“Why draw one another’s attention to [humorous] stuff? I think it is a wish, a need, a longing to share these things, to feel them together . . . I need reassurance that this something inside me, the something that is tickled by a joke, is indeed something that constitutes an element of my humanity. I discover something of what it is to be a human being by finding this thing in me, and then having it echoed in you, another human being.” Ted Cohen, Jokes: Philosophical Thoughts on Joking Matters
It’s true. Few things connect us like laughing together. I truly believe that presentations and speeches are about connecting with each other through communication. So it just makes sense that humor should be part of that. If you really want to connect with your audience, use these three tips to add humor into your presentation.
Have you ever tried to tell a joke to someone from another culture? We often say that the humor can get lost in translation. Jokes don’t work well unless you have a shared frame of reference with your audience. We refer to “inside jokes” as jokes that include just a few people with a shared, small circle of reference. When presenting, you need to expand that circle to make sure it includes the whole audience. To do that, use audience analysis to learn who you are talking to and to understand whether or not they share your frame of reference for any joke you might tell. If you tell a joke that falls outside of that frame or circle of reference or shared experience, it will fall flat.
One effective technique for humor is to lead the audience to expect one thing and then not meet their expectation. Miss America 2016 and logistics commander in the US Army Reserve, Deshauna Barber, used this technique in her commencement speech at Virginia State University. Watch how she uses humor in the clip below even as she’s talking about failure.
Adding humor to your presentations doesn’t always mean telling jokes. Sometimes humor comes not in the actual content itself, but in the way you present it. Get creative! Try using presentation media to add humor to your graphics. Try repeating yourself or contradicting yourself in funny ways. Experiment with your body language or a sarcastic tone to create humor. Change up your volume to make the audience laugh. The ideas are endless if you start to think about how to infuse your presentation with humor.
One of the biggest misconceptions about humor is that it must have a specific time and place. But if you adopt the bigger definition of humor as something aimed at human connection, it opens up more contexts in which it can be appropriate. Now, I’m not telling you a funeral or a board meeting is the place to practice your stand-up routine. But have you ever been part of a moment where everyone laughs together at a funeral? I believe it illustrates perfectly the connecting power of communal laughter. Watch this short clip from Ronald Regan’s funeral. The laughter that follows a brief joke told by former President George Bush, Sr. is cathartic and beautiful.
This should remind us that using humor in a presentation doesn’t just mean starting off with a joke to get the audience’s attention. When you handle it carefully, you can intersperse humor even into the most tender parts of your messages in ways that will dramatically affect and connect the audience.
As you seek to become a presenter who communicates effectively and connects deeply with your audience, remember that humor can be a great tool in accomplishing this.
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