Joke Buyer Beware

I’ve never recommended using humour as a go-to in keynote presentations. For a professional comedian, that’s weird, right? I think humour, in the wrong hands, at the wrong time, can be detrimental in sharing your ideas. It’s not that I think you should NEVER use it. And by “the wrong hands”, I’m not saying that comedy can’t be learned and used by non-professional comedians.

In fact, the attached guide provides reasonable instruction on how to inject a little humour into your presentations. My disclaimer would be, “when the timing or circumstances warrant doing so”. What I do strongly recommend as a go-to when creating your presentations, and what is really quite fascinating, is going through the process of exploring the humour involved, even when you don’t end up using any comedy in the end. Because of what you discover about improving your skills and results, I would explore this process every time you prepare.

As in the Duarte SlideShare, I believe you can learn a lot about being effective as a communicator through empathy (slide 17), which allows you to connect with your audience. Moreover, I agree that you can benefit from a little self-deprecation, (slide 14). I suggest you, instead, strive for self-awareness. Self-deprecation can often lead to a good punchline, but not much else. Self-awareness, on the other hand, can lead you to a good joke AND so much more. What you learn about yourself, your audience and the content supporting the ideas you want to share through the process of investigating the humour in it all- this is what enables you to inspire, to “move” people. Not the joke in itself. That’s why if you’re looking to add humour to a meeting, plenary session, or conference, you’re better off hiring a professional comedian, with experience in the corporate market, to host or moderate. Then, after that, if it feels right, use a modest amount of comedy in your individual talk.

I say this because “moving people” involves emotions. People are often afraid of expressing their emotions in corporate environments, especially in front of a large crowd. Yet, these can be particularly poignant moments, so I don’t believe you should shy away from them. But, if you’re not familiar with taking ownership of these moments of vulnerability on-stage, it will seem easier to default to the guffaw. People laugh when they’re uncomfortable. It’s important you distinguish between getting laughter that bolsters your agenda, and laughter that diffuses an awkward moment. You don’t want to mistake getting a laugh in a presentation as success, when you don’t support it with a powerful idea.

Someone who is accustomed to being vulnerable in front of audiences can help presenters bring life to these moments; allowing the meaningful moment to breathe just long enough before bringing in a warm transition, or humourous release. You need someone with mileage in moving the conversation seamlessly between serious content, touching sentiment, and a good laugh. If you’re just crafting comedy into your deck, you might kill it and be the star of the meeting. But, is your audience just relieved that they’re not bored to tears, or are they entertained AND actually ready to take action on your ideas? If it’s the former, I suspect you’ll have to have another meeting, or three, with much of the same content in the very near future in order to actually get something accomplished.

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