By Jean Stewart, Toastmasters International
When you give a presentation you want people to learn from it and take action. One way to get an audience’s attention and keep them listening is to use humor. With the introduction of humor people will learn more and enjoy listening to you.
If you are concerned that you aren’t naturally funny – don’t worry. Luckily there are lots of ways you can add some humor without doing a comedy course first. Here are some tips to help you gain the benefits of using more humor when you present.
The Right Tone
For an audience to enjoy a presentation, the presenter must enjoy it too, and must feel passionate and energized by their subject matter. It is important that the audience can feel this. The presenter sets the tone for the session by making eye contact and smiling.
If you are presenting at a Corporate event, take time to find out about the organisation. They will undoubtedly have a fund of stories about their organisation and the people in it. Pitched correctly this can provide you with an excellent opening to your presentation – and there may even be a funny story you can share. But remember…
Avoid Making it Personal
Never make personal comments about anyone in the audience as a way of being amusing. Do not think that pre-arranging a ‘victim’ will work. Many in the audience will then spend the entire presentation worrying that they will be the next target. It’s a quick way, to lose the support of the rest of the audience. It is important that you remain the friendly presenter who is on the side of the audience, not someone who is itching for confrontation.
Your Own Experiences
If you want to tell an embarrassing story, make sure it is something you have experienced. Undoubtedly some of the audience will also have lived through this unfortunate episode in their lives. This way you will gain the sympathy of the audience – and don’t alienate anyone.
Use Pauses to Full Effect
If providing a humorous punch line to the story, pause and allow the audience to realize this is an important part of the presentation. If they don’t take the hint; move on.
Mind Your Language
In a lot of situations, it would be a mistake to use inappropriate language to get a point across. I have seen this happen and it is nearly always a mistake. Unless you know the audience well and feel they are happy to put up with fairly tame, but inappropriate language, do not indulge in this.
Humor inserted into a presentation should be written down and rehearsed as any other material would be. Do not think that humor can be off the cuff. It needs to be planned and rehearsed – you as the top comedians so.
Although you want your presentation to be humorous – don’t join in the laughter. There is nothing wrong with the presenter having a wry smile on his/her lips – but too much laughter from you gives the impression that the session is for your benefit. Also, if you laugh and the audience does not this is a way to make the atmosphere uncomfortable for all concerned.
Give the Audience Time to Laugh
You can never guarantee when an audience will find a statement funny. Each audience has its own personality. Some groups will laugh at a particular statement and others will fall silent. This is about the experience of some of the people in the audience. If they identify with something they find funny, because of their experiences, then their laughter will spread to others in the audience. At this point don’t try and move on too quickly, rather enjoy the moment and let them continue with their laughter.
Words and Pictures
Some of the audience will react well to the spoken word, and others are influenced by visual presentations. It is therefore a good idea to have something that will add visual impact to your presentation. This could be a humorous image on a slide, or even a humorous (and appropriate) prop.
And remember the following:
- You do not have to mimic your favorite comedian when delivering the funny content. Be yourself. If the audience does not get your humor, you can still rely on the main message of the presentation. Move on. It will get easier as you deliver more presentations with humor.
- An audience can be enjoying your use of humor without laughing out loud. Read their body language. Sometimes it takes time for the audience to warm to you.
- Keep up the energy and have fun yourself. This is the most important aspect of delivering a successful presentation.
As your confidence grows you’ll be able to bring an increasing amount of humor into your presentations. If your audience benefits from the presentation – great. If you can leave your audience members with smiles on their faces so much the better!
Jean Stewart is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland.
Members follow a structured educational program to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit Toastmasters International. You can follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.