Whether or not to include humour in presentations is a topic of debate among presenters. On the one hand, humour can really engage audiences, and help them to remember important content. On the other, using comedy can be a big risk – and if a joke fails, the presenter will have a hard time recovering.
So should presenters take the risk? And what are the best ways of including it? We discuss the pros and cons of using humour, and address the question: is there a hard and fast rule on humour in presentations?
Those in favour of using humour in presentations will argue that it is a great way of engaging the audience and getting them on your side. Everyone likes to laugh and have a good time; a joke early on will make them want to listen to you, in the hope that more will follow.
Using humour as an example in case studies is a great way to use comedy to educate your audience. This will typically help audiences remember, and funny anecdotes are time and again far better received than jokes that are only included to force a laugh. Audiences appreciate relevance in all aspects of a presentation – including its humour.
There are many different ways of incorporating humour into a presentation. Comedy isn’t just about jokes! Telling a joke may not always work, but showing a funny cartoon to demonstrate a point might. This is a great starting point for presenters who want to include humour, but may not feel comfortable relating a full anecdote.
A failed joke can cost the presenter his confidence, and even his credibility. If a joke bombs, it can be hard to recover. The presenter could suffer from a lack of respect, meaning that his audience no longer see the point in listening – and thus disengage.
Using humour in front of an audience can be a risky business. There is no sure way of knowing how a joke will be interpreted, and presenters could risk offending audience members unintentionally. Always be aware of the type of audience you are presenting to; and don’t use anything derogatory.
Self-deprecation is often seen as the safest method of including humour in a presentation, for who can be offended when the presenter bears the brunt of the joke? However, this type of comedy may work well in the West – but it does not in the East. And when this humour fails, the presenter can lose a lot of respect.
Should You Use It?
Any presenter that wishes to use comedy in his presentations should test it first. The key factor that is often overlooked is that it is the audience’s sense of humour that deems humour a success or a failure; and not the presenter’s. What you may find funny, your audience may find boring – or rude.
Including humour in a presentation is a risk if you don’t think it through. No good use of humour is actually off the cuff – it just appears to be because the presenter has practised it; tailored it specifically to the audience; and gauged the mood. As with any aspect of presenting, preparation and rehearsal are essential.
It is probably best for speakers and presenters who lack confidence and experience to avoid using humour, as in these situations it is more likely to fail. However, master presenters who know how to engage an audience and communicate their message can successfully use comedy to lighten the mood; gain attention; and make the point memorable.