As the proverb goes, "He who laughs, lasts." Humor is a powerful communication tool. It helps you capture attention, engage your audience, and make your message more memorable. Are you concerned you're not naturally funny? Don't worry--most of us aren't. There are still plenty of ways to tickle your listeners' funny bones without being a comedian. Try incorporating one or two of these tips in your next presentation and watch your audience light up with laughter.
1. Personal Stories
Avoid the joke books. Instead, offer a humorous incident from your own life. These are brief stories based on your own real-life experience. They are easy to tell because you have lived them and they spring from your own personal knowledge. They may include stories about your childhood, work, family, friends, pets, hobbies, vacations, adversities, achievements, embarrassing moments, etc. Craft and rehearse your story to ensure it's clear, concise and compelling. And make sure the point of the story is relevant to your message.
Cartoons can help you make important points by using clever wit and clean humor. Search the Internet to find the perfect cartoon for your next presentation. Be sure to include proper attribution and purchase usage rights if required. I often use this cartoon to discourage speakers from relying too heavily on notes or floor monitors:
Quotations can serve as an indispensable aid in your presentations. They not only support your point, add humor, inspire, and enlighten--they add a famous person's endorsement to your point. For example, when advising speakers to be concise, I use Franklin D. Roosevelt's quip: "Be sincere; be brief; be seated." Or, to add humor and levity in the midst of disagreement, you could quote Mark Twain: "When two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary." How about Yogi Berra's classic counsel on decision making, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
4. Sayings on Signs, Billboards, Bumper Stickers, Marquees, and T-Shirts
Humor is everywhere! When you see sayings that make you laugh, chances are your audience will, too. Jot them down and find ways to tie them into your presentation (making sure the message is clean, relevant, and non-offensive). Here are a few from my files:
- "I need a six month vacation twice a year."
- "Been dieting a month. So far I've only lost 31 days."
- "People who act like they know everything annoy those of us who do."
5. Twist in a List
Try including a list in your presentation and add a surprise ending. For example, a vice president of sales and marketing used this technique to coach his entry-level managers. He opened up the presentation by saying, "Let's discuss the Five Ts of an Effective Manager: Taking Charge, Time Management, Training, Teamwork . . . and Tylenol!" It got a big laugh, showed his sense of humor, and opened the door for a helpful discussion on stress management when he covered the "Tylenol" section.
A picture can communicate a message instantly, and get a laugh. The chief information officer of one of the world's largest consumer electronics companies needed to convince investors that his organization was responsive to economic change, thanks to its well-balanced portfolio. He opened his talk with a photo featuring an elephant balancing on a bright beach ball. In a friendly tone he opened by saying, "It is possible to be big and agile." This photo was the theme of his presentation, handouts, and follow-up e-mails. Ultimately, the idea was used to brand an entire advertising campaign.
Easy to find and fun to use, headlines can make your topic relevant. Because the funny headlines usually reflect errors in language or grammar, you can use them to emphasize a need for clarity in communication or discuss the possibility of multiple meanings in business. Type "Funny Headlines" in your favorite search engine to explore some that may work for you. Here are some of my favorites:
- Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be Belted
- Hospitals Are Sued by Seven Foot Doctors
- City Council Runs Out Of Time To Discuss Shorter Meetings
- If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly It May Last a While
- Milk Drinkers Are Turning to Powder
8. Interesting Definitions
Select a key word or phrase from your presentation and define it in an amusing way. Search the Internet for "Funny Definitions" and discover plenty of options. For example:
- Committee: The confusion of one person multiplied by the number present.
- Dictionary: The only place where success comes before work.
- Smile: A curve that can set a lot of things straight.
9. Abbreviations and Acronyms
Take commonly used abbreviations such as ASAP, RSVP, ETA, DIY, BYOB and create your own clever versions. For example, you could re-purpose ASAP (which typically means As Soon As Possible) to emphasize a customer service principle: Always Smile At People. Acronyms can also be used in a witty way:
C.L.A.S.S. = Come Late And Start Sleeping
F.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning
G.R.E.A.T. = Get Really Excited About Today
10. Greeting Cards
Would you like easy free access to material developed by professional humor writers? Then visit your local card store and browse through the mirthful messages for birthdays, anniversaries, and get well cards. You can easily adapt them to your topic or point. My mother-in-law received this card on her 96th birthday, which I later used in a presentation to retired professionals:
"Don't worry about your age. Celebrate your birthday like a teenager. . .Get a wrinkle pierced."
As Victor Borge said, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people." Consider using more humor in your next presentation,
because when you make 'em laugh, your message lasts.