When is the right time to use humor in a presentation?
How much funny stuff is too much? What kind of stories are o.k.?
Questions like these come up frequently in workshops, and I have heard a variety of opinions on the answer. My view is that humor is a powerful tool that can have benefits for the presenter and the audience. When used properly, it can be a great way to establish rapport and set comfortable tone that helps maintain audience attention.
At the same time, humor does have risks. Don’t forget what Winston Churchill said: “A joke is a serious thing,” First and foremost, humor you decide to include in your talk must be relevant to your topic. Unless your assignment is to do a stand up comedy routine, telling jokes for the sake of telling jokes is a no no.
You must also pay attention to the kind of humor you are using. Self-deprecating remarks usually work well, especially if they highlight a quirk or shortcoming that’s common to everyone. Making jokes at someone else’s expense is almost always a bad idea.
One final thought. Sad but true, when it comes to telling jokes and being funny, most of us aren’t terribly good at it. As the old show business saying goes: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” Think about your own abilities in this area, and your limitations. Do the calculus in deciding whether the benefits of humor in your presentation are worth the risks.