To build her business, Jenny delivers several presentations per month. She feels confident about her product and business knowledge, but she wonders how she can make her content more impactful and engaging. Jenny wishes she could add an element of humor to her presentations, and she knows she could enjoy her presentations more if she could pep things up—but all her life she’s told herself that she’s not a funny person.
Jenny’s colleague Jim is also a frequent presenter. Jenny marvels at his skill in engaging his audience and injecting humor at regular intervals, and he obviously has fun doing it. Jenny figures Jim was born with this ability—but nothing could be further from the truth. Jim deliberately developed his skills, and he knows that anyone can do the same.
Laughter wins. Adding humor to your speech will make your content easier to remember and a whole lot more fun to deliver. Research has shown that laughter stimulates both hemispheres of the brain and accelerates learning. Because humor reduces stress, and the lower the stress level, the more we learn, your audience will grasp and retain more of what they hear.
You don’t have to be a professional comedian or even a class clown to infuse a presentation with humor. You don’t have to tell jokes. You can develop funny material and acquire skills for delivering it. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Fun is the bottom line.
If you are having fun and feeling good, you are more likely to laugh and create laughter. Loosen up and practice the art of not taking yourself too seriously. Cultivate a sense of playfulness, even in mundane things. Immerse yourself in the experience by hanging out with people who like to laugh.
Visit your local comedy club or watch standup comics on television, taking note of what makes you laugh. This will tell you a lot about your sense of humor. You’ll soon find you are funnier than you thought you were, and your unique sense of humor will manifest itself. After that, it’s just a matter of honing and polishing your wit.
When you’re having fun, your audience can sense it. The fun is contagious, and the audience will be pulling for you. Even if one of your lines doesn’t get a laugh, when you stay in the moment and have fun, it won’t make any difference. You’ve made friends with your audience, so a self-deprecating “saver” comment such as, “That was funny at my house” or “My mom laughed at that one” can pull you out of the comic ditch.
2. Your attitude, perspective, or point of view will help you develop your own brand of humor.
A lot of humor comes from looking at things from one specific vantage point. What’s your personal spin, your take on things in the news, in pop culture, or in mundane, everyday situations? Are you skeptical, enthusiastic, optimistic, defeated, or depressed? Any or all of these can be tipped into a comic perspective and will serve as a mother lode of humor.
Tap into what annoys you, but look at it with a humorous approach. Go on a rant—on paper. A sense of desperation, when you apply it in a funny way, can get a big laugh. Try it and see what kind of funny stuff comes of it.
Conversely, what are you excited about? What do you love? Write it down. A pattern will emerge. Step back and find yourself looking at life from your new comic perspective.
3. Prepare your mind as you prepare your presentation.
Preparation is essential in public speaking, and doubly so when using humor. Of course, you’ve prepared your material. But presenters often get so wrapped up in the words they are going to say that they lose their connection with the spirit, energy, and passion of their message.
Humor requires enthusiasm, commitment, and emotional investment. In order to get better connected before you present, ask yourself the following questions:
4. Emphasize the “present” in your presentation.
Stage presence, cadence, timing, and platform skills will develop with practice. For your audience to laugh, they need to like you. They need to pick up on your confidence. One way to radiate confidence, or at least the impression of confidence even when you’re not necessarily feeling it, is through your posture. Stand up straight. Throw your shoulders back. Stand with your feet planted, your weight distributed evenly, and don’t shift from one foot to the other. When you move, move toward the audience. Never shrink back or appear to be retreating.
Smile and keep on smiling. Make eye contact. Remember that the audience wants the same thing you do: they want you to be funny and do well. When you deliver your laugh line, slow down and enunciate. When they laugh, stop and let all the laughter die down before continuing. That way you simply ooze confidence—or at least you appear to.
Comedy is always in the now. Stay in the present moment and you will become aware of opportunities for extemporaneous humor.
Now that you’ve taken a look at how to win with humor, you are ready to begin your journey. Humor energizes, relieves stress, and improves learning and memory. Enjoy the process of sharing and enjoying laughter. And above all, remember to have fun!
MARTI MACGIBBON, CADC II, ACRPS,
is a certified mental health professional, humorist,
inspirational motivational speaker, veteran standup comic,
author,and member of the National Speakers Association.
She is the author of Never Give in to Fear.