Yes, You Can Use Humour In A Serious Presentation. Hello everyone, I hope you are well. In today’s post, I will be sharing a guest post from Glen Savage. Glen Savage is a multi-award-winning public speaker and member of Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. Glen will share why you need to add humour to your presentations if you want them to be taken seriously.
Yes, You Can Use Humour In A Serious Presentation
At work, we often have serious matters to discuss, but does that mean our business presentations need to be devoid of humour?
Let’s be honest. The drier and the more factual the content of a presentation is, the harder it becomes for an audience to stay engaged, attentive and awake.
Not long ago, I was talking to a business executive I was coaching and suggested that he add some humour to a vital presentation he was practising. He was indignant and stated emphatically: ‘I am a serious speaker’.
My response to my client was to ask whether he wanted to be a ‘serious speaker’ or to be someone who was taken seriously when he gave a presentation. To be taken seriously, you need to use humour. Let’s start by looking into this a bit more.
Humour Can Support A Serious Message. Why Is This?
Effective one-to-one communication depends on building rapport, creating a connection and building trust; the same is valid for presenting. Rapport one-to-many may feel different, but it has the same foundations. Demonstrating relatability and connecting with the audience is fundamental to conveying a message. Humour conveys that relatability, displaying a human side which generates likeability and builds trust in the speaker.
Humour usually creates a response – a smile, giggle, or laugh, but used inappropriately can generate an adverse reaction. I tend to agree with Charles Dickens – “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.” However, the inappropriate comment will lead to a disaffected, potentially hostile reception. Levity should only be designed for a presentation once the speaker has a good sense of the potential audience.
Why Are Some Things Funny?
A difficult question to answer, given that we don’t all have the same sense of humour.
I am often asked whether joke-telling is appropriate, for which my answer is that it depends. Jokes, puns and frivolity directly related to the subject matter can work very well. Stand-alone, crafted jokes of the ‘three men walk into a bar’ kind are the territory of stand-up comedians and rarely work in other contexts.
In my experience, there are several things that audiences find funny which can be sprinkled into a talk or presentation.
Something unexpected, a twist in the tale, an exaggeration, or the speaker making a joke at their own expense, all humorous interludes which surprise and, when done well, delight the listeners.
People will laugh at things they can relate to, whether it’s an observation of something in the room, their own experience, current affairs or more.
Humour that unfolds from the subject of the presentation, creating a flow between the severe parts of the message, usually lands nicely and quickly with the audience. Don’t try to shoehorn in a funny line to get a laugh. Make sure any humour relates to the point or message.
A story about the speaker’s fallibility, maybe a mistake, an unanticipated event or some other anecdote relevant to the message, conveyed wittily, improves relatability and builds connection.
Exaggerating points, with a smile, raised eyebrow or chuckle, put a lighthearted spotlight on something to amuse the audience and underline a point.
Create anticipation and curiosity and get a laugh before you even reach the stage with an amusing title for the session – if it seems appropriate.
For example, I recently changed a session title from Sales training to Are you selling it or keeping it? Modern sales considerations.’. Attendance at the master class doubled!
In my experience, humour only works when executed well. Here are my top tips for delivery.
Run through your presentation several times, so the humour feels natural and flows fluently.
Try out the talk in advance with someone you know and trust to gain some honest feedback on the humour you’ve weaved in.
Relax, and your witticisms will be delivered with ease; when you appear to be enjoying yourself, the audience is more likely to enjoy the speech too.
Don’t Be Static
Use your facial expressions, gestures and voice to emphasise the humour – or use them to provide the humour with a raised eyebrow, a smile, body movement or change of voice tone.
Stretch out of your comfort zone and say or do things you might not usually be confident about. (I once told an amusing story about a purple gorilla in a presentation about ‘Health & Safety. I bumped into an audience member years later who said, ‘Hey, I still remember that story you told about the purple gorilla.’)
Read The Room (In-Person And Online)
Watch and listen. If people aren’t laughing, move on and, if necessary, adapt what you are planning to say at the moment. Remember, not everyone has the same sense of humour!
Focus on audience members who are smiling and laughing to fuel your energy of delivery.
Let The Laughter Flow
People like to laugh. Let them enjoy the experience. Pausing until the laughter has quietened means laughs can ripple around the room without interruption, and the next thing you wish to say will not be lost.
Humour is the secret weapon that connects, engages and holds an audience. Laughter is like an instant vacation, a kind of mini-break, enhancing the intake of oxygen-rich air to stimulate the heart, lungs and muscles. Laughter releases endorphins which lower cortisol levels and stress and stimulate the brain’s release of dopamine – the feel-good hormone. Amusement or hilarity can lighten any mood, relieve points of tension and increase receptivity.
In summary, humour is your best friend if you want to be taken seriously as a presenter and speaker. Use the tips above; your audience will be engaged and attentive when you talk to them. What is more, your presentation will be memorable.
I hope you enjoyed that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Glen Savage DTM is a member of 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 programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management.
To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org.