5 Tips to Adding Humor to Your Presentations

By Jane Atkinson

Is humor important for building strong presentations?

The old joke in our industry (sorry I don’t know who said it first) is “only be funny if you want to get paid.”

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Humor is a fundamental key to building a strong presentation. Can you go without it? Sure, but if you can add it, it will benefit you greatly. There are many ways to use humor, even if you’re not funny.

Here are 5 tips to adding humor to your presentation:

  • Self-deprecating – making fun of yourself is very endearing; it shows you don’t take yourself too seriously.
  • Telling jokes – straight up jokes are typically not used a great deal by speakers, but if you have good, clean joke, by all means try it. Dirty jokes, political jokes, etc., may be seen in poor taste. I tell a joke about not being a “paid professional speaker because I speak mostly to groups of speakers – who don’t pay … but there are times, however, on long car rides that my husband has offered me money to STOP speaking!” Ha ha. Both self-deprecating and a joke.
  • Funny stories – this is how most speakers convey humor and it’s very effective (I share tips on how to do this in my newest book, The Epic Keynote).
  • Cartoons – if you use PowerPoint, you might use funny visuals or cartoons to lighten up the energy in the room. Be careful not to use things that are copyrighted (this would be illegal), or things that everyone may have seen before (i.e., something that’s gone around the internet for years). You may even commission someone to draw cartoons for you.
  • Interactive humor – this is tricky and you need to be good at it in order not to lose control of your audience. Having fun in the room, while remaining the expert and in control, can be effective.

Whether we’re in the process of crafting or tweaking our speech, we always want to test new material. Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld will take their act into clubs to try out new material over and over again before launching a new act. Trying it out when the stakes are low is key. If you give freebie presentations, are a member of a club like Toastmasters, or are working with a repeat audience who love you, that’s the perfect time to test new material.

What has or hasn’t worked for adding humor in your own presentations? We’d love to hear your ideas below in the comments section.