By Jean Stewart, Toastmasters International.
We know that using humour is a great way to connect with people but using it in a pitch or other important presentation may feel a bit of a risk. However, given how important it is to engage your audience, get them on your side and ultimately back you, taking time to work on appropriate ways to use humour is worth doing.
Here are some tips to add some humour to your next presentations and reap the benefits:
If you are presenting, take time to find out about your key audience members and their organisation. There may well be interesting stories about their organisation and the people in it that may provide useful background for you or even things that you can reference. The research will help you find an excellent opening to your presentation – and there may even be a funny story you can share. But remember…
Never make personal comments about anyone in the audience as a way of being amusing. Even when you have a friend in the audience who is willing to be a ‘victim’others in your audience will spend the entire presentation worrying that they may be the next target and you’ll lose their support. Sometimes you get someone making comments that a somewhat tangential however you feel they need to be dealt with. Don’t do this Instead, tell the person concerned that you will discuss this with them later so that you can continue with the task at hand. You want to remain the focused and friendly presenter not someone who comes across as itching for confrontation.
Use your own experiences
If you want to tell a humorous but slightly embarrassing anecdote, make sure it is something you have experienced. Undoubtedly some of the audience will also have lived through a similar episode in their lives. This way you will gain the sympathy of the audience, you won’t alienate anyone, and if played well you’ll have more of an emotional connection.
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.
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 presentation is for your benefit. Also, if you laugh and the audience does not it will be awkward!
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.
Allow time for laughter
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.
Time for practice
Humour inserted into a presentation should be written down and rehearsed as any other material would be. Do not think that humour can totally spontaneous. It needs to be planned and rehearsed – you as the top comedians so.
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.
Use pauses to full effect
If providing a humorous punch line to an anecdote, pause and allow the audience to realise this is an important part of the presentation. If they don’t take the hint; move on.
It is good to remind yourself that an audience can be enjoying your use of humour without rolling in the aisles. You will notice shifts in body language and it’s important to remember that some people will take time to warm to you.
The key is to be yourself, practice introducing appropriate humour, and represent your business in the best possible way
About the Author
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 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