Presentation Humour – what a Joke!

Humor in Presentations…what a joke!

The use of humor in presentations is both powerful and… do I put this…and can be very dangerous!

Humor can add impact with humorous tones in story telling to make a point or colorfully reinforce the message you are delivering. Now read this next part carefully…humor in presentations is NOT about telling jokes. Yet, I’m often contacted by individuals who tell me they are delivering a presentation and can I give them my best jokes…Give me a break!

Nothing has changed…I still don’t know any good jokes.

Over time I have only overheard or been told jokes that are old, corny, gender biased, gratuitous and generally offensive for some individuals. Shocking to me is that what I’ve described is just what I’ve heard delivered by presenters and then I get to watch their audience cringe, gasp and mutter something under their breath. Ouch!

Humor in presentations is highly effective when used strategically.

By that I mean when you use it to your advantage and it adds to your presentation. I don’t mean using snappy one liners either. Think back on your own experiences that invariably something happened to you or you observed that struck you as funny. Choose experiences that your audience can easily relate to…personal or business…so they can feel the experience first hand.

Developing keen observations on a daily basis of things that go on around us and sharing those events is one of the most powerful techniques that has been known to be called observational humor. Besides those stories are easy to tell…they happened to you and likely many others have felt that experience or more importantly can relate to it. The point you deliver will be remembered by the mental images you create for your audience.

A funny story without a point to it isn’t worth telling

That’s the catch…the humor must be used strategically to drive your point home. I cringe sometimes when I hear a presenter deliver a very good story and yet it falls flat because it quickly feels out of context because it didn’t get connect to anything…what was the point? I guess the presenter just likes to tell that favorite story at every opportunity.

Gets worse when I hear the presenter say, ‘the point of the story was’…if you need to explain that part…you have missed the mark. It’s like telling a simple joke to a group of friends…finding they look at you with a blank stare…and you feel compelled to say, ‘well, the funny part was…get it?’

No, I don’t get it!

Did you use humor just to get a laugh?…what for? Now if it was used to break some tension or diffuse a tense moment that’ different…that’s strategic. Humor is powerful as a tension breaker if you feel it is necessary. Avoid the temptation of opening a presentation with humor because you feel it will break the ice or warm them up. You are not in a comedy club as a warm up act.

Think you’re funny?…then audition at a comedy club…you may find out you’re the only one who thinks you’re funny!

I’m sure you will have the audience rolling in the aisles. Well, as they stampede toward every available fire exit or worse yet looking for any available food stuffs to fling your way.

Occupational humor…the danger zone!

Now it’s my turn to tell a story…the circumstance I’m about to relate is permanently burned into my brain and serves to act as an example of using stereotypical occupational humor and its ramifications. The story has a strong tone and is not meant to be graphic but highly descriptive.

Scene: Large boardroom with senior executives seated soberly in their assigned places.

I’m one of three observers in place in holding a consultative role. The presenter is to deliver quarterly results that are anticipated as less than vigorous. Shortly into the presentation the presenter feels the tension in the room and decides to break the tension by saying he had joke to tell. The first I though was, ‘uh…oh’…not good…I struggled and held back from shouting, ‘Fire’, in hopes of clearing the room and saving the presenter from what I sensed as impending doom.

It was too late; the presenter had chosen to deliver a tired stereotypical joke that poked fun at an occupation. Granted certain occupations seem to attract humor attention, in this case it was directed toward the legal profession. The presenter prefaced his remarks by saying, ‘I hope there aren’t any lawyers in the room’, as if that would cushion what would come next.

The punch line was delivered…

…the group in the room audibly gasped…and one could hear a proverbial pin drop in the room. After what seemed like an eon passing, the most senior official at the head of the table broke the silence in the room by saying, ‘your story reminded me of my daughter, she was going to be a lawyer until she was taken from me in a tragic auto accident last year’…

The damage was done.

Lacking a trap door in the floor the presenter may have called upon his knowledge of physics in determining the speed required to cross the room and burst through the window in hopes it was several floors above street level and plunge to his demise.

