Use humour and your business presentation will be taken seriously

Business Insights

Building rapport is essential for effective one-to-one communication as it creates a connection and builds trust. The same is true for business presenting. Being relatability and establishing a connection with the audience are fundamental to getting a message across. Humour will convey that relatability; it makes a speaker more likeable and generates trust.

A 2015 study by Microsoft (1) concluded that attention spans had dropped to a mere eight seconds which highlights the challenge of capturing and sustaining listener’s attention when presenting. Engaging and re-engaging the audience is key. Injections of humour punctuating the presentation will re-focus attention.

Humour usually creates a response – a smile, giggle, or laugh, but used inappropriately can generate a negative reaction. Levity should only be designed for a presentation once the speaker has a good sense of the potential audience.

What makes something funny?

A difficult question to answer, given that we don’t all have the same sense of humour.

It is useful to bear in mind that puns and frivolity that are directly related to the subject matter at hand can work very well. Stand-alone jokes of the ‘three men walk into a bar’ kind, are the territory of stand-up comedians and rarely work in other contexts.

In my experience, there are a number of things that audiences find funny which can be sprinkled into a presentation or talk.


People will laugh at things they can relate to, whether it’s an observation of something in the room, their own experience, current affairs or more.


Something unexpected, a twist in the tale, an exaggeration, or the speaker making a joke at their own expense when done well, delight the listeners.

Personal anecdotes

A story about the speaker’s own fallibility, maybe a mistake, or a surprising event or some other anecdote relevant to the message, conveyed wittily, improves relatability and builds connection.


Exaggerating points, with a smile, raised eyebrow or chuckle puts a lighthearted spotlight on something to amuse the audience and underline a point.

Making Links

Humour that unfolds from the subject of the presentation, creating a flow between the serious parts of the message usually lands well and easily with the audience.

Humour in titles

Create anticipation, curiosity and get a laugh before you even reach the stage with an amusing title for the session – if it seems appropriate.

To give you an example, I recently changed a session title from ‘Sales training’ to ‘Are you selling it or keeping it? Modern sales considerations.’. Attendance at the master class doubled!

In my experience, humour only works when it is executed well. Here are some tips for delivery.


Run through your presentation a number of times so that the humour feels natural and flows.


Try out the talk in advance with someone you know and trust to gain some honest feedback on the humour you’ve weaved in.

Be animated

Use your facial expressions, voice and gestures to emphasise the humour – or use them to provide the humour with a smile, raised eyebrow, body movement or change of voice tone.

Be brave

Stretch out of your comfort zone and say or do things that you might not normally be confident enough to do. (I once told an amusing story about a purple gorilla in a presentation on ‘Health & Safety’. I ran into an audience member three years later who said. ‘Hey, I still remember that story you told about the purple gorilla.’)


Focus on audience members who are smiling and laughing to fuel your energy of delivery.

Be responsive

Watch and listen. If people aren’t laughing, move on and if necessary, adapt what you are planning to say in the moment. Remember not everyone has the same sense of humour!

And most importantly:

Don’t interrupt the laughter

People like to laugh. Let them enjoy the experience. Pausing until the laughter has quietened means laughs can ripple around the room without interruption, and the next thing that you wish to say will not be lost.

Use your humour with care and you’ll hold your audience’s attention and find that your presentation will be remembered long after they leave the room.

By Glen Savage, Toastmasters International


Glen Savage DTM is a member of 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. To find your nearest club, visit