How to Use Humor in Your Next Presentation

Sections of this topic

    Is there anything worse than a joke that bombs? Or a punch line that misses? Or humor that the speaker gets, but the audience doesn’t? Whew! The rewards are great, but the stakes are high when it comes to using humor successfully in presentations.

    We have already looked at why to use humor, and when to use humor in your presentations, now let’s take a look at how you can use humor successfully.

    What not to do:

    • Don’t force it. If you try too hard, or work too hard at putting humor into your presentation, you may appear frivolous or desperate. Humor is always best when it seems spontaneous.
    • Don’t tell jokes. In almost every joke, there is a butt of the joke. No one wants to be the butt of the joke, and many people find it uncomfortable to be in the situation of laughing when there is a chance that someone is going to look bad. Think of all the “dumb blond” jokes. Even if you happen to be blond, there is always a victim in those jokes. (How do the other blonds in the room feel about it?)
    • Don’t laugh at anyone. Funny things happen all around us. But I always worry that if I tell a story about how dumb that other driver was, someone is going to be offended. My worst nightmare: you were the other driver and I just told a story at your expense. Not funny!
    • Don’t use any humor you wouldn’t tell your grandmother. If it contains innuendo or language that wouldn’t be appropriate in church, think twice. Better yet, just don’t go there. This is a business presentation, not a comedy club.
    • Don’t build it up too much. “Oh, I have the funniest joke – you are going to love this one…” is to me a set-up for disaster. Much better to slip it in unannounced and unanticipated. That is part of the fun of humor.
    • Don’t laugh at your own joke. OK, maybe you can smile, but don’t crack yourself up. Especially if you audience isn’t finding it all that funny anyway. Keep the presentation moving, and if the audience gets a chuckle, pause and let the moment unfold naturally.

    What to do:

    • Find the natural humor. Funny things do happen. Words get twisted in funny ways. Unexpected outcomes make us laugh. As long as you aren’t laughing at anyone or any group, these natural expressions of surprise and humor are more likely to work.
    • Soft pedal the humor. Don’t force it, but let it float to your audience. If they find it humorous, great. If they don’t, you have already moved on. You’re not waiting for the big laugh; you are happy with a chuckle or a smile.
    • Find your own humor style. Your humor style might be that of a natural storyteller, or that of a physically humorous person (think Lucille Ball and her faces or Robin Williams with his whole-body humor) or a witty word-twister. You might find that unexpected gem of humor no one else can see. Or maybe you have just the right words to make people laugh and relax in a tense situation. You might even be the person who brings the best cartoons to share. Look for your own natural, comfortable style, and try it out in appropriate ways.
    • Laugh together. The best laughter is when we all “get it” and we share a laugh together. No one gets hurt. No one works too hard at it. This kind of humor bonds us, and is priceless. Have a light attitude, be open to humor, and be sure no one gets hurt. Laughter happens.

    How do you use humor in presentations? Does it have a place in your organization? In your presentations? How do you make sure it is appropriate and adds value in business presentations?