When you switch on your laptop, you expect it to power up and show the display screen from where you can log in through your password, pin or fingerprint (if you’re using that kind of tech). When the screen doesn’t show, you wonder what’s gone wrong. You proceed to try out various solutions – plugging in the charger, restarting it again, or finding out a fix on the internet.
The same process is true for using humour in your public speeches and presentations. Humour is not as easy art. In fact, stand-up comedy is considered to be one of the toughest art forms among all. For your presentation, you don’t need to be a stand-up artist, but do need to be aware of how and where humour works, and what you need to do if the audience doesn’t identify or laugh at your jokes.
Here are some pertinent questions you need to answer yourself so that your humour is more effective:
Does your humour have an element of surprise?
You must have often heard storytellers say, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one.” This is because if they already know the ending, then it won’t have the desired impact on the audience. Surprise is an integral part of comedy. You need to deliver the punch line and evoke sudden laughter by being very subtle about. Your audience shouldn’t see it coming! One effective way is to misdirect your listeners, causing them to think in one direction, and all of a sudden drop the punch line – and the real meaning. But make sure you don’t do this while stating stats and numbers!
Does your humour have a real-world feel to it?
Your jokes, anecdotes and stories should be truthful. There should be a semblance of recognisable reality to everything you say, so that your audience can emotionally identify with it. This doesn’t mean you have to state it like you are under oath. There can be elements of exaggeration, but your audience should be able to relate to it. Or you could end with this liner – “Naah, joking. Actually what happened was….”
Your aim should be to make your listeners think that “Yeah, this has happened to me as well!”
Does the audience hear you loud and clear?
The audience size depends for different events. If you’re presenting in a seminar or conference, you need to be loud and clear so that the audience can understand what you’re saying. If there is too much noise or the sound system has some glitch, only the first few rows will be able to hear you and laugh at your joke. Also, make sure you don’t use complicated or unfamiliar words and phrases while making a humorous sentence. This is likely to guarantee a blank reaction from the audience. Be friendly, clear and keep it simple.
Is your humour up-to-date?
Your humour should be up-to-date. If possible, try to weave in the current scenario around your topic – it could be something related to the company you work for, the industry, or associated events. Harking back to nostalgic times won’t appeal to anyone unless you’re addressing a bunch of boomers. For example, if you want to mention TV shows from the 90s to make a punch line, then make sure your audience consist mostly of millennials. The Gen Z would simply not get it.
Is your humour appropriate for your audience?
One of the most important things while planning your jokes is to analyse the kind of audience you are addressing. The more the audience can relate to your joke, the better the response. And unless you are actually doing stand-up comedy, where you can take creative liberties in terms of gender, race and religion, it’s better to stay away from any stuff that could be deemed offensive to the audience e.g. making jokes on women or addressing different communities through certain peculiar traditions. It’s also recommended to stay away from political jokes. Your audience is your final judge, and you should avoid making statements and jokes that could trigger them and provoke an adverse reaction.
Is your humour concise?
William Shakespeare said, “brevity is the soul of wit.” That’s great advice, but it doesn’t apply to every situation. While your humour needs to be concise and not long, drawn-out (people will lose patience), you need to set it up beautifully. Set the context, furnish the information, immerse the audience and then provide the surprise twist. But while doing this, do not go off in another tangent and start talking about something unrelated that could weaken the impact of your joke.
Does your audience know when to laugh?
The delivery of your humour should be controlled. There is no doubt that you want your audience to laugh, but it’s also important that they laugh at the proper time. How does the audience know this? This can be through facial expressions, gestures, voice inflection and the way you have structured your joke. You can say stuff in a matter-of-fact way, pause a bit, let the audience digest what hit them and evoke laughter. Using pauses is key to delivering effective punch lines, as it is for any other public speech or presentation.
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Bonus content: Here’s how you can become funnier in your daily conversations!