Presentation Skills Articles

Essential Presentation Skills

How to Use Humor in Your Presentations

written by Jan D'Arcy


Recently a client lamented, "I'm not good at telling jokes but I know everyone at our regional meeting will expect some humor my presentation. The head of our department always starts out with some hilarious incident and then I get up and am serious and boring. What can I do?"

My client doesn't have to imitate his boss's brand of humor when giving a speech. Humor isn't always a guffaw joke; personal stories can be more appealing, succinctly illustrate a point, and build rapport with the audience. A subtle throw-away line can bring about a smile. Art Buchwald quipped, "Living in Seattle is like dating a beautiful woman who always has a cold."

  • Humor can gain attention. If everyone is chuckling at your anecdote, they are focused on what you are saying.

  • Humor helps retention. In an era where we forget the conversation we had with a client this morning, humor is a powerful memory enhancer if you connect your story to your point.

  • Humor can add to your credibility. A speaker who successfully uses humor demonstrates confidence and being in control. A flip side of humor is that if it fails, you can lose your dignity and it will be a setback if you are trying to persuade your audience. Stick to witty one-liners. If no one laughs, you can move on to another point without losing face.

  • Humor relaxes both speaker and audience. Have you ever said, " I fell off my chair laughing?" Laughter releases muscle tension.

Tips to make humor work:

1. Analyze your audience. What would appeal to them? If you aren't comfortable using humor, try cartoons, animations or funny visuals.

2. Write out and edit your story. Avoid what I recently observed:
The speakers for a panel were cautioned to limit their remarks to five minutes. The first speaker finished exactly on time. The second panelist sat down with 15 seconds to spare. But the third panelist was still droning on after 15 minutes. Ten minutes later, the audience was shifting uncomfortably. The moderator, intending to interrupt him with a loud gavel blow, inadvertently hit the second speaker on the head. As the man slid down under the table he gasped out, "Hit me again, I can still hear that guy talking!"

3. Rehearse. Sharpen your delivery and timing by telling a story under similar conditions that you will face during your presentation. Be totally involved in the story as you tell it. Believe in it!

5. Start keeping a notebook or file of amusing quotations, cartoons, news stories and personal stories.


Humor is an attitude. It is the ability to be delighted with life.
Take a risk and use humor in your next presentation!

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”You helped our Marketing and Communications Managers condense a lot of detailed material into a short amount of time. The best part was that they took your advice to ”make it interactive” and were able to establish rapport quickly and maintain a dialogue with the sales reps throughout their presentations. I think the run-throughs on videotape and your critiques allowed them to shift their emphasis to the audience, delivering information that was needed and useful.”

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Stimson Lane
Woodinville, WA

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Try some of the techniques I have suggested. Let me know by email if they help you achieve rapport in your next presentation or you have further questions.

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