Ever notice how some people in your office are just naturally funny when they make presentations? How they seem to know when and what to say to make their audience chuckle? Your presentations have the same great information, you sell the same great products, and you work for the same great company. So why do they have exciting meetings, get more sales, and have customers and co-workers who show appreciation when all you get is blank stares?
It’s because they “get it.” They “get” humor and how to use it. Good for them and their naturally-funny genetic code, right? What about you?
Well… the great thing is that you don’t have to be a naturally funny person to learn to infuse and use humor in your presentations at work. You don’t even need to know, or tell, a joke. You just need a few tips to get you started.
Three Reasons to Be Funny
1. Relieve the Tension.
Seeing stress in others and doing something about it is a great time to use humor. When you are making a presentation at work, identify the types of stress and tension of the parties involved. You may be stressed since you are the one delivering bad news, or perhaps trying to close a sale. Your audience might be stressed because they don’t want to spend too much for your product or maybe they don’t understand what it is exactly that you do. Doing something about these stressors is more than a chance to use humor; it’s your opportunity to offer the ultimate in customer service. Making your audience more relaxed is a good thing.
2. Interact with Your Audience.
Who really likes to sit in a room and be talked at? No one. Humor helps you engage your audience and opens lines of communication. You show yourself to be vulnerable when you use humor; they show themselves to be vulnerable by responding to it. Humor requires a response. It is a two-sided conversation, even if the attempt doesn’t get a laugh. There. Now you all realize you are just humans with a job to do so let’s do it.
3. Be Memorable.
When is the last time you left a presentation and thought the information was just stunning and memorable. Was it the information, or was it the way in which the information was delivered. A day later when you had sat through four more meetings, does anything peak your mind to think about the first? If it was an information dump with numerous slides, probably not. Now think about what your potential clients go through when they are listening to proposals. If you simply drone information to them they wont remember your presentation long enough for it to get a second thought. If you successfully use humor, you just exponentially increase the chance that they will.
Four Ways to Be Funny
A brief note before the “how to be funny” portion on what to be funny about: Stick to a topic that won’t be offensive. Don’t talk about how hot ladies are or the fact you can count the number of teeth the hotel receptionist has on one hand. Humor at work has the same rules that apply to small talk. Stick with the weather, wildlife, and driving.
1. The List of Three.
This technique comes from the stand-up comedy world. I use this regularly in my professional keynotes and workshops. You may already use in your presentations and not even be aware. Listing three steps, illustrations or examples is a tried and true presenting device. Three items help the audience identify themselves. Four items belabors your point and begins to sound like you are over explaining. You get the 1, 2, 3 set-up idea, now you just need to make it funny. You can do that by raising expectations and ending with a punch.
Say you are visiting a client out of town. It’s a great tool to show the client that you have made the effort to know more about where they are from. You can use humor to show your efforts. For example:
“I’m glad to be able to visit you here in _________. I’m told you have great native wildlife. I saw a (insert cute fuzzy nice animal here) on my way from the airport. Then I saw a (insert nastier local animal here) this morning on my run. Of course neither of those compared what I witnessed when I drove by ___________ stadium and saw the (insert local rowdy college or pro team) fans. (Pause… LAUGH) Wow, are you all passionate fans!”
Each example builds up to a more intense level, and ends in a punch with the last example, which is not meek fuzzy and cute native wildlife, but bound to either get cheers from the fans and non-fans alike. The third one is the exaggerated.
2. The Unexpected.
From the last example you can see that the set-up and punch is an important element of infusing humor. The set-up creates expectation, and the punch line changes that expectation. Unexpected responses work the same way. The listeners are caught by surprise. You can plan an unexpected response in your presentation. What might your audience not expect you to say? What question are you constantly asked in presentations that you could twist to make humorous. For example:
You are creating a list of a clients needs for the development of a new product. The client asks, “can your product do X?” Your normal response during the meeting is “Oh yes, it can do X and it does it better than companies L, M, N, O, and P.” Your humorous response could be “Yes, but only when the moon is full. We subcontract to werewolves for that portion. Wait ‘til you see what they have planned for rollout at Halloween.” If your client laughs, good. If they smile, then they acknowledge your attempt to make emotional contact. If they stare blankly… maybe they don’t know what werewolves are.
3. Making Light of Yourself.
Being comfortable with yourself is key to your audience being comfortable with you. Going overboard on self-depreciating comments isn’t going to win you any champions, but using self-humor is a good way to break the ice. While its unfortunate that many stereotypes exist, you can gently use them to get your audiences attention and create a relaxed atmosphere. For example:
“Good morning everyone. I’m Ted from Acme Company. I’m a salesman. So that means I’m going to start pumping you for information, show you a lot of charts, and talk in a REALLY LOUD VOICE, starting riiiiiight… (pause) Now.”
Of course we hope Ted doesn’t actually do that during the rest of his presentation, but he’s instantly made his audience more comfortable with the tension placed on the sales meeting by showing he is aware of the stereotypes of salesman.
4. Funny Photos.
Have you ever experienced a boring slide show presentation? Ever given one? One easy way to stand out and use humor is with images. Ever seen a sign that cracked you up? Well, pull out your camera phone and take a picture! Start your own collection. Ask yourself, “What point could this make in my presentation?”
These days, a short video is powerful to use, as well. Make your own or use one that’s public domain. But, please do your audience a favor… make sure it’s relevant to the presentation and your point.
When connecting with your audience, is it crucial to understand their thoughts, objections, and preconceived notions about your topic. As I learned from my humor mentors, the problem is funny, the solution is serious. Do not “make fun” of people — leave that to the comedians. Offensive humor leaves a lasting bad taste. Please your people with relevant humor. It is easy to “lighten up” a presentation and stand out from a boring one. Your audience is looking at you thinking “Humor me?”
Remember that every audience is different, and their reactions will be as well. Even professional comedians try out new material and hone it until it gets a laugh almost all the time. So don’t feel bad if your first attempts fall short. Keep practicing and trying to infuse humor a little bit at a time into your presentations. You really can get more laughs, and it will show in your success.
2001 World Champion of Public Speaking
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