There's no doubt that anyone listening to a presentation will learn more from it if they have enjoyed themselves – and the introduction of humour can really help achieve this. Toastmasters' Jean Stewart is here to talk us through a few tips to help strike a balance between humour and objectives of the presentation.
Set the right tone
For an audience to enjoy a presentation, the presenter must enjoy it too, and must feel passionate and energised 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.
Do your research
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…
Don’t make it personal
Never make personal comments about anyone in the audience as a way of being amusing. Do not think that having arranged for a ‘victim’ before the presentation will work. Many in the audience will then spend the entire presentation worrying that they will be the next victim. It’s a sure fire, and quick way, to lose the support of the rest of the audience. Sometimes you will get someone calling out or making comments you feel need to be slapped down. Don’t. Instead, tell the person concerned that you will discuss this with them later, or, ask the audience for their opinion on the comment made. Or simply ignore the remarks. 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.
Humour inserted into a presentation should be written down and rehearsed as any other material would be. Do not think that humour 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.
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.
Avoid ‘taboo’ subjects
Avoid at all costs using humorous remarks based on the audience’s belief structure. If you are not part of their culture you will be considered a critic of their beliefs.
Use pauses to full effect
If providing a humorous punch line to the story, pause and allow the audience to realise this is an important part of the presentation. If they don’t take the hint; move on.
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 always remember the following:
Finally, be gentle with yourself. Introduce more and more humour as your confidence grows. Any comedian making a living from humour will tell you that they are pleased if over 70% of the audience is on their side. They know that not everyone will enjoy their humour – that’s life. The same is true for the humour in your presentation.
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