How to Use Humor in Your Presentations

There's no denying the power of humor. It has the ability to ease tension, build connections, and facilitate communication, all while making people smile. In the context of speeches, incorporating humor can take your performance from ordinary to extraordinary. Although using humor is an art that requires understanding and skill, you can learn how to easily add humor into your speeches.  Have fun with these strategies!

Know Your Audience:

Before you decide to sprinkle jokes throughout your speech, it's essential to understand your audience. Because humor is cultural and contextual, what may seem hilarious to some could be offensive or confusing to others. Age, professional background, cultural norms, and language nuances should all be taken into consideration. Do your research to make sure your humor aligns with your audience's sensibilities. (See “Audience Analysis for Public Speakers for more info.”)

Make it Relevant:

One obvious key to successful humor is relevance. If your joke doesn’t relate to the topic at hand, it may seem out of place and throw off the flow of your speech. Keep your humor tied to your subject matter. This will not only help maintain your audience's attention, but it also increases the chance of your humor landing as intended.

Start with Humor - IF - Your Audience Already Knows You:

If your audience knows you well, you can start with a joke. Otherwise, it may be better to build rapport and credibility first before using humor. For the audience that knows you, do you have a humorous anecdote or a light joke to break the ice? It can instantly set the tone and create an atmosphere of connection between you and your audience. Make sure this initial joke is not controversial, complex, or long-winded. Remember, first impressions matter! (For a list of 68 jokes, visit: See which ones you like.)

Use Personal Stories and Observations:

Personal anecdotes can be a goldmine for humor because they can make your speech more authentic and relatable. Most importantly, they are less likely to offend since they're based on your own experiences and observations. Be observant of the world around you and the humor it offers; your personal stories can become powerful humorous tools in your speeches.

Practice Timing:

As the old saying goes, "timing is everything" — especially when it comes to humor. Work on your comedic timing. Practice your speech and pay attention to where your pauses are. The punchline delivered too early or too late could fumble the joke entirely. Also, be sure to give your audience time to react before moving on. If you flub a line, don't worry - we all make mistakes.

Test and Refine:

Before giving your speech, try it out on a smaller, diverse group of people. This can give you insights into which parts are working and which need refining. Remember, not all jokes will land — and that's okay. The key is to learn, refine, and improve.

Be Natural:

We can all agree that humor should feel natural and not forced. If you're not comfortable with a joke, it's better to leave it out. (When in doubt, don’t.) Your discomfort will likely translate to your audience, making the joke fall flat. Be true to your style and personality; use jokes that you are 100% comfortable with even if you're going out of your comfort zone.

Acknowledge What’s So:

Acknowledging what's going on with the audience (or the room or the world) can be an effective way to strongly connect with the audience and get the entire audience laughing. It creates a shared experience, making your audience feel more connected with you and each other, while also bringing a degree of levity to the situation.

One way to create a humorous moment is to interact directly with the audience. For instance, if someone has a quizzical look on their face, you could acknowledge that you notice that they have “a quizzical look” and ask them what is on their mind. Their answer could make the entire audience laugh. When I did this at one of my public speaking trainings, the person answered, “I am still thinking about what you said a minute ago when you said that we were all going to be coming up to the front to speak.” Everyone laughed! This was not planned and was totally unexpected. Even the person involved was laughing.

While using humor that acknowledges what's happening in the room can be a powerful tool, it's important to remember that humor should always be respectful and considerate of the people present. When done right, it can create a memorable experience for your audience, distinguishing your speech from others.

In summary, incorporating humor into your speeches can be a potent tool! Remember to keep it relevant, practice your timing, stay true to your style, and most importantly, know your audience. With these strategies in your back pocket, you'll be ready to make your next speech not only informative but also entertaining. Enjoy the sound of laughter; it's the applause that your well-delivered humor deserves. 

Do you have any jokes, humor tips, experiences, or comments to share? If so, please add them below. 

About the Author

Hi! I'm Pam. I teach entrepreneurs to be fearless & compelling speakers online and in person and how to easily promote and run their own online workshops, webinars, and online courses. 

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