Note: I have been working with Jack Milner of the UK since the spring on the manuscript for his book, “Virtual Presentation Mastery.” Jack is a performer-turned-communication-coach who provides organizations with the tools to influence, persuade, and engage—whether through storytelling, presenting, or communicating within teams. His book acknowledges how rapidly the world pivoted to online meetings and presentations with the onslaught of COVID-19 and offers impactful tips to help them stand out as presenters in a virtual world. Today’s post is an excerpt from Jack’s book, and you will see that, in writing about the importance of humour (UK spelling), Jack reveals how humourous he is! Read more about Jack’s book, or learn about his experience of working with Beetle Books.
One of the biggest failings of virtual presenters is they don’t even try to use humour. The reasoning goes something like this: “It’s too hard. I can’t tell if they’re laughing because I can’t see or hear them. Therefore, I won’t do it.”
Result: dry, dry, dry presentations that kill the audience.
The same reasoning could be used in pretty much every single camera comedy show. The actors and writers can’t hear the audience, so we won’t commission.
Result: no “The Office” or “Modern Family” or pretty much any other modern TV comedy.
There are certainly plenty of good reasons not to add humour. Yep, it might go horrendously wrong. But to not try because you can’t hear the audience reaction is a cop out. The fact you can’t hear or see them laughing does not mean that they’re not hee-hawing and enjoying it. The science suggests that when people watch a comedy programme by themselves, they laugh far less than when they’re watching with a group of mates. However, and this is the important thing, they find the programme just as funny.
Crazy as it sounds, just because your audience isn’t laughing doesn’t mean your presentation isn’t funny.
Advantages of adding humour.
- It relaxes you and the audience. I’ve seen so many presentations in which the presenter instantly relaxes and grows in confidence after getting a laugh or a few smiles. The audience reaction is likely to be: “Ahhh, this is going to be a great day and a hell of a lot better than that last presenter who bored us rigid with PowerPoint.”
- It creates impact and helps you influence and persuade your audience.
- It gives you a business advantage over businesses that don’t use humour.
- The presentation that gets a laugh at a conference is always remembered ahead of the one that doesn’t.
Humour is cheap to produce and more effective than any high-tech gizmo. As Jeremey Donovan points out in his brilliant book, How to Deliver a TED Talk, “The most viewed TED speakers deliver on average one joke per minute in their keynote speeches. The best deliver two jokes per minute.”
Also, when it comes to managing change, or lifting a team, a little fun and humour can make the difference between success and failure.
For instance, having worked with AIG UK, their presentations to brokers have put them ahead of their competitors simply because, to the relief of their brokers, they add some humour.
How do we add humour to virtual presentations?
According to a survey of businesspeople by thoughtexchange.com, the third most important quality rated as vital to successful online meetings was “have and maintain a sense of humour.”
So how do we find it when we’re not comfortable using it and when most presentation-skills books tell us to avoid it? How do we make them laugh and not lose our careers? And as regards this book, how do we make people laugh when we can’t hear or see them?
Creating the humour mindset.
Rather than think “funny,” think “play.” You are not a comedian. You don’t have to be hilarious. Most laughs in everyday conversation come from a collegiate getting-on-with-each-other burble of chuckles and smiles. They all count. If you think “play,” you can start to garner easy laughs.
The comedy muscle can be developed like any other. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s no different when it comes to adding humour to a business presentation.
Once you’ve created your bits of humour, run them past someone you respect and who also crucially shares your sense of humour.
If you’re wary of using humour aim for gently amusing, enough to raise a titter. You’ll probably surprise yourself, and you won’t kill off your ambition to add humour before you’ve even started. If you get a few gentle smiles, you’re already ahead of the competition.
Your early successes will build confidence, and gradually, you’ll move on to those bigger laughs. And if you get those big laughs early on? Congratulations, an alternative career in comedy awaits (but be aware it will probably be less well-paying than your current job).