Which presenters to you enjoy listening to most? Very probably you find yourself more engaged and learning more from the people who use humour when giving a business presentation or speech.
We’re not talking out and out stand-up comedy so don’t worry if you don’t feel you have the funniest of funny bones. Let me share some of the many ways you can add some humour to a speech or presentation and achieve your business objectives, without going to comedy school.
- 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.
- Don’t laugh. 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
- An audience can be enjoying your use of humour without rolling in the aisles. Watch their body language and don’t forget that it can take time for an audience to warm to you.
- Be yourself. There is no need to mimic your favourite comedian when delivering the humorous content. If the audience fails to get your humour, you can still rely on the main message of the presentation. Move on. You’ll find it gets easier as you deliver more presentations with humour.
- Keep up the energy and enjoy yourself. There is no doubt this is the most important aspect of delivering a successful presentation.
And finally: using humour is engaging, enjoyable for your audience and a great aid for learning. Be kind to yourself and let your confidence build gradually as you play with introducing more humour in your presentations. You and your audience will be glad you did.
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