How to be funny when your content is not

Frankie Kemp

4 March 2019

You need to talk about your departmental strategy. It’s 3pm and the subject is about as captivating as the inside of a sock.

You’ve know that humour is a method that will make you more engaging and help the content become more memorable. (If you don’t know the scientifically proven reason why, go here)

Your don’t feel very funny though. So here are 7 ways to use humour when you present.  No stand-up experience necessary.


1. Tell the Truth

‘Sorry I’m late but I didn’t want to come’.  

We often laugh because we recognise the situation/ reaction / emotion, not because a speaker’s trying to be funny.  Often the funniest comedians are simply relaying a situation that we can all relate to. 

The humour is a by-product.  


2. Laugh at yourself

 “There’s nothing funny about a confident person who’s doing well.” Rita Rudner.  

Obviously, this depends on the audience but recounting failed attempts at something helps develop likeability and trust.   You can take your subject very seriously: it doesn’t mean you need to take yourself seriously though.

3. Compare two entities

Sarah Cooper, ex-Google Manager and author of ‘100 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings’ uses a comparison between New York and San Francisco, which anyone from other of those two cities will smile at: common tropes sitting side by side.

Humour can emanate from a comparison between the past and present; 2 procedures; Team A and Team B.  Make sure that the differences are so distinct that people will prefer one entity to another. 

Not only will you make them laugh but they’ll be talking about their bias after your talk.  You’ll do this without trying to be funny but by pointing out 2 contrasting realities that are totally relatable.


4. Unexpected similes and metaphors

These make people laugh, simply because they’re a surprise. 

For example, a budget cut is unnecessary. It’s like going to the doctor when you’ve got a cold and being told you need to have a kidney removed.   Here’s a Reddit sub-thread for inspiration.


5. Cartoons

I might use an illustration like this before I present on pitching.


Of course, I won’t be reading slides word for word.  I’m mocking a situation that’s recognisable.



6. Borrow humour:  Twitter, Quotes or etc

I sometimes find funny feeds that I’ll rehash when I present.  Here’s a good source from @managerspeak.   

Someone else’s words will do the job. 

If you were a stand-up comedian, avoid that but if you’re not, you have absolute freedom to rehash the words of others.

7. Exaggerate: 

When I train or give talks on body language in Presenting, I show how men and women tend to unwittingly shield themselves in specific ways, in front of an audience.  I’ll show the ‘choir girl’, women stand with the feet together, hands pulled in front of their torsos. 

Men may be more likely to stand in ‘Penalty Shoot Out Pose’ – legs spread so far apart, you can drive a bus through them, hands in front of their groins, protecting their assets.   Of course, this is a generalisation but one that’s observable. 

Everyone immediately self-checks, and readjusts with a mixture of laughter and the horror that they may be striking these poses.

Overplaying what you see, by stating or showing, can make another person feel they’re being mocked so ensure that you make it impersonal.




Watch Sarah Cooper’s talk, ‘How to Make Boring Stuff Funny’.  She’s an ex-manager at Google and now a comedienne who’s learned to hone her humour.  The first 4 tips are hers and the last 3 are my own. 


Looking to enhance your interpersonal skills?  I’ll help you or your team unlock communication superpowers. See how here.  Be less vanilla and more THRILLER.



Now, I’d love to hear from you:

Can you remember any specific ways in which presenters have added humour to their content. Leave your answers in the comments!









Photo by Pixabay:



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