Do you recall my mention of the danger of ill chosen humor?…Point made.

Relating personal experiences with a humorous tone…that’s my choice.

For those of you that attended or should I have said successfully survived my two day Presentation Boot Camp may recall a personal experience I share in a strategic manner to deliver my point. I have found it is not uncommon for some of my participants to have some reservation on how I could ever help them be more powerful presenters…I’ve heard some say…after all they have delivered presentations for years…there’s nothing to it. Really?

So it starts like this…I make a statement about our own presentation self awareness. Just because we have done something or acted in a certain way doesn’t necessarily mean that we are getting better, improving or growing.

A powerful experience of self awareness.

Then I go on to say…’let me tell you about my own recent powerful experience of self awareness. It goes like this, ‘one day my teenaged daughter comes up to me and says, ‘Dad, I have an announcement to make’…I swallowed hard not knowing what would come next . She tells me she has decided it was time for her to get her drivers license. I’m thinking oh is that all…is that all!…don’t get me started on the thoughts that raced through my head at that point.

She quickly agreed to my suggestion of enrolling in driving instruction classes. She seemed less agreeable to my next suggestion of her and I practice driving on weekends…mmhh. During one our first few practice drives she appeared a bit timid behind the wheel. In a moment of consoling I suggested her driving would get better and better the longer she drives and has more experience.

Then it happened. With hardly a pause and glancing at me rather quizzically, she remarked, ‘Dad, you have been driving for years…how come you’re not a better driver’. I responded, ‘what do you mean?…

Her response was, ‘I’ve told my driving instructor some of the things you do and he says they are actually against the law’…so I say, ‘next time I do something like that point it out to me’

As it happened in the next block she blurted out…’there you just did it again’…’did what?’ I said. She went on to tell me in drivers hand book accuracy that I did not come to a full and complete stop at the stop sign. Our following banter consisted of …no you didn’t…yes I did…no you didn’t…and she successfully got in the final…no you didn’t.

That’s when it hit me. In my mind I was doing the right thing

…well until it was brought to my attention. It’s clear to me now that just because I have been acting or behaving a certain way for years doesn’t mean I’m getting better at it or elevating my skills.

My concluding statement to the group goes like this…’Presenters, I no longer get the same traffic ticket again and again… that tells me all of us here today has room to grow and the opportunity get better as presenters…at this point I arch back as if I’m sliding and I raise my voice sharply and deliver my closing line…’unless someone says I should STOP!.’

That one simple story invariably generates a hearty round of laughter followed by lively discussion and a debrief on the principle of self awareness. Better yet the group becomes much more open to self discovery. It also gives me a transition point to move deeper into humor, and incorporating into existing personal experiences through strategic story telling.

Your story is simple, real and easy to tell…because it’s your story

The story is simple, real and easy to tell…because it’s my story. I choose carefully from my story inventory to make it relevant to the audience demographic. That way they can feel the experience along with me…and paint their own mental pictures for higher retention of the learning point. That is one story from dozens and dozens I have collected and used for a strategic learning advantage.

That story does not appear in every presentation I deliver…just when it’s right for the audience. I have recently elevated that story with technology. There are PowerPoint portions of my presentations that I have inserted my own digital pictures or even video clips. That technique has warmed up the story even more by making it personal and real.

Now is the time to brush up on some of your own business or personal experiences and weave them into your next presentation as strategic and scintillating story learning experience.

Instead of acting on the often heard expression: “Different day…same story”…now start acting on this premise.

Different day…different story… and that’s no joke.

Presentation Resource Library:

P.P.S – be sure to visit my presentation portal to the latest updates on new articles by going here:

Richard Peterson, North America’s Presentation Coach(TM)


Raves: "...the Presenting with Integrity™ program was amazing, I implemented five presentation techniques almost immediately after the program...if I'd of only taken this course years ago ...I can say.... THIS STUFF ACTUALLY WORKS!!!...thanks for the powerful coaching Richard."

- O.C., Manager, Facilities Supplies, MA., Unisource Worldwide Inc.

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