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Using Humor During a Pitch

“Laughter is the best medicine.” It’s one of the many mantras funny people live by. That and “Laugh with people, not at them” are some of the better ways of looking at the best side of humor. While it unfortunately may not be for everyone (there are some very serious people out there), the sound of laughter is still pleasant to hear.

That simple, lighthearted reason is why it’s a good idea to incorporate humor and make people laugh during your presentation. You’re fostering a more welcoming atmosphere and making sure any tension is laughed away. In addition, you’re giving your audience members a good time by ensuring they don’t get bored while you talk.

It doesn’t mean that you must be a comedian—although there are a few pointers from their trade you could take lessons from. Humor can be strategically inserted into your speech or be present in your slides, like a funny image or a reference to pop culture. There are just a few reminders you must be mindful of.

Pitch Consideration #1: Relevance

Relevance

Recall what public speaking greats do before they get to their main point. A common technique is sharing a story, personal or otherwise. Another is telling a quote they hold close to their hearts. There are others, too, who crack jokes. A shared trait of all three methods is that they serve as an introduction and give the audience an idea and/or a stance on the subject of your speech.

Determine the topic of your quip and make sure that it is relevant to what you’re going to talk about. You don’t want an off-hand punchline that steers away your audience’s focus or doesn’t add anything to your point. It’s just like picking a quote or a story to start your speech with: you always connect it to your topic. The same treatment should be accorded to your jokes as well.

Pitch Consideration #2: Timing

Timing

Jokes have two parts: the setup and the punchline. Veteran comedians have mastered the technique of making their audiences wait for a few moments after building up the former and before saying the latter. The dramatic pause in between evokes a heightened sense of suspense and highlights the punchline. In much the same concept, use that similar sense of timing when you belt out your jests.

Showering your speech with too many jokes dilutes your message with unnecessary asides, making it difficult for your audience to sort through the extra information and get to the meat of your message. Time your jokes with breaks in your piece, like when transitioning to your next point or when you know that you just gave your audience an information overload. Take a breather with a few laughs—just like in life.

Pitch Consideration #3: Sensitivity

Sensitivity

As much as humor is not for everybody (as healthy as that may be), there are also types of jokes that don’t sit well with everybody. For instance, a recent study correlates dark humor appreciation with high IQ, but a speech is not the proper platform, time, or place since the former doesn’t sit well with everyone. In short, choose which kinds of jokes to dish out.

A good type is where you can poke fun at yourself lightly. Don’t be afraid to make yourself the butt of your own jokes. If anything, it shows the level of confidence you have for and about yourself. Don’t let another person be a victim of your own humor; it might be interpreted as a sign of insecurity because you need to put someone down for you to come out on top. It helps that you don’t attack or isolate anyone or put someone in an embarrassing spot, especially if said individual is well-known and/or influential. The safest victim of your jokes is yourself.

Humor is a trait not many people are blessed with but is almost vital in socialization, so studying about being funny and making the conscious effort—although not trying too hard—can be seen as a good thing. When your intent is to use jokes as a tool for a light mood, then you’re grasping the concept of humor nicely; employing it on something as serious as a pitch is always a welcome thought. Make your audience livelier with hilarity and enjoyment since, after all, laughter is the best medicine.

 

Resources:

Anderson, Gail Zack. “How to Use Humor in Your Next Presentation.” Business Communications. September 26, 2011. www.managementhelp.org/blogs/communications/2011/09/26/how-to-use-humor-in-your-next-presentation

Asher, Joey. “How to Inject Humor in Your Presentations.” Speechworks. n.d. www.speechworks.net/how-to-inject-humor-in-your-presentations

Barancik, Steve. “How to Use Humor Effectively in Speeches.” Write-Out-Loud.com. n.d. www.write-out-loud.com/how-to-use-humor-effectively.html

Brounstein, Marty and Malcolm Kushner. “How to Use Humor in You Presentation.” Dummies. n.d. www.dummies.com/careers/business-communication/public-speaking/how-to-use-humor-in-your-presentation

Doward, Jamie. “Black Humour Is Sign of High Intelligence, Study Suggests.” The Guardian. January 29, 2017. www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jan/29/dark-humour-high-intelligence-study

Marshall, Lisa B. “How to Make People Laugh During Presentations.” Quick and Dirty Tips. January 1, 2010. www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/public-speaking/how-to-make-people-laugh-during-presentations

Pain, Elisabeth. “Slipping Humor into Scientific Presentations.” Science Magazine. April 1, 2011. www.sciencemag.org/careers/2011/04/slipping-humor-scientific-presentations

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Dr. Seuss’s Five Rules for Fantastic Presentations

At some point in his senior year at Dartmouth College, Theodor Seuss Geisel and nine of his friends were caught drinking gin in his room. This was in 1925, during the era of the Prohibition and because of this, the dean put them all on probation.

He was also removed Geisel of his editorship of Jack-O-Lantern, the college’s humor magazine where Geisel published his cartoons. To escape punishment, Geisel began publishing cartoons under pseudonyms including: L. Pasteur, D.G. Rossetti ’25, and Seuss.

Those cartoons were the first time he signed his work under the name, “Seuss.” A couple of years later, Geisel began signing his work under the mock-scholarly title of “Dr. Theophrastus Seuss.”He soon shortened that to  Dr. Seuss. In acquiring his professional pseudonym, he also gained a new pronunciation. Most Americans pronounce the name “Soose,” and not “Zoice” (as it is supposed to be pronounced) and that is how Dr. Seuss came to life.

Arguably, one the most celebrated American author of children’s books, Dr. Seuss published 46 children’s books each with lessons still applicable to working adults today. This is also prevalent in the world of professional PowerPoint presentations. Here are my five favorite Seussian lessons for anyone working on their next professional PowerPoint design:

“Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.” >

In short, be yourself. Your presentation should be where you identify and represent yourself in your truest and simplest form. Know what your company does, how it does it, and why. If a child can’t understand your explanation of what you do then you don’t know yourself well enough. Even Einstein agrees with this by saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

“Why fit in when you were born to stand out?”

Your presentation is where you need to highlight your particular uniqueness and diversity- show how you stand out!  What do you do that is different or better than your competition? Why should I hire or buy from you? These questions are what your audience will be asking themselves as you present. It is better to anticipate them and have them answered in your presentation instead of having them come up as questions. This will show your audience how confident and prepared you are as a presenter.

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”

After reading just one of Seuss’s books, one will find that simplicity plays a huge role in a majority of his writing. Given his audience did consist of mostly children, Seuss had to match his stories to a lower reading level, but this did not take away from the fact that he managed to engage, inspire, and educate his readers. With only 236 different words, Seuss managed to make his most famous and influential piece of literature, The Cat in the Hat (1957).

“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”

It is crucial to be direct in what you say while presenting, chose your words and phrases wisely. Being vague or ambiguous will inevitably hurt you in the long run. Being clear with your audience is the best route to getting long-term and recurring customers and partners.

“Today I shall behave as if this is the day I will be remembered.”

Working by this motto led Seuss to disregard anything but perfection in his writing. He would sometimes spend up to a year on a book, even though they consisted of less than 1000 words. It was common for him to throw out 95% of his material until he settled on a permanent theme. For a writer, he was unusual in that he preferred to only be paid after he finished his work rather than in advance. He did this to motivate himself to work towards perfection—which has has become Seuss’ legacy. Think of what and how you want to be remembered, and let that come across in your presentation.

Incorporating Humor into a Presentation

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.

Practice!

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.

Man in the mirror
While you may feel a bit foolish telling jokes to yourself in the mirror, the practice will pay off when it counts.

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.

Most Importantly…

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.