How to add humour to your presentation – without going to comedy school

By Jean Stewart, Toastmasters International 

When you are listening to a presentation it is very likely that you learn the most when it is fun, and you enjoy the process.  If the presenter is able to introduce some humour this will help the learning, the enjoyment and the quality of attention that you give.

If you have watched some the stand-up comedy shows on TV you may be concerned that you are not that kind of comedian. Don’t worry!  The humour appropriate for a presentation is very different and there are plenty of ways you can add some humour without attending comedy school. Here are a few tips to help you strike a balance between achieving the objectives of your presentation and injecting some humour.

  1. Set the right tone. For an audience to enjoy a presentation, the presenter must enjoy it too, and must feel passionate and energised by their subject matter. it is important that the audience can feel this. The presenter sets the tone for the session by making eye contact and smiling. 
  1. Do your research. If you are presenting at a Corporate event, take time to find out about the organisation.    They will undoubtedly have a fund of stories about their organisation and the people in it. Pitched correctly this can provide you with an excellent opening to your presentation – and there may even be a funny story you can share. But remember…
  1. Don’t make it personal. Never make personal comments about anyone in the audience as a way of being amusing. Do not think that having arranged for a ‘victim’ before the presentation will work.  Many in the audience will then spend the entire presentation worrying that they will be the next victim. It’s a sure-fire way, to lose the support of the rest of the audience. 
  1. Your own experiences. If you want to tell an embarrassing story, make sure it is something you have experienced.   Inevitably some of audience members will also have lived through a similar unfortunate episode in their lives.    This way you will gain sympathy from the audience  without alienating anyone.
  1. Practice. Humour inserted into a presentation should be written down and rehearsed as any other material would be.  Do not think that humour can be off the cuff. It needs to be planned and rehearsed – do as the top comedians do. 
  1. Don’t laugh. Although you want your presentation to be humorous – don’t join in the laughter.   There is nothing wrong with the presenter having a wry smile on her lips – but too much laughter from you gives the impression that the session is for your benefit.   Also, if you laugh and the audience does not this is a way to make the atmosphere uncomfortable for everyone.
  1. Mind your language. In a lot of situations, it would be a mistake to use inappropriate language to get a point across.   I have seen this happen and it is nearly always a mistake.  Unless you know the audience well and feel they are happy to put up with fairly tame, but inappropriate language, do not indulge in this.
  1. Avoid ‘taboo’ subjects. Avoid at all costs using humorous remarks based on the audience’s belief structure.   If you are not part of their culture you will be considered a critic of their beliefs. 
  1. Use pauses to full effect.    If providing a humorous punch line to the story, pause and allow the audience to realise this is an important part of the presentation.  If they don’t take the hint; move on.
  1. Give the audience time to laugh.   You can never guarantee when an audience will find a statement funny.  Each audience has its own personality.   Some groups will laugh at a particular statement and others will fall silent.    If they identify with something they find funny, because of their experiences, then their laughter will spread to others in the audience.    At this point don’t move on too quickly, rather enjoy the moment and let them continue with their laughter.   
  1. Words and pictures. Some of the audience will react well to the spoken word, and others are influenced by visual presentations.  It is therefore a good idea to have something that will add visual impact to your presentation.   This could be a humorous image on a slide, or even a humorous (and appropriate) prop. 

And remember the following:

  1. An audience can be enjoying your use of humour without laughing out loud.  Read their body language.   Sometimes it takes time for the audience to warm to you.
  1. You do not have to mimic your favourite comedian when delivering the funny content.   Be yourself.   If the audience does not get your humour, you can still rely on the main message of the presentation.   Move on.   It will get easier as you deliver more presentations with humour.
  1. Keep up the energy and enjoy yourself.   There is no doubt this is the most important aspect of delivering a successful presentation. 

Finally, be gentle with yourself.  Introduce more and more humour as your confidence grows.   Any comedian making a living from humour will tell you that they are pleased if over 70% of the audience is on their side.   They know that not everyone will enjoy their humour – that’s life. The same is true for the humour in your business presentation. 


Jean Stewart is from Toastmasters International a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit

Share this...
0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *