“Have you ever attended an awful presentation? Was it YOUR presentation?” Those are the opening lines I use when I am conducting presentation skills training. Do they result in folks rolling around the ground laughing uncontrollably? No. (Darn it!) Do they usually “break the tension” at the beginning of a presentation and set the tone that we are going to have some fun? Yes.
Why is it important to include humor in a presentation? Well, the long answer is that more humor makes it more fun, and when people are having more fun the presentation is more memorable — so their retention is a lot higher. The short answer — humor enhances learning. There is a right way and a wrong way to include humor though — the DO’s and DON’TS — so in this blog titled Funny Business Part 1, let’s start with some of the DON’TS:
- Don’t try to be a stand-up comedian. In other words—don’t walk to the front of the room and start telling jokes. I’ve seen some presenters attempt to do this—and none of those attempts went well. Most people think they are funnier than they actually are. If you doubt this—go to any open mic comedy night. In addition, stand-up comedians and presenters have different goals. Stand-up comedians want to get as many laughs as they can during their set. As a presenter, you have a message to convey, and humor is just another tool to help convey that message to your audience. There should always be a point to your presentation humor.
- Don’t offend or insult people in your audience with your humor. It can be a challenge giving an effective presentation — don’t make that job any more difficult. Here’s a good rule of thumb — when in doubt, leave it out.
- Don’t “step on your laughs.” This is a term that comedians use, and it refers to not pausing to let the audience laugh — and instead rushing to say the next line and cutting the laugh short. It trains the audience to keep their laughter to a minimum. Too many presenters have a similar problem. If as a presenter you actually get your audience to laugh–just PAUSE and let the audience enjoy the moment.
- Don’t verbally wander aimlessly getting to the funny line — the shorter the setup, the bigger the impact.
Ok, ok. You might be thinking, “I get it — those are some reasonable items to avoid—but what SHOULD I be doing?” I’m glad you asked — be sure to check out Funny Business — Part 2 where I share some thoughts on the RIGHT way to include humor in your presentations.