A Funny Thing Happened to Me On The Way To …
Humour in presentations isn’t always a laughing matter. How do you know when it will work … and when it won’t? Should you use humour at all?
Humour can help. It can also backfire.
Used skillfully, humour can help establish rapport with your audience. It can help underscore a key message. It can help to keep your audience’s attention, increasing interest in what you’re saying. It lets your audience see your human side, and information conveyed with humour is more likely to be remembered.
But be careful. If you use humour poorly, it can sink your presentation and harm your credibility.
Humour and jokes are not the same.
Humour is found within the context of your presentation. Jokes, on the other hand, invite an on-demand response from your listeners.
You don’t need to be a comedian to use humour effectively. You don’t even have to be good at telling jokes. All you need is a sense of humour. The best humour comes in the form of anecdotes from personal experience. They are easy to tell because you’ve lived the experience … they spring from ordinary, real-life experiences that audiences can easily relate to.
Keep it relevant.
Make sure your humour is relevant to your presentation. Use humour to make a point, one that advances your overall objective. When you do, your listeners will get the point you intended to make and will appreciate that.
Also, make sure your humour is relevant to your audience. Remember, not all humour is universal. What works in one culture may not work in another.
Things to avoid.
- Don’t start with a joke for the sake of a joke. You’ll appear to be trying too hard, and your joke will serve only as a distraction. People tend to resist when they think you’re just trying to make them laugh.
- Don’t laugh at your own humour.
- Keep it short. Humour itself is not the point. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself.
Any humour you may use should be determined while you’re preparing your presentation. As a rule, just two or three instances of humour in a 15 to 20 minute presentation should be perfect.
If you do use humour and you get no response, keep going. Humour, if it fails, has no consequence, unlike jokes that fail. Remember, the degree of audience response does not matter as much as the overall success of your presentation. So, ask yourself, will humour help clarify a point? Will it help hold your listeners’ attention? Just what purpose do you have in inserting humour at this particular point in your presentation?
What type of humour to use?
There are several types of humour. And with a little imagination, there’s no end of source material.
The anecdote is among the most common and the easiest to use. This simply is any interesting story based on a real event. You can reach into your own experience to find anecdotes or you can relate a story you know from someone else’s experience. The test is whether you can relate to it yourself. If you can’t, it won’t work so don’t use it.
While not everybody can tell a joke, anyone with a little practice can tell an anecdote or a story.
So go ahead and consider inserting some levity in your next presentation … as long as it’s in good taste, it’s relevant to your presentation and your audience, and it helps to illustrate a key point.