Think back on the last several speeches or presentations you enjoyed. Notice I said the ones that you enjoyed, not the ones that you heard. Why did you enjoy them? Did they make you feel good? Were you smiling at the end? Did they make you laugh? Using appropriate humor can go a long way in connecting with your audience and enhancing your presentation.
Benefits of Using Humor in your Presentation
Humor connects you with your audience
Appropriate use of humor can build a bridge between you and your audience. It allows them to see you as human and relatable. Humor encourages people to relax and stimulates a trusting relationship. It also clues the audience that you are saying something that they want to listen to.
Humor can Enhance your message
Good use of humor adds flavor and texture to your message. It allows you to make a point or illustrate a point in a fun, engaging manner. This can turn a boring speech into an entertaining experience. Well-placed, appropriate humor helps to keep your audience engaged and provides illustration that can further the understanding of your message.
Humor can release tension
Sometimes we have to speak about tough subjects. Perhaps the entire topic is delicate or we are simply making a point that may be difficult for our audience to hear. What we are talking about may be emotionally charged. It’s never a good idea to let your audience get wound too tightly. This leaves them with an uncomfortable feeling. Appropriate use of humor can go a long way in releasing some of that tension. It allows your audience to relax for a moment and take a metaphorical breath before you continue with your point.
How to Inject Humor into your Speech
Know your Audience
There are two key elements here. First, not all audiences will respond to humor at all. Be sure that if you choose to use humor in your presentation, you are speaking to an audience who will appreciate it. Nothing is more alienating than when an intended joke falls flat. Second, be sure to tailor your humor to the audience you are speaking to. You wouldn’t tell the same jokes to elementary school children that your would to company board members. In the same light the type of humor that you would use when speaking to the church women’s group would be vastly different than the type of humor you would use to speak to a men’s lodge meeting.
Make your humor relevant to your topic
I don’t know how many time’s I’ve heard a speaker open with a joke that has nothing whatsoever to do with the subject of his or her presentation. Rather than being left engaged and entertained, I was left feeling confused and alienated. One time I spent the entire first half of a man’s benefits presentation trying to figure out what his anecdote had to do with my insurance. Make sure that you include a good transition to tie your story or joke to your main points.
Choose your Target Well
There are several good tips for choosing the target or subject of your joke or story:
- Be original. Unless you are using a canned or overused joke as part of the message or to emphasize your point, you should try to be original. You want your humor to seem new and fresh to your audience. Original content also makes you appear more creative and insightful.
- Do not make the audience, or a segment of the audience, the target of your joke. You do not want to risk alienating your audience or turning them against each other. You can, though, make yourself the target. Personal anecdotes often work well in presentations.
- End on a happy note. If possible, opt for a target that ends on a positive note, not a negative one
- Keep out of the gutter. This one should be obvious. Presentations are no place for toilet humor. This includes any jokes about body parts, bodily functions or that use curse words.
- Avoid taboo topics. In the times we live in it is easier than ever to offend someone. Unless there is a specific reason for the inclusion of these topics its best to stay away from subjects considered taboo. These can include, religion, gender, race, class, or politics. In some places this can extend to sports teams (see Know your Audience)
Choose a delivery format
There are many ways in which to inject humor into your presentation. One of the most popular is through personal anecdotes. Audiences love to hear stories about your life – as long as it’s relevant. Other avenues for humor include analogies, exaggeration, the use of puns, and wordplay.
Remember Nonverbal communication
Don’t forget that the majority of all communication occurs non-verbally. When using humor in your presentation, make sure that your delivery is, well, humorous. Pay attention to the tone of your voice and your body language. Are they expressive? Are you using appropriate gestures and facial expressions?
Finally… Practice, Practice, Practice
I cannot stress this one enough. Very few people can successfully “wing it” on a presentation. This is especially true when you are attempting to employ humor. Before you step out in front of your audience and try to be funny, make sure that your jokes are funny. Also, make sure that your delivery is smooth. There is nothing less funny, than a halting, poorly delivered joke. Practice your speech in front of a mirror. Record yourself giving the presentation and then play it back. Even better, practice your presentation in front of friends or family to gauge their reactions. The more you practice your humor and your presentations, the better they will go over with your audience.
A little bit of humor can take your presentation from a mediocre one to a great one. However, jokes are not something to take lightly (well, they are, but…). It is important to understand when to use humor as well as how to appropriately inject it into your presentation. If you can master this, though, you are well on your way to an accomplished oration.
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