Play it for laughs? Adding humour to a presentation

Play it for laughs? Adding humour to a presentation

Former US president Barack Obama would often begin a speech with a joke. It was a great power move, demonstrating that even in the most important of situations, with the eyes of the world on him, he felt confident enough to drop some humour.

Now, we can’t encourage you to always start your PowerPoint presentation with a joke. We also can’t recommend that you include them at all, especially if your presentation is to your investors who want to know where all their money has gone.

But, in an appropriate situation, humour in a presentation makes the speaker seem confident, relaxed, and inventive… if your jokes are any good.

Injecting japes

If you have an existing presentation and think you’d like to add some humour, scan over the actual script on paper and think where they it could be inserted.

How has your audience reacted to the material in the past? Was there a moment when you felt you lost them for a while? Could humour help to enliven that part of the presentation?

In deciding that, consider your audience. Will they get your jokes about A4 cream paper stock, or will you come across as that desperate presenter who wants everyone to like them?

Ideally you’ll have worked all this out before getting up to present, but consider the audience’s age, and what kind of industry they work in. It all matters when scripting material that relies on like-minded people sharing a joke.

Also, are there any cultural barriers that might derail your efforts to be funny? Presenting to people from a different country or culture to yours might make humour hard to translate and, worst case scenario, it might be considered offensive.

Worth the risk?

Think long and hard about this. Like any other element of your presentation, getting the opinions of others prior to making it is essential for humour.

Ask friends and colleagues if they think your attempt at humour is both funny and appropriate. Finding out from colleagues if your audience is typically accepting of that kind of presentation can also be useful. The more you know…

If you are going for it, takes these few points into consideration…

  • Less is more. One or two reliable, effective jokes will see your audience enjoy themselves, not ten solid minutes of clangers, distracting from the real meat of your presentation.
  • Humour is the cherry on top. Think of your presentation as a cake and the humour you wish to add as a cherry on top. Your audience are here for the cake, not the pretty cherry that adds just a smidge of interest.
  • Don’t expect the laugh. You might think you’re funny, and your presentation has scored a few laughs in the past, but all audiences are different. Don’t pause and expectantly wait for the laughs to come when you drop your killer line. It might not, and you’ll look foolish.
  • Plan an escape route. Don’t write your presentation around the jokes. If you find that the audience aren’t liking them, you need to ditch them. Think of the humour as optional extras you can add if all is going well… and ditch if it isn’t.

Going out with a bang

Another thing you can learn from the presenting greats who use humour is how they end their speeches. Sales people will know all about the call-to-action, but even if you’re not trying to sell anything to your audience, the close of your presentation should will them on to do something.

The end of your presentation is your final opportunity to leave a lasting impression of those present, so you really need to decide on what it is you want from them. A sale? A job? A change in the way they think about something? Could a well-aimed and timely joke help with that?


The final slides, or the closing statement, really needs to drop a bomb. Is there some piece of information about you, your company, or your product that you can leave until last, to increase its significance? And if so, could it be delivered humorously?

Here at Future Present, we’ve always enjoyed ‘call-backs’ at the close of a presentation. That’s something that directs the audience’s attention back to a previous slide or section.

If the presentation is about design and the speaker has previously shown an example of bad design work, the final revelation could be that he or she was the person who actually created it long ago, revealing how much they have changed, grown, and improved. Something like that will also humanise you, and show you’re not above a little self-joking.

Consider also that your final slide might be the one that remains on screen the longest. Often the last slide stays up there, viable to all, while the presenter not only closes up their presentation, but also while they thank the audience, and even until the deck changes for the next speaker.

What image or info do you want to leave them with? The chances are that whatever is shown last will be remembered longest, so take your time to pick the right content.

A presenter walks into a conference hall…

Thinking about adding jokes to your presentation is actually no laughing matter. Consider it long and hard, but when it goes well it can warm your audience to you, add an entertaining element to the talk, and make you more memorable.

Got the jokes, but struggling with the PowerPoint? Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help you put together that killer presentation. 

From expertly designed slides, to damn-clever PowerPoint development, no one does presentations like we do.