Break the ice.
Refer back to a joke later in your talk.
Utilize the rule of 3.
The “k” sound is funny, so emphasize it.
There are many helpful rules of thumb like these when it comes to humor that you have probably already heard, and while these are a good foundation, what do you do if you want your whole presentation to be undeniably hilarious?
Below are 6 entry points for inserting more humor into your talk.
1. Break the ice with your intro
Believe it or not, you can actually begin entertaining your audience even before you take the stage.
Think about a common question you get from the master of ceremonies when you’re about to give a speech.
“How would you like me to introduce you?” The answer is, “With a joke”.
It can show that although you take your work seriously, you’re able to have a sense of humor, and that you have enough confidence to be a little different. It's possible to be both funny (and sometimes self-deprecating) in your introduction, as long as it aligns with your brand.
Here are some examples:
Your next speaker spends most of his time in the Museum of Passive-Aggression, which is what he calls California.
Your next speaker wanted me to let you know she recently won the prestigious award of “Best Costume” at her friend’s Halloween party!
Your next speaker, Jason, likes: kittens, summer, and cupcakes! But dislikes thunder, paper cuts, and people who steal the last cupcake.
2. Slide jokes into your slides
The irony about PowerPoint slides is they are often not powerful.
Comedy can help cut through the monotony of this medium exceptionally well.
In addition to funny photos (when appropriate), your slides are great opportunities for punchlines.
Here are some funny examples:
Use an example everyone will understand:
Make analogies relevant:
Bad romance = great chemistry:
3. Specificity/subject area humor
In comedy, specificity is often the secret sauce of a quality joke, making it more evocative. That’s why someone doesn’t just slip, they slip on a banana skin.
When you deliver a talk you will usually be speaking to an audience that has been drawn to a specific subject area or topic.
That means the majority of your listeners will use the same lingo, have the same insights, and may share similar experiences and backgrounds. This makes finding niche observations and jokes that will make them laugh a lot easier.
Example: I’m honored to be here with the International Olympic Committee. Some of you may remember me from the ‘94 Olympics. I competed in the 100-meter queue for a beer.
4. Physical humor
Physical comedy is easier said than done, but it will provide a powerful additional dimension to your presentation if you can pull it off.
The best way to find initial inspiration is to study the masters.
This IFC listicle highlights some of the best slapstick comedians. If you’re looking for a how-to book on the topic, check out The Physical Comedy Handbook by Davis Rider Robinson. Most importantly, get ready to experiment on your own and discover the unique physical punchlines you have to offer the world!
Example: My next slide reveals the meaning of life!
[Pretend that the clicker is broken. Try frantically to advance the slide to no avail. Finally, give up.] ...Guess we’ll just end early and move on to the meaning of lunch. ”
5. Plant punchlines in the Q&A
Q&A sessions can be a superb space to seamlessly fit in some bonus laughs at the end of your talk.
If you need help getting warmed up or you feel like sometimes there is a lull in the questions, arrange with a friend, colleague, co-speaker, or the event organizer to set you up for a seemingly unexpected off the cuff zinger.
Example: Do you have any advice for an aspiring birdwatcher like myself?
Yes, you cannot entice a bald eagle into view with Propecia, but they do accept PayPal.
6. Self-deprecation has its place
“They all laughed when I said I'd become a comedian. Well, they're not laughing now.”
Your own foibles are some of the strongest and most relatable building blocks in comedy.
People might be wary of revealing their shortcomings outright, but it’s extremely cathartic for them to laugh at a speaker’s similar experience.
Wrapping it up
Humor is a nimble tool that provides you with great possibilities to create laughs that improve your content.
When it comes to your speeches specifically, jokes allow you to play with that form in a way that deeply engages not just your audience, but also yourself. It’s very liberating in that you can choose the methods of delivery that best fit your own unique style.
You may utilize your introduction, slides, or an ally in the audience. No matter which entry points you use, remember to lean on specificity, physicality, and your visuals.
Try to consider every angle of your speech as a potential comedic opportunity, and you get extra credits if you poke fun at yourself!
About the author:
Charlie Nadler is a comedian and co-founder of the joke writing consultancy LaughDealer.com. He owes his existence to a TV show: His parents met while writing together on Laverne & Shirley. He has released two albums and told jokes around the world in clubs, festivals, bars, country clubs, teen centers, basements, attics, and one barbershop.
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