How to be funny in a presentation when you’re not a comedian!

I will be giving the closing keynote at a tech conference in London next week.

And I only know one joke.  Which goes like this:

“So these Wild West cowboys are sitting huddled around their campfire out on the prairie late one night when off in the distance they hear the distinct ‘Bum-bum-BUM-bum, bum-bum-BUM-bum’ of tribal drums.

‘Oh no!,’ says one of the cowboys to the group, ‘I don’t like the sound of them drums.’

‘Sorry!’ yells a voice way off in the distance, ‘It’s not our regular drummer!’ “


Okay.  That’s it.  Maybe because I have this image of Animal, or it reminds me of some sort of thing the guys from Spinal Tap might say, or because of my own frustrated air-guitar rocker tendencies, but I love it.

And I’m smart enough to know that practically no one else does.  Which is why I have never tried to shoe-horn it in during a keynote, presentation or speech.

However, the notion of humor is one that always comes up when I consult with executives on their presentations and communications styles.  “How do I be funny?” they ask.

As humans, we’re social animals. We like to share a laugh.

That’s especially true during a speech or presentation.   We may have to sit there because it’s part of our job or the conference we’re attending, but we’re hoping that the presenter will exhibit some sort of human connection.

If it were only about the information, then why not simply write it and hit the ‘send’ button?

There are as many different types of humor as there are of personality types. Here are a few of my tips:

1. Know yourself.  If you don’t tell jokes well during your personal life, don’t try to deliver a joke during a presentation (and you know this from the kind of eye rolls or deafening silence you normally get). What makes your friends laugh? Are you the dry observer?  Ironic?  Silly? Go with that.  A bit. Remember, a little goes a long way in the presenting context.

2. A personal story is usually better than a joke.  Think of something that relates back to your point. Maybe something from your childhood. Telling an anecdote that comes from the heart and really happened to you is likely going to resonate better than some contrived joke.

3. React in the moment.  Ad-lib on the meeting so far, the curtains, the weather, the food.  As long as you’re not being too critical or mean-spirited, a quick humorous aside can bring a nice “real” moment to the room.

4. Self-deprecation.  People like successful people who can still poke fun at themselves. But not false modesty. That’s bending backward too hard.

Any time you speak before an audience – be it a smallish regular meeting or a more formal event – the information you’re about to present should take a back seat to the human connection you should endeavor to make.

And, if you’re going to be presenting at a drummers convention, do I have the perfect joke for you!  Or maybe not.

Don’t try too hard.  You’re a human. You’re a natural.

Copyright 2015 Gina London. All Rights Reserved.