Humor is a surprisingly effective tool in public speaking. No matter what level of professionalism you find yourself presenting at, a bit of comedic relief is almost always refreshing.
Sometimes the gravest, driest, or most technical speeches can often be the most in need of humor. Dense, heavy speeches can be very demanding, even exhausting for an audience, and eventually listeners may get weary and lose focus. Injecting a little humor into your PowerPoint presentation is helpful in relieving some built up tension.
Humor might not be for you
A joke or two–maybe a witty comment here or there–can really brighten up a speech, engage your audience, and help make a lasting impression, but when done poorly, it can not only create a cringe-worthy situation, it can take all credibility from your speech.
If you’re very uncomfortable using humor in casual conversation or in your personal life, it may not be worth the risk in an important presentation, because a flubbed joke can have a devastating impact on a speech.
You might be one of those effortlessly hilarious people that’s constantly making your friends laugh, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect to make an audience laugh so easily, or so spontaneously.
Good joke telling is about timing and delivery, and that requires rehearsal. Don’t risk fumbling over your words or forgetting a key part of the joke. As lame as it sounds, practice your jokes privately or work them into conversations to test the waters of how people react.
Don’t shy away from self-effacing humor
This may sound counter intuitive, but self-effacing, or self deprecating humor can show your audience you possess confidence in who you are, because you’re comfortable enough to laugh at yourself. An embarrassing story from the past can help establish trust between you and your audience by showing a human side to yourself.
And remember, never make jokes at others’ expense. While you may get a few laughs out of it, nobody’s going to respect you any more for it.
Have a point! So many people make the innocent mistake of injecting humor in their presentations just for humor’s sake. It’s important to remember that we aren’t stand-up comedians, we’re giving a presentation, which means we’re there to convey information in a direct, yet interesting way. If humor helps us further this goal and present in a more effective manner, then all the better. However, if you’re just telling jokes purely to make the audience laugh, sure, they might have more fun, but they’ll retain less of the information you’re their to present.
So tread lightly, consider your audience carefully, and be extremely conscious of being tasteful and good-spirited, but most importantly, have fun! It’ll be much easier for your audience to enjoy your presentation if you do as well.