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Let ’em Laugh


by Bob Goodyear

When making a presentation, have you ever said something that made the audience laugh? Was it planned? Did it catch you off guard? What did you do? Did you continue speaking as though nothing different had happened? Sometimes handling a laugh is very difficult for a speaker. Let’s talk about this for a moment.

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a few speeches given in a college business presentation class. The presenters were asked to talk about a personal experience. All of the speeches were good and each had an element of humor in them. I was asked to give some feedback. One of the common points I made to every speaker was that their speeches were good and they all included humorous lines. However, after these lines were spoken, the presenters just kept going without allowing the audience a chance to laugh. My advice was to pause after their planned laugh lines. Now to be fair, the speeches were videos, but the rules of humor still apply.

When you are presenting, whether it’s a recorded video or you are speaking in front of a live audience, you need to plan to stop talking when you hear laughter. There are a couple of times when you may get laughter during your presentation.

The first one is that you may have a line or two where you EXPECT laughter. If you get the laughter you expect, pause! Let the audience laugh! You can possibly increase the laughter by adding in a physical reaction. For example, if you are telling a story and something unexpected happens that caught you by surprise, you can enhance the humor by doing something physical like giving a surprised look on your face. Making such a reaction allows the audience to see as well as imagine the situation and it may increase the humor.

Now let’s look at the second scenario. You’re going along with your presentation and suddenly the crowd starts laughing. STOP! Think about what they may be laughing about and let them enjoy the moment. While they are laughing, see if you can figure out made them chuckle. Was it the way you said a phrase? Did you mix up some words? Is there some humor in what you are talking about that you didn’t recognize? Whatever the case, acknowledge it with the audience and then remember what happened so you can possibly use it in a future speech.

The bottom line is to remember to pause whenever you hear that laughter. Don’t talk over your laugh lines. It’s not uncommon for the best speakers to add humor into their speech and when they receive the laugh, they give their most important points. An audience is most receptive immediately after a laugh. Let the audience laugh and you will be more easily remembered.

Bob Goodyear is a veteran speaker on technology who understands the communications challenges that technical professionals face. Find out how Bob can help your organization with its presentation. Reach Bob by email or by phone at 404.790.5855.