Why using humour is important when your presentation includes difficult subject matter

I visited my son in Seattle in early July and played tourist with him and his girlfriend. My son got us all tickets to The Bonesetter’s Daughter put on by Book-It Repertory Theatre at Seattle Centre.

I love challenging theatre and this definitely fit the bill. There was dementia, domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse, child-marriage, and murder. The story involved a middle-aged American woman, who wants to connect with her mother who is sliding into dementia. The daughter finds a stack of papers that turn out to be her mother’s journal and talk about her mother’s life in China before she moved to the United States after World War Two.

Given the subject matter, this could have been too much to take. Luckily, the playwright who adapted Amy Tan’s book, knew the importance of incorporating natural humour that flowed from the story and the characters.

Why humour is important in a presentation

Incorporating humour is important in informative presentations, especially if you presentation deals with difficult information. My presentations contain difficult information for some participants because I am pointing out why the way they currently present information may not be working so their audience remembers the important information they are there to share.

Laughter is great. Laughter increases oxytocin, the hormone responsible for trust and connection. You can learn more about the important benefits of laughter here:

Why I don’t recommend starting your presentation with a joke

Should you start your presentation with a joke? I don’t recommend it.  There are several potential problems. One, the joke may not be funny to everyone in your audience and indeed might be offensive to some. Two, the joke may not be relevant to the purpose of your speech so people will remember your joke but not the content. Three, you may not be very good at telling a joke (I’m NOT). Finally, it you have to look for jokes, they are almost certainly not yours. See my blog post “Where do I find jokes to use in my presentation

I always start with a relevant challenging story and I recommend my clients do the same. Stories are critical for you to connect with your audience and make sure your information is memorable. Like laughter, stories increase oxytocin, the hormone responsible for trust and connection. In addition to increasing trust and connection, stories also increase the hormone for focus and attention in the brains of the listeners.

So, don’t go looking for jokes. Instead, start with a well-told challenging story and try to find places during your presentation for humour to arise naturally.

Do you need help with your stories or your humour?

I help my clients craft their stories to engage the audience. Using humour during your presentation that arises from the story you are telling or from the content itself can be very effective. I always include gentle self-deprecating humour in my presentations.
To see how I use challenging stories and humour in my presentations, join me at an upcoming webinar entitled “Learn Five Surprising Facts to Transform Your Presentations”. You can find more information and register for a date that works for you here: