To be humorous while presenting, allow yourself a nimble mind.
Updated: Apr 21
Some of my clients tell me that they wish they were more humorous when they present. They like humorous speakers and admire their ability to be funny. Some of those clients also tell me that they can often be funny in conversation, but that they simply aren't that way when giving a presentation.
I think of humor in a presentation as coming in two forms: scripted joke and impromptu wit. I want to talk about the impromptu kind of wit that makes for laughs and rapport during a presentation. What is it that allows a speaker to be spontaneously witty?
Wit is about revealing similarities in dissimilar things.
Wit is surprisingly hard to define. A pun like I've been to the dentist many times so I know the drill is a witty play on words that share the same sound but have completely different meanings. If, while giving a talk or having a conversation you have found yourself saying, "No pun intended," you were being witty. But wit doesn't need to be word play.
Sir Ken Robinson's TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, is one of the most watched of all time, in part I'm sure, because he is so witty. For instance, about three minutes into his talk he explains, "My contention is that creativity, now, is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status." Following some applause from the audience and noticing that this beginning moment feels very similar to an ending moment, he then says, "That was it. Thank you very much... Sooo, fifteen minutes left." Laughter ripples through the audience.
Wit is quick.
I think what amazes us about people like Sir Ken is the speed with which they make the connections required by wit. I'm guessing you've had that experience in which you come up with a witty response only after the moment has passed – that you've experienced the frustration of having been too slow. For your wit to be quick, your mind must be nimble. You must be able to go from sensing a connection to making the connection in your mind and then to expressing the connection, all in a matter of seconds.
Wit requires freedom.
To be nimble your mind needs to be free. If it is bound to a script and worried about what you are going to say next, or if it is constantly concerned about a time limit, it does not have the freedom to move quickly. This explains why some of my clients report being witty in conversation but not so in presentations. In a conversation they are free to improvise. In a presentation, they become locked and linear thinking that a highly rehearsed delivery is the key to success. Watch witty speakers like Sir Ken or Benjamin Zander, and notice that they are not tightly bound to a script.
Wit requires being in the present.
Being witty requires being out of your head and in the present. It requires being observant, not just with your ears but with your eyes and even your body. It is sensing the moment so that when an interesting connection reveals itself, your mind is ready to make and express the connection.
They aren't past-tations nor future-tations. They are presentations.
If you wish to be a more witty speaker, rethink your presentation as more of a conversation. Keep your presentation plan loose and unscripted. Free your mind to be present and nimble, and enjoy the experience of sensing the funny connections that always lay waiting to be revealed in the midst of a presentation.