Presentations / Pexesl

I can still vividly recall a business leaders conference I attended a few years ago. We were at the Manoel Theatre, amid a sea of polished suits, smart dresses and serious faces, most of us probably expecting one of those mundane presentations. But when, Itay Talgam, the maestro himself, took the stage, he transformed the room with his infectious humour and insightful anecdotes. Imagine a conductor-turned-business motivator, showing us clips of famous conductors and drawing hilarious yet profound parallels to leadership. By the end, we were not just engaged; we were roaring with laughter.

Why humour works (according to science)

Humour isn’t just for stand-up comedians and sitcom writers—it’s a powerful tool for presenters too. Scientific research backs this up. Studies have shown that humour can:

·  Boost attention and engagement: Laughter releases dopamine, which enhances motivation and attention. A study by Banas et al. (2011) found that humour in presentations increases audience engagement and attention, making the content more interesting and enjoyable.

·  Enhance recall: People remember information better when it’s presented humorously. Research by Schmidt (1994) showed that humour can enhance memory recall by creating a more relaxed and receptive learning environment.

·  Build rapport: Humour creates a connection between the speaker and the audience, making the speaker more relatable and the audience more receptive. Cann, Watson, and Bridgewater (2014) demonstrated that humour in communication helps build stronger relationships and trust between individuals.

But beware, humour is a double-edged sword. Misuse it, and you might come off as unprofessional or, worse, you may offend your audience. The key is to strike the right balance, and that’s where wit comes in.

The art of witty humour

Wit is the sophisticated cousin of humour—sharp, smart, and timely. Here’s how to wield it like a pro:

1. Know your audience – Understanding your audience is crucial. Tailor your humour to their experiences and sensibilities. What works for a tech crowd might not land in a boardroom of finance executives.For a tech-savvy audience, a quip about debugging code might hit the mark. For finance folks, a witty comment on market volatility could resonate.

2. Use anecdotes and stories – Personal stories with a humorous twist can be very engaging. They make your points more relatable and memorable.

3. Play with words – Puns, wordplay, and clever metaphors can add a layer of sophistication to your humour. For example, “Yes, because nothing says progress like more meetings. But let’s focus on how we can make our meetings actually productive.”

Unconventional wisdom: The edgy side of humour

Here’s where it gets a bit controversial. Sometimes, stepping slightly outside the comfort zone can make your presentation unforgettable. The key is to challenge respectfully and thoughtfully.

1. Address the elephant in the room

If there’s an obvious issue or tension, a witty remark can diffuse it. It shows you’re aware and unafraid to tackle tough subjects.

Example: “Yes, the coffee machine is broken, and no, I don’t know when it will be fixed. But let’s see if we can stay awake long enough to get through this presentation.”

2. Smart sarcasm

Sarcasm is tricky but can be powerful if used sparingly and appropriately. Be extra careful when using sarcasm – it requires a keen sense of timing and a thorough understanding of your audience.

Example: “I’m sure everyone loves filling out spreadsheets as much as I do. But let’s talk about how we can make it less painful..”

3. Challenge the norms

Poking fun at industry norms can be refreshing. It shows you’re thinking critically about the status quo.

Example: “Best practices are great, but let’s not forget that sometimes ‘best’ just means ‘what everyone else is doing.’ How about we aim for exceptional?”

The risks and rewards

Humour in professional settings is a high-stakes game. Misjudge your audience, and you risk appearing unprofessional. But get it right, and you forge a connection that elevates your message.

Here are some pro tips for success:

  • Test your material: Run your jokes by a trusted colleague to gauge their reaction.
  • Stay authentic: Your humour should reflect your personality. Forced jokes fall flat.
  • Be mindful of sensitivities: Avoid humour that could be misinterpreted or offensive.

Conclusion: Embrace the wit

As business leaders, our goal is to inspire, inform, and engage. Humour, when used wisely, is a powerful tool in achieving these aims. It requires skill, timing, and a deep understanding of your audience. So, dare to be witty, take calculated risks, and watch your presentations transform from mundane to memorable.

Reflecting on Itay Talgam’s unforgettable talk, it continues to stand out from all the presentations I’ve attended. His ability to blend humour with leadership lessons left a lasting impression. It wasn’t just about the laughs; it was about the insights and the connection he fostered. As you explore the art of witty presentations, consider how my Speak to Move programmes on Public Speaking and Presentation Skills can help you master this crucial aspect of communication. So, let’s not be dull. Let’s sprinkle some humour, add a dash of wit, and bring a little more fun into our professional lives.


Join the conversation: How do you use humour in your presentations? Share your stories and tips in the comments below! 

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