Humour and Presentations: Yes or No?

Sometimes, I feel like all of us professional presentation coaches are either a bit hypocritical or bit egotistical. We all collectively seem to have the opinion that humour is really beneficial if done well, but disastrous if not.

Since the telling of jokes is a black art that none of us understand, and in the absence of a set of codified rules about it, we usually resort to advice that says:

“Unless your really good at it (CAVEAT) don’t try, the risk is too great” and then we take to the stage ourselves and start off or end with a joke.

Well, I want a set of rules. When can I tell a joke? What can I tell a joke about? Enough of this avoiding the issue, lets given the clients the rules (even if complicated and needing practice) and then let them decide to try it or not.

I have some ideas, some great blogs and resources and a few good books and so far some pretty clear ideas on what may be a set of rules but what do you think? Where have you seen it work? Seen it fail?

In short, please respond, with a joke if possible? And maybe I can pull it all together into something better than “Be careful” cop out…

Written by nick and filed under Presentation Psychology

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2 comments / Leave a comment



    Jokes can be wonderful or hideous, it truly depends on the nature of the subject matter being presented and the audience. I use comic relief whenever I can, but I have three guidelines when choosing an item such as a joke.
    1. I must be able to effortlessly mesh the subject matter of the joke into the subject I am teaching on; so, same or similar subject is a must.
    2. The joke must be tasteful, and never under any circumstances off color, offensive, or left to any form of misinterpretation.
    3. TACT!!! Sticking to rules number 1 & 2, and planning the timing of the joke.
    I have spent hours searching for just the right joke for a presentation, refusing to compromise and force the wrong joke.


      Thanks Curtis,

      I think these are great and along the lines I’ve been thinking. I’d add one at least – the audience have to be ready for a joke. Sometimes you know as soon as you stand up they aren’t going to laugh and its going to go flat. Have you ever had this situation?

      I think the plan has to include a get-out clause, i.e. if at the last minute it doesn’t feel right, don¹t do it. I also think this may be different for visual humour i.e. a cartoon or a funny photograph which has less negative impact if it falls flat since it can be ignored and doesn’t reflect the audience-presenter rapport quite as much, what do you think?

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