Make ‘em Laugh! 7 Guideposts for Using Humor in Your Business Presentation.

Laughing audience

Many experts recommend opening your presentation with a funny story, joke, quote, or prop. And why not? Humor can engage your audience, add welcome lightness to a heavy subject, and increase audience recall.

Yup, humor can be a great opener….when it works.  And when it doesn’t?

Few things will suck the confidence out of you faster than starting off with a joke or story that bombs, annoys or confuses your business audience.

Using humor in your presentation is not without risk so be smart about exposing your funny side by following these 7 guideposts.

7 Guideposts for Using Humor in Your Business Presentation

  1. Make it relevant.

    I sat in on a presentation where the presenter told a story about his new dog’s obsession with his daughter’s goldfish.  It was funny, cute and heartwarming.  Unfortunately, the audience’s smiles turned to stony glares after he clapped his hands together and said, “OK, so let me tell you a little bit about our company. ” Humor for humor’s sake is rarely welcome in business.  If you don’t connect your joke or story to the topic, customer’s situation or business, many audience members get annoyed and feel like their time is being wasted.  Make sure your humor has some touchstone within your presentation or circumstance.

  2. Limit the sarcasm.

    Some people love sarcasm, whereas others find it negative or grating. Use it sparingly and appropriately – and only if you have a good read on your audience. (See Guidepost #7)

  3. Nail the punch line.

    Have you ever been listening to someone get all the way to the end of a joke and forget or botch the punch line?  It doesn’t instill much confidence, does it?  Nerves can do funny things to presenters (no pun intended) so take your humor as seriously as the rest of your presentation.  Practice your story or joke until you have it down cold.

  4. Avoid controversial subjects and stereotypes.

    I’m going to assume you know what topics are inappropriate (but if you’re not, float it on Twitter or Facebook!)   But we use stereotypes often without realizing it and that can be equally as dangerous.  One presenter told a joke about millennials to a group of HR executives which was met with icy silence. Afterwards, her sponsor in the organization told her that half their staff falls into that category and the executives found it inappropriate.  She didn’t get the business.  Make sure you’re not inadvertently offending someone in the audience or the company. When in doubt, don’t.

    TIP:  The one person you can always get away with making fun of?  Yourself!

  5. Deliver it with confidence.

    When using humor in your business presentation you can’t be the least bit sheepish or embarrassed about it. So if you can’t commit to your joke, story or prop 100%, it’s better not to do it at all.  Your audience will instinctively pick up on your discomfort and start to feel uncomfortable themselves.

  6. Punch and pause.

    Often presenters tell me their joke or story didn’t work, when in fact, they have no idea since they didn’t give their audience any time to react!  Like a good comedian, you have to take a beat (or two or three) after your funny bit to let your audience recognize the humor and react.

  7. Test it.

    Even after following these guideposts, your best fail-safe measure for using humor in your business presentation is to test it out on people who will be in your audience or are representative of your audience.  Don’t know your audience and/or what tickles their funny bone? Proceed with caution.

TIP:  Humor isn’t for everyone, so if it’s not your forte’, don’t worry.


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