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Safe Humor for Your Presentations

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“I really think that you can maintain an audience’s attention through humor,” says Featured Speaker Al Rubeling. Research has shown that 20 seconds of laughter can double one’s heart rate for the following three to five minutes. With an increased heart rate, it is hard to nod off. Laughter also boosts oxygen levels, which can increase alertness.

Laughter also relaxes you, both physically and psychologically. When you make your audience laugh, they feel calm, which can last up to 45 minutes after laughter. This means they will be more open to what you have to say, thus more likely to take action on what you have shared.

But how do you make sure that what you are saying will be funny? How do you incorporate humor into your presentation without offending anyone? Here are some tips.

Safe Humor for Your Presentations

1. Your Audience Is Off Limits

Don’t make fun of your audience. They should never be the butt of your joke or the target of your humor.

2. Don’t Divide Your Audience

This is a further refinement of the last point. You want to make sure that your humor doesn’t divide your audience or isolate a section of the audience. So observations about men, women, redheads and other descriptors that can set up one group in your audience to laugh at another should be avoided.

3. Keep It Clean

For the vast majority of audiences, you want to keep the coarse language and profanity out.

4. Avoid Taboo Topics

Nothing can ruffle feathers more than topics such as religion, politics, race, class or sex. Don’t use them in your humor or it just may backfire.

5. Balance Self-Deprecating Humor

Unlike the audience, you can be the butt of a joke or humorous observation. But keep it light and balanced. The purpose of making humorous remarks about yourself is to humanize you, not rake you over the coals. Remember: You are seen as the expert here. Don’t make them doubt that with heavy-handed self-deprecating humor.

6. Stick To Topics You’ve Experienced

If you’ve never given birth, don’t mock childbirth. If you’ve never been disabled, don’t comment on their challenges. Rule of thumb: Keep your humor to topics that you have lived through. By experiencing it first hand, you’ve earned the right to make light.

You can easily follow these guidelines if you’ve done your homework and know your audience well. However, if in doubt, leave it out.


The content of this post was inspired by an article on Write Out Loud. Check it out for even more information about using humor in a speech.

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About the author

Carma Spence, is author of Public Speaking Super Powers. She is fiercely committed to guiding women to Owning their Superpowers and turning their knowledge and interests into a profitable business. She is masterful at helping her clients see what is possible for them and supporting them on the journey from where they are to where they want to be, releasing the Mind Goblins of self-doubt, self-sabotage and second-guessing that keep them stuck.

With 20+ years experience in marketing communications and public relations, natural intuitive skills and certification in using some of the most effective transformational coaching tools available, Carma’s mission and commitment is to unleash the inner power every woman entrepreneur possesses so they can boldly go out into the world, transforming the fabric of people’s lives in meaningful and positive ways.

You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Her website is CarmaSpence.com.