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Enhance Your PowerPoint Presentation with Humour - But Don't Overdo It

Updated on November 5, 2015
Lonely planet
Lonely planet

There can be few lonelier places than the stage on which a stand-up comic bombs in front of his audience. As the misfiring quipster casts zingers into a sea of silence, while repeatedly pleading in his mind for Scotty to beam him up, his isolation becomes magnified under the glare of a single spotlight. Despite the presence of an audience, the stage is as lonely as the cabin of a solo round-the-world yachtsman; as desolate as the space capsule of Major Tom, the lone astronaut in the David Bowie song, Space Oddity.

With his routine falling on unappreciative ears, one-liners are nervously delivered to a wall of silence, punctuated by the occasional nervous cough and a heckle or two. With his voice breaking up because of a dry throat, he plods on, eager to get to the end of his set, and the biggest cheer of his entire spot comes when he walks off the stage.

Humour is not universal. What some people find hilarious would not raise even a hint of a smile among others. For example, a great divider on the subject is the style of comedy known as improv, which some people find side-splittingly hilarious, while others consider it as funny as a splitting headache.

Don't be too funny
Don't be too funny

A Subtle Enhancement

In the world of the PowerPoint presentation, humour is an excellent ice-breaker, and there is no better way to get your audience onside than with an opening laugh. But presentation persiflage should be used with care, as badly projected or inappropriate humour can quickly turn your audience against you. If an opening gag doesn’t go down well, your confidence can suffer and the entire presentation could go into a tailspin.

Not all presentation subjects will be suitable for an injection of flippancy, but humour is the foundation of the feel-good factor, and so it is definitely worth looking at whether or not you may be able to incorporate a wisecrack or two into your presentation.

Before we look at such aspects as material and delivery, we must bear in mind this fundamental rule:

Don’t be too funny.

This may seem odd advice to give in an article about the use of humour, but it is an important point. You should be aware at all times that your primary function is to convey a message via PowerPoint. If you have your audience ‘rolling in the aisles’, then the focus of your presentation may be lost.

You don’t need to pace about like Chris Rock or Lee Evans while delivering your presentation; it’s not a stand-up routine. Humour should be used as a subtle enhancement of your presentation; you only need to be amusing, not hilarious to the extent that your audience falls into helpless laughter that interrupts your flow.

Humour being used in a PowerPoint presentation about a PowerPoint presentation

Actually, they are rolling in the aisles in the video above.

Material

Be mindful of who or what you choose as vehicles for your humorous presentation, as you do not want to offend any sector of your audience. Obviously, humour that contains religious, sexist or political content should be avoided at all costs. A harmless target to take aim at is yourself, especially if the situation you describe involves a tale of woe.

Inanimate objects, and the irritation they can cause are always good for raising a smile. If you can pin down situations that everyone can relate to, such as having no change for a vending machine, or sitting next to a loud talker who is on his cell phone, then your audience will be more likely to appreciate your efforts.

Get to grips with PowerPoint

Delivery

You should deliver your presentation in a clear voice that exudes confidence. Even if you have no idea as to the reception your style of humor will get, you must not let a lack of faith in your material show in your tone and manner. Mumbling into your chest will cause the humour element to be lost, so practice your delivery in front of a mirror, and hone it until you are happy with it. Try it out in front of friends to get feedback – it is far better to fail in front of them than in front of an audience.

Style

As I have mentioned, a PowerPoint presentation does not require a stand-up comedy routine. One of the best ways to incorporate humour into your presentation is to weave it seamlessly into your script, so that it jumps out at your audience, catching them unawares.

For example if you were discussing the rise of the Internet retail sector, you might advise your audience to pay close attention to how goods are described online. You could then tell of your own experience when you bought crocodile shoes that turned out to be shoes for a crocodile.

This is not a particularly funny line, but if delivered in such a way that your audience is unaware that a joke is coming, right up to the arrival of the punch line, then the element of surprise increases its humour value.

Which brings us nicely on to the next sector, the use of slides.

Adding humour via a slide
Adding humour via a slide

Slides

PowerPoint enables us to fire images at our audience with the press of a key. In the example above, the presenter could increase levity levels with an accompanying slide. As any comic knows, timing is essential and for maximum effect the presenter might deliver the slide thus:

“The ancient phrase caveat emptor, or ‘buyer beware,’ rings as true in the world of online retail as it does in a market place of dubious renown, or on the lot of an unscrupulous car dealer. I discovered this myself, when I snapped up two pairs of crocodile shoes from a well-known online auction site. When the shoes arrived, they turned out to be . . .”

image appears

a beat

“. . . shoes for a crocodile.”

A well timed humorous slide can greatly enhance the impact of your presentation.

Feedback

During your presentation, you should try to monitor the reaction of your audience carefully to gauge how your attempt at humour is going down. If what you thought was a brilliantly funny line goes down like a pork pie at a vegetarian picnic then maybe it would be wise to cut your losses and omit the rest of your humorous lines. If, on the other hand, your delivery is met with laughter then play to it. The trick is to judge how well or otherwise your humorous pitch is being received as you deliver it, and go with the flow.

Adding humour to a PowerPoint presentation can be an excellent way to lift it from the ordinary. Used well, humour will soften up your audience, putting them into a good mood and making them more receptive to your message.

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