Unplanned and natural humor during your presentation tends to be more personal and helps to build relationships and community among the group.
Be prepared, carefully consider adding humor, and learn how to overcome jitters.
In addition to carefully scripting a talk, a presenter should do some preparations beforehand-beginning with spending time practicing it. “Rehearse your talk enough times that you have it memorized, so you are comfortable being a storyteller and not as much a presenter,” says Salman Azhar, MD, regional director, Stroke Services, Lenox Hill Hospital, Northwell Health, New York, NY. “Try to not read your slides. Practice placing inflexion and emphasis on key points that you want to stand out. Rehearse with projecting your voice with and without a microphone. Do not mumble or shout.”
If possible, check out where you will be speaking ahead of time and make sure videos and images play properly. Get comfortable with the microphone’s height and the room’s layout, Dr. Azhar continues.
Engage your audience with short sentences. “Be aware of never-ending sentences and speaking monotonously,” Dr. Azhar says. “Smile and connect with the audience at the beginning and end by making and holding eye contact with up to five people in different areas of the audience, as it will make them feel as if you’re speaking directly to them as well as those around them. Do not scan the crowd.”
Humor is a way to connect with your audience. “Remember that the hardest line to land is a joke, so practice and check its effectiveness on a group of friends or colleagues before rolling it out as a speaker,” Dr. Azhar advises. “And make sure that it helps to tell your story. Don’t tell a joke just because you like it.”
But Erika Garms, PhD, consultant, speaker, and author of “The Brain-Friendly Workplace,” CEO, WorkingSmarts, Minneapolis, MN, cautions against planned humor-as it can be risky. “Some topics resonate with some audiences and not with others,” she says. “Some days something is funny and some days it’s not.”
If you want to insert a funny picture or cartoon in your slides, be sensitive to whether it could offend anyone, and whether you need permission or a license to use it (most likely you do).
Dr. Garms’ favorite humor in presentations is unplanned and natural. “When this occurs, it tends to be more personal and helps to build relationships and community among the group,” she says.
To help prevent jitters before beginning a talk, stretch privately and spend a few moments breathing deeply. “This fully oxygenates your brain and body, and can help to calm you,” Dr. Garms says. “Your mind takes cues from your body, so the more relaxed and loose you can keep your physical body, the better state you’ll be in to launch your session.”
But being nervous can actually be good because it keeps you from being flat in your delivery, Dr. Azhar says. However, it can lead to speaking rapidly, so make a point to speak slowly.
Nervousness can also cause a presenter to look at their slides and pause, making a talk become disjointed. “Therefore, it’s a good idea to memorize your talk and practice it without slides,” he says.
Also consider sharing with the audience that you’re a little nervous being at the podium. “Many people in the audience can relate, and will immediately empathize,” Dr. Azhar says.
When feeling some jitters, Dr. Garms suggests consciously shifting your focus from yourself to your talk’s purpose. “Remaining solidly grounded in your purpose pulls your attention from unhelpful internal chatter about what you might do wrong, what you might forget, or what you might say, to the job of getting your big ideas across to your listeners,” she says.