropriately is a wonderful way to build rapport, ease tension, diffuse a hostile question and emphasize a key point. Because people love humor it can help your audience stay focused on your message. Studies show that when humor is used to convey a message the audience retains the information longer. Having said this, there is a big difference in adding humor and telling jokes. The wrong kind of humor can take your presentation south in a hurry and really decrease your credibility.
As I mentioned there is a big difference between humor and jokes. Jokes solicit an on-demand response. If they flat-line because your timing is off, it is not funny to your audience, or your audience considers the joke in poor taste, now what do you do? Where do you go? It is really hard to get back on track and build that rapport again after a bad joke. God forbid you ever start with a joke. When a starting joke goes south, it is almost impossible to ever build rapport with your audience. You’ve pretty much lost them for good.
Humor works well when it is relevant to your presentation and to your audience. The best humor is found in everyday, real-life experiences that audiences can relate to. If you have a funny personal experience that can help convey your point—even better. Make sure it is appropriate humor for the demographics of your audience and that it is not funny just for the sake of adding humor. Humor must help you make your point with your audience. When the right kind of humor is used, the audience will understand the point you are trying to make even if they do not particularly find your anecdote or story funny.
Be extremely careful with humor when you are dealing with a cross-cultural audience. Not all humor is universal. What plays well in America may be a huge insult in Dubai. Make sure you do some thorough research before you decide to add that humorous anecdote or example into your overseas presentation.
While humor can be very effective in small doses, don’t overuse it. If you are delivering a 30 minute presentation you can use humor two to three times tops. Don’t ever laugh at your own humor and if no one else laughs either keep going. You don’t want to get that deer in the headlights look. The good news is that unlike jokes that can flat-line, the right kind of humor, the humor we are talking about, has no negative consequence to you. But before you use humor ask yourself if the humor will help to clarify your message. If the answer is no, don’t use it. If you decide to use it, keep it short and sweet. Remember the humor is only there to underscore your point. It is not there on its own merits.
Never start your presentation with a joke, especially one that has nothing to do with your presentation. You may however, begin with a humorous anecdote, analogy or example if it is relevant to the presentation and helps to underscore your message. Avoid offensive humor. Never use ethnic, racist, sexist or off-color humor. Avoid sarcasm. Avoid any humor that demeans anyone in any way shape or form. Leave that kind of humor to Don Rickles. People find it highly offensive.
Having said all this, how and where do you find the right material? Personal stories are great because you lived them and can tell them without any hesitation. Humorous quotes by recognizable people can be used as well. Start to build a file of great quotes and compile them under topics for future use. Pay attention to any humorous anecdotes, analogies, examples that you hear from others and adapt them to your own needs.
Anecdotes are the most common use of humor. They are interesting stories based on real events. They can be stories from your personal experiences, someone else’s experiences or the experiences of someone well known. The important thing is that you relate to it, your audience can relate to it and it relates to your presentation.
Analogies are another great way to use humor. An analogy is a comparison between two things that are alike in some way. It usually contains the word “like” in it. Find the humor in the point you are trying to make and then compare it to something that your audience can identify with.
The good news is that we all have funny life experiences that we can relay to others and our audiences can relate to. We are hard-wired to remember stories and everyone loves a funny story. Start to pay attention to the humor around you and see where you can make some of that humor relevant to your presentation at hand. With a little practice, you can deliver that anecdote, analogy, example, aside, or quote with great timing and effectiveness. When you use humor that is relevant to you, your audience and your presentation you convey your message with the clarity and credibility it deserves. Remember this rule: If in doubt, leave humor out.
Debbie Darling, ©2015 The Presentation Pros
Read more of The Presentation Pros blog HERE.