Last week I participated in a small networking gathering. We were doing the usual, you know… going around the table introducing ourselves. When it was my turn, I introduced myself and explained that I was a public speaking consultant. As often is the case, someone said, “WOW, most people would rather die than speak.” I smiled and offered my thoughts on that subject. Obviously, I’ve had a lot of practice with this one.
The discussion continued on and one of the women asked me what I thought about humor and how, if, and when we can or should interject humor into our presentations. Then she told a story about an event where she spoke. The speaker she followed was very humorous and had the audience laughing. They were clearly enjoying themselves and that had her wondering if her presentation needed to be more “entertaining.”
When it comes to humor, some people have the humor gene right from the get-go. To them, the timing that’s required is as natural as breathing. However, being humorous is not a prerequisite for being an engaging, interesting, and/or compelling speaking. So, if humor doesn’t come naturally to you, don’t feel like you have to add it in because nothing falls flatter faster than a speaker whose humor looks and sounds forced.
When you speak, one of your goals is to be authentic. So if humor comes to you naturally, then let it flow. But don’t feel bad if humor isn’t your thing. The audience wants to hear YOU and what YOU have to offer.
An excellent alternative to trying to be funny is to use stories to bring humor into a presentation. Very few things are as funny and interesting as some of the things human beings do just because they’re human. Stories will enhance your content, and study after study has shown that stories create visuals for people. Stories will make your presentation much more memorable too. The only caveat with stories is that even if it’s a funny story, don’t tell it if it’s at someone else’s expense—yours included!
People may not remember the particulars of your story, but they’ll remember the gist of it and how it made them feel. By sharing a story or two in this way, you’re accomplishing so much more than just giving your audience a laugh or two.
One important tip I learned from my research is not to present a story as a “funny” story. So don’t say something like: “I have a funny story to share with you.” Just tell the story. That way you aren’t setting people up to expect something really funny. If your story makes them laugh, you’re relieved. But if they don’t think your story is funny, you’ll still be able to move on regardless of whether you got laughter or crickets.
And even if you do get crickets, that doesn’t mean you have to ditch the story. Maybe it just needs adjusting. Maybe it needs help with the way you’re delivering it. But that’s what speakers do. We’re always honing our content. We’re always getting better with our presentations. We’re always looking for more ways to share our solutions with our audiences too. So, whether your presentation is funny or not, the value you contribute to people’s lives is no laughing matter!