How to Use Humour in a Presentation

By Jeremy Blake on August 21, 2015

You’ve either got slides that are better than you are, or you believe your dynamic energy and enthusiasm will trounce the slides you’ve prepared.

You know that once you get going you’ll get into the swing of things, you just don’t have a beginning, a kick off, should you begin with a joke?

If you’ve ever been to a wedding, or been a best man or woman, you’ll know that if you can’t be funny you should be sincere. 'Googling' your industry and looking for a topical joke is only a good plan if you’ve got excellent delivery. Most people think they can be funny, but they are just not good at telling jokes.

There are a number of ways you can start a Presentation so that it absolutely begins in the best possible way; in this post, the first of 5, I’m going to look at humour. How to not necessarily be laugh out loud funny, but at least across as someone who has a good sense of humour.

Frankie Howerd, one of my favourite comedians, would start his shows by using the “Before I Start” technique. This essentially allowed him breathing space, where the audience was being asked not to judge him and it appeared that they were getting something unrehearsed and extra.

In fact he often used exactly the same “Before I get started…” script, he just changed the names.
Melanie Johnson, the President of the Oxford Union, was as much of a “right bossy boots”, as was the commanding officer of a troop gig he had done some thirty years earlier.

He comments on the poster for his gig, “I saw the flyer, an evening with Frankie Howerd and his scintillating wit, well, ooh, I know what’s coming, well its not!”; worked every single time, and yet, as far as his audience were concerned, it was bespoke to them.

My Father was an endless speech giver, and he had a few great standards that would work at the start of every speech he gave. The one he delivered at so many occasions when he would be celebrating a friend’s birthday or he was asked to do a speech to kick off an evening was as follows.

“I know you’re all waiting for me to talk about Gerald as we celebrate his 60th Birthday, but before I do, let us turn first, (motioning to his wife Karen, a ripple of applause starts and he raises his hand to halt its crescendo). Indeed, behind every great man, (audience whoop and applaud, he lets it calm down, then delivers punchline) is a pile of debt!.” Followed by huge whoops and Gerald and Karen literally falling about, even though they’d heard it numerous times, they loved my Father’s delivery.

That leads me on to another point. The familiar is comforting, warming, nothing wrong with trotting out the same lines if they are funny, people may well be expecting it, and be disappointed if you don’t.

Using ‘before I get started’ buys you time and allows you to warm up before you deliver your in-house presentation to people who know your name and what you do, even if they haven’t heard you speak before. And as far as speaking to paying delegates or at a forum or specialist industry event, it allows the audience to see your human side before you move into your specialism.

I was talking the other week to Deke Arlon, music industry veteran who has managed many artists and had just lit Barbara Streisand’s new show. We were chatting about conference speaking and he talked about the importance of not producing any sound until the audience have seen you.

He lit Barbara Streisand’s set in such a way that when she walked on stage she was without her mic, which was on a stand at the front. He’d rehearsed with her the amount of time it would take for her to walk on the stage, to applause, take the applause, approach the mic stand, lift the mic from the stand, move the stand behind her, before facing front and beginning with ”Good Evening!”

In that time, Deke says the men and the women look to see what she’s wearing, what her figure is like, what dress is she wearing, would that colour work on me?, all subconsciously soaking her up with their eyes before their ears are called upon.

Let your audience see you, your summer tan, your jacket, your earrings, and get the measure of you, before you get started.

No we don’t all have the quiet confidence and stardom of Streisand, nonetheless there is something to be gained by spending time in silence.