Humor has it: Why use Humor in Business Presentations

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    Isn’t humor great? Doesn’t it feel good to laugh? And aren’t presentations with a little humor mixed in a lot of fun?

    Of course, humor is great when it works, but what happens when you try to add a little humor in your presentations, and it just doesn’t fly? Not so fun, not so good.
    Not too long ago I was working with a small group on their presentation skills, and we began talking about humor in presentations. The client quickly pulled me aside and said “Gail, we don’t encourage humor in our presentations around here. We find it way too risky.”

    It got me thinking. If humor is so great when it works, and so bad when it doesn’t, maybe we need to learn a bit more about humor so we can decide when and how to use it, and how much of a risk we want to take.
    Today let’s focus on why you might want to use humor. In future posts I will discuss the when and the how of using humor in your presentations, and finally, what not to do in using humor. My hope is that you might make wise choices in trying a little humor when appropriate in your presentations.

    So why should you consider the use of humor, despite the risks?

    • Humor can relax the audience – and us. One of the outcomes of laughter is a sense of release. If you are feeling stressed, or your audience is worried or distracted, good humor can be cathartic to everyone.

    • Humor can build bridges. Once we have laughed together, we feel more like friends. We broke the ice. We are on the same side. Once we have laughed together, the audience is vested in your success, and you may feel and respond to that support.

    • Humor can make us stand out from the crowd. When we spend all day in meetings and listening to webinars and speakers, one who makes you laugh feels like magic. Laughter releases endorphins, and who doesn’t need that in the midst of the workday.

    • Humor can create and maintain interest. If you are a speaker who occasionally injects some humor, I am going to stay tuned in so I don’t miss the next one. I actually listen to you with anticipation.

    • Humor can make us better speakers. When we see the smiling faces of our audience, and feel the release that laughter brings, and the feel-good chemicals start coursing through our bodies, we can feel more comfortable and confident. We think faster, speak with more authority, and stay in the present moment. No more worry, fear, or trying to remember our lines; we just communicate.

    It’s all good. If the humor helps the audience relax and relate to us, and brings us closer together, then all is well and using humor was a wise choice. Of course, when it all goes badly, we get a different outcome. More on that next time.

    How do you use humor in presentations? Is it OK to use humor in your culture? Has it ever backfired on you? What kinds of humor seem to work best? What advice would you give new or inexperienced presenters?