Just Humor Them!
How To Make Presentations Memorable
By Ronald P. Culberson, LCSW
It was the last day of a week-long training program for 20 senior executives. The program had been full of theory, discussions, out-of-the-box thinking and real-life experiences which exposed them to the challenges of leading people. I had the privilege of offering a morning program on the FUN in leadership but had the distinct disadvantage of following a dynamic group of excellent speakers and trainers. The coordinator began my introduction as I stood in the "wings" of the training room. He started describing the "next scheduled presenter" as someone with many more accolades, successes and fame than me. Then he ended by saying, "Unfortunately, he could not be with us, so please welcome Ron Culberson!" The room erupted with applause and laughter. I confidently walked to the front of the room and jumped onto the head table. Yes, the table. As I towered above the group, my eyes met smiles, questioning looks...and their undivided attention! I told one of my favorite funny stories and explained that we were about to embark upon a journey of finding FUN in the role of management and leadership.
In today's world of information overload, a presenter must find a way to make his/her message memorable or it will be lost in the barrage of messages that hit us every day. Humor is one of the most effective ways of making a message memorable. But you must first have a message to deliver. Whereas humor for the sake of humor is entertaining, humor that supports valuable content is a powerful tool. George Burns once said, "You know you're getting old when you bend over to tie your shoe and think, 'What else can I do while I'm down here?'" What makes that funny is that George Burns was old when he said it. The humor reinforced a common perspective that aging is no FUN while it allowed him to laugh at his circumstances. Let's look at a few principles for adding more humor to presentations.
The Introduction. Your introduction as a presenter can be a great way to set the stage for your message. When I used a "fake" introduction in the example above, my intention was to parody the typical introduction thus showing my audience that we should not take ourselves too seriously. This, in turn, reinforced my topic.
The Opening. Once you have been introduced, you have 90 seconds to capture the audience's attention. There are several FUN ways to do this. A funny story, a joke or a FUN activity will certainly keep them interested. When I stood on the table, I had the audience anticipating my next step (pun intended). Once when Barbara Bush was asked to speak at the Wellesley College graduation ceremony, a large number of the all-female graduates-to-be felt that she was not the appropriate speaker since her accomplishments had been a result of her husband George Bush's presidency. However, in spite of the protests, the school kept Mrs. Bush on the program. Immediately after being introduced, Mrs. Bush said this, "Someone in this audience may someday preside over the White House as the spouse of the President....and I wish him well." Her comment was met with overwhelming applause and she quickly won back the audience.
The Middle. During your presentation, there are numerous ways to add FUN and humor. Many speakers warn against using jokes in presentations. I have had success with jokes because I test them first. I may weave a joke into a real story so that I keep the power of the punch line while describing a real-life experience. I will also use jokes as illustrations. For instance: A three-legged dog walked into an old west saloon and said, "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw". This joke shows how two seemingly different ideas are brought together through humor. The art of bringing ideas together directly supports a number of workplace issues like problem solving, conflict management and teamwork. So the joke can illustrate, in a FUN way, a serious issue. Using personal stories, quotes and cartoons are other ways of reinforcing learning points with FUN and humor. Remember, however, that permission must be granted to us copies of cartoons.
Another underutilized form of humor is FUN group activities. Many activities teach interpersonal skills while being both FUN and funny. I often use games such as Pictionary, Taboo, Charades and Wheel of Fortune as a way of covering information in my programs. It is a lot more FUN to see participants act out learning points than to just view them on the screen. Creative activities add variety, movement and interaction to a program. Participants usually enjoy them as long as you do not put them on the spot. When you organize group activities, also consider giving out FUN prizes to those who participate. Toys, books, audio tapes and even cash are FUN rewards and the participants will appreciate being recognized.
Finally, your visual aides can also be FUN. Try to liven up slides, overheads, flip charts and handout materials with pictures, catchy phrases or humor. It adds spice to an often mundane part of the program.
The End. The end, just like the beginning of a presentation, needs to grab the audience. Make sure you end with a powerful quote, story, joke or activity. Do not just stop and say, "Thank you". Your presentation will linger in the minds of the audience if you finish with pizzazz.
The most important asset in your presentation is you. As long as you use FUN and humor to enhance your skills and expertise, the experience will be genuinely memorable for the audience. It just takes your willingness to be creative and take a few risks. Harvey Mindess said, "People do not need to be taught how to have FUN. They just need to be given permission."
I give you permission to make your presentations more memorable with humor and laughter. If you are afraid of the risk, remember what Ann Landers said, "Three out of four people are mentally imbalanced anyway. So think of your three closest friends. If they seem all right, you're the one!" Enjoy!
Ron Culberson's mission is to help individuals and organizations balance serious issues with a light touch. He has provided entertaining, informative and FUN programs to over 20,000 people in more than 350 associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations and Fortune 500 companies. Ron can be reached at (703) 742-8812 or through his website at