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Tips for using humor in your next presentation

Effectively using humor to engage and entertain an audience is a valuable tool for presenters. Humor allows you to present ideas in a non-threatening manner. It also enables you to reinforce key ideas. Most of all it gives the audience a chance to relax and enjoy the moment and for you to connect with them. Humor helps you and your audience come alive!

But as author E. B. White says, “Analyzing humor is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested and the frog dies.” So, at the risk of overanalyzing what makes something funny, let’s look at just a few tips to unlock the secrets of how humor can uplift, fortify, boost and animate your next presentation.

Use the element of surprise 
For humor to succeed there must be an element of surprise that makes the story or joke tickle the funny bone. Known as the punch line, this unexpected twist appears spontaneous and off the cuff. The closer this twist is to the very end of your joke the more surprise it elicits. One great way to increase the surprise is by using a long, strategic pause right before the punch line. The pause heightens the impact and sets up anticipation. Speakers who can deliver a powerful punch line go a long way in creating a connection with an audience.

Tap into the humor of everyday life
Observational comics base their careers on scrutinizing and exaggerating everyday occurrences that the audiences can relate to. The more familiar people are with the topic, and the more they recognize themselves in the situation, the more they respond with laughter. 

But humor can also be successful when you’re setting up a ludicrous or bizarre situation that plays off of the familiar. When you describe an outlandish situation that contradicts what the audience knows and recognizes you pull them off balance—and that can have a powerfully funny effect.

Know your audience
Making an offensive joke – even by accident – is a deadly mistake. Avoid putting your foot in your mouth by learning all you can about your audience beforehand. Know their demographics, interests, customs, political views, past times, competitors, customers, history, religious observances, etc.

Build trust
Often, other people’s discomfort and embarrassment can be hilarious. But if you make fun of your audience, you risk damaging your reputation—and your career. Instead, poke fun at yourself. If you make yourself the target of your jokes you will appear human and confident and ensure the audience that you won’t offend them.

Plan and practice
Comedians tell us, “Dying is easy; comedy is hard.” So to be successful at using humor in your presentations make a plan and stick to it. Most speakers spend a great deal of time planning every detail of a joke or funny story. They write out every word, practice their delivery, rehearse their set up and refine their pauses. To the audience it seems spontaneous but good speakers work hard to appear that way. On the other hand, if you are lucky enough to have the gift of spontaneity and are one of those people who can create jokes and stories on the spot, by all means do so. Then do your best to remember those funny anecdotes and perfect them for the next time. 

Stay tuned
Humor is everywhere so pay attention to what makes you laugh and ask yourself, “Why?” Considering what makes things humorous will hone your comedic skills and help you discover new material for your next speaking engagement. Go ahead. Talk funny.

June 23rd, 2009 | Permalink | Trackback | Bookmark and Share

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