One of my biggest fears as a presenter is not being taken seriously, this fear has often caused me to shy away from humor and laughter in my presenting which has resulted in a perception that I am only a serious presenter and unable to break into the fun field. For the longest time I embraced that perception and refused to change but the more time I spent researching the impact of laughter the more I realized how vital humor is to a fun engaging presentation.
According to a Pew Research Poll, they found that people who watched more humorous news shows such as the Daily Show or the Colbert Report exhibited a higher level of news retention compared to those who watched the more traditional networks like CNN, NBC, or Fox News.
This was a wake up call for me as it became it abundantly clear how important humor is for every presentation, and as presenters we must learn to implement it into every presentation. Here are three easy tips to not just implement humor in your next presentation but leverage it for maximum impact.
For me this is the most important tip I could ever offer as well as implement myself. The reality is most of us are not Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah and humor might not come naturally. That is why we have to be intentional in the planning process. When I work with presenters I call these intentional points of humor “Aisle of Refuge.” What I am encouraging them to do is look for the exact right moment to implement humor into a presentation which will act as a quick spot of refuge for the audience, a chance for them to breathe, relax, and process the information you have been presenting. These aisles of refuge allow your audience to reconnect and buy you precious moments of attention span.
For me being intentional has become so important that I actually write humor into my outline, whether it be a joke, funny story, or humorous picture I make a note of it in my outline sometimes going so far as to putting it in a different color so that I cannot miss it. This takes practice and may not feel natural at first, but I promise the more intentional you are with your humor the more fun and engaging your presentations will become.
A fatal flaw when inserting humor into a presentation is a lack of balance. I started this post by sharing that one of my biggest fears is not being taken seriously, well if you don’t learn to balance your humor that fear will become a reality. Too much humor and you sound like a class clown at a frat party, to little humor and you risk coming across as unapproachable and overly serious.
I have found the best way to find the balance, especially when first starting to implement humor is to simply ask. I always run my “aisles of refuge” past a trusted advisor before trying them on stage. I ask for honest feedback and make real adjustments based on that feedback. It is a fine line to walk when it comes to balancing your humor, don’t risk tipping the scales because you are too proud to ask for feedback.
Being yourself is vital when it comes to implementing humor into your next presentation. I will never forget the first time I tried to insert humor into a presentation. I got on stage and told a joke that I had heard one of my friends share at a party. It was so well received when they delivered the punch line I thought to myself there is no way I can fail. So, I stood up and delivered the joke word for word, using the same expressions, the same hand motions, and of course the same vocal impressions. Rather than the roar of applause I was met with blank stares and a silence so quiet you could hear a pin drop. In that moment I realized I had made a fatal flaw. I tried to be someone I’m not.
Learn from my mistake be yourself, if the humor you are trying to insert feels weird to you, chances are it will feel fake to your audience so don’t use it. Find what makes you laugh and tweak it in a way that will translate to a room. Because the only thing worse than an overly serious presenter, is an inauthentic presenter.
Creating a fun and engaging presentation starts with laughter, not only does it increase information retention, but it makes you relatable as a presenter. It may feel awkward at first but push past the awkward, be intentional, be balanced, and be you. I promise it is worth it.
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