Humor in Presentations: Do’s and Don’ts

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Should you or shouldn’t you? There is nothing like sharing a good laugh during a serious presentation. And nothing worse than humor that backfires. No wonder so many people shy away from humor altogether. Yet…you want to give it a try. OK, then, here are some guidelines to help you decide when and how to insert humor during your next meeting or presentation.

1. Don’t try too hard. The more you push humor on your audience, the less funny it is. Watch for humor that happens naturally.
2. Don’t open with a joke; jokes are difficult to tell, easy to mess up, and often offend someone. Rather than a joke, find the humor in the moment or in a story.
3. Do find your special brand of humor. You might be good at word play, physical humor, or a clever remark.
4. Do test it out on others. Tell the story over lunch, or try it at a team meeting. If no one finds it funny, let it go.
5. Don’t laugh at your own stories. Watch comedians and entertainers; they most often watch the audience and refrain from laughing at the own jokes. Or if they do, it’s a chuckle only.
6. Do keep it short. Time is money—don’t spend it on what can be perceived as a waste of time. Make it short and pertinent or skip it.
7. Don’t go for the cheap shot. If there is a chance you will hurt someone’s feelings or speak in an inappropriate way, just let it go. Why chance it?
8. Do be cautious with sarcasm. If this is your preferred humor style—and you know who you are—be sure you know your audience really well, since sarcasm can easily be misunderstood.
9. Do try safer humor; cartoons, word play, spontaneous humor, dry humor, a funny quote. See how your audience reacts to these attempts before you go all-out.
10. Do take yourself lightly but no put downs. It’s a fine line to walk. If you can do it, take yourself lightly. Just don’t go too far with self-depreciating humor or your audience may not be able to take you seriously enough.

Bottom line: tread lightly, experiment with safer humor attempts, and yes, give it a try if you think your audience can handle it!

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