I stumbled upon an article on The Daily Muse which discussed one method to improve any of your presentations: Comedy. As a tour guide the last two summers, I can tell you that this is completely true. Whether you are giving a presentation at work, school, or a conference, there is something all of those speeches have in common: You are a salesman (or woman). For most of us, our presentations will try to get our audience to learn a lesson or to buy into an idea. Either way, you have to be riveting and convincing. I am going to focus on the former. Be riveting!
Comedy Opens an Audience
When you are giving a presentation, you will be throwing fact after fact at your audience. If I had to take a guess, the large majority of us would rather attend a presentation or lecture that was given by someone who could make the material enjoyable. If you can make an audience laugh, you will lower their defenses in a way that makes them more likely to listen and absorb the information you are giving them.
In addition, I have noticed during my tours that if you want to interact with your audience, getting them to laugh will make them more agreeable toward you. There is nothing worse than a tour group that looks like it is suffering.
Now, this does not mean your presentations should make an audience laugh at every moment. Again, as a presenter, you are selling something. The Daily Muse article mentioned a sweet spot of 4-5 jokes in each of your presentations. With my tour guiding experience, I would personally say 4-5 jokes is good number for a 45-50 minute presentation. If you are going an hour to an hour and a half, 6-8 would probably be a better range.
All of this discussion about jokes begs a tough question: How do I make the audience laugh?
Joke Creation 101
The best jokes come from (or seem to come from) personal experience. If you are giving a presentation on a subject in which you do not have a funny personal experience, that is fine! There are some basic elements to good jokes that can be created using almost any material. Here are two methods to create some good humor in your presentations.
One of my favorite teachers here at the University of Minnesota Duluth teaches some complicated upper-level psychology courses dealing with brain chemistry. For a lot of people, this can be dry material. This teacher uses personal stories to spice up the lectures.
- Start out broad. The set up to your story should be relatable or easily imagined. My teacher would usually start out stories describing to us some kind of lab, and having us imagine we are researchers.
- Get to your specific story. My teacher would usually explain some odd case that he or his colleagues were working on in the lab.
- Deliver the unexpected. One example of how a joke would end is, “… that filter is actually made out of a specific brand of women’s pantyhose. Who knew that pantyhose would be better than lab equipment?”
The Random Method
If you delve into the anatomy of a joke such as what is described above, you can actually see that the funny part is the unexpected. From my tour guide experience, I have learned to tell jokes about random things within the subject matter I deal with. If you do not have a personal experience in your presentation subject, this is a great method to create humor.
Here is an example of a joke I tell on most of my tours: When exiting a specific room, we have to exit the same way we entered the room. There is another exit, but it is a fire escape, so I use that to make a small joke, “Alright, we are going to turn around and go back the way we came! Unless you want to set off the fire alarms, but that was not in my list of things to do today.”
It might not be comedy gold, but some kind of unexpected one-liner should be able to get a couple of chuckles, opening up your audience a bit. When you have to present ANYTHING, whether it is in class or at work, impress your audience with your ability to both entertain and educate. With this skill, your teachers and supervisors will respect the way you can handle the pressure of a room filled with people.