How to Make People Laugh During Presentations

You don’t have to be a comedian to get big laughs as a speaker.

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read

Tip #3: Use the Humor Of Others To Develop Your Own

Actually, anytime you hear something you find funny, whether it comes from your mouth or someone else's mouth, you should record it in some way. That way you can recycle the line. I like to repeat the line several different ways. Play with the timing. Play with the words. Modify the line to get the most out of it.

The idea is to plant a seed in your mind and think about the comment and how you might use it. Later, when you need to create a laugh line or you need a spontaneous quip, you'll have material to draw from.

For example, a few years ago I heard Lewis Black say, "I have N'Sync and Aerosmith and Britney Spears. I have a trifecta from hell."  I thought that line was very funny.