Emily Vernon

Structuring Humor for Presentations

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You’re back and hopefully with your initial homework done. Now that we are familiar with our humor types and can identify the patterns, it’s time to create small humor doses. We are not making jokes. We are using simple structures to make moments that break through the tension and get your audience’s attention.

Raise your hand if …

Many times, we assume our audience is as indifferent as teenagers in high school. Let me tell you, an audience that is either being paid or paying to listen to your presentation is different. One of the easiest ways to get people involved is through a survey via hand raise. It can go like this, ‘Raise your hand if you like short presentations’ for something fun, or it can be serious, ‘Raise your hand if you have issues with calling customer service’. This can be humorous or not, but try to keep it light-hearted. It will grab the audience’s attention and give you a platform for other comments.

I know what you’re thinking

Point out something obvious and make it sound even more ridiculous. ‘I know what you’re thinking - you would rather be reading your junk mail than listen to my finance presentation’. This is ridiculous because you are saying junk mail is exciting. If you can’t think about the fun part, search google. There are many, many lists around what people think is boring, obvious, odd or unlikeable. In these lists are usually everyday things we sometimes overlook. ‘I know what you’re thinking - this seems more difficult than removing an avocado seed without getting hurt’. If it makes you smile, odds are it would work on others

Change a common saying or well-known quote

There are common sayings in general culture, work culture and specific professional groups. They can actually get annoying because people use them over and over. But if you twist the expression, it will get people’s attention. These are actually pretty easy to make and can be done with some friends or colleagues when you’re bored. Here’s a couple: ‘It’s okay to drink the kool-aid, as long as it’s spiked’, ‘At first if you don’t succeed, set the bar lower’ or ‘When developing a product, you know the saying - fail fast, and blame someone else’. Just make sure whatever you change is a super common expression so it’s clear and quick to understand.

List of three

This is a classic structure to make someone laugh. By using a list, you can create an element of surprise. The list is usually same-same-contrast. ‘We have it hard these days. It’s raining constantly, taxes are higher than ever and they discontinued 3D Doritos’. I guess only American millennials and older will understand that one. The same-contrast could be serious-trivial or small-big. An example of the latter is, ‘It’s all in the details, people say. You need to button every button, iron every wrinkle and even wear pants’.

As you can see from my examples across four different humor approaches, each of these can be tested out before your presentation. Many times these humor moments are small and portable. Try them over drinks, slip them into a conversation or try one during a review. If someone smiles or laughs, it could be time to try them out on a larger crowd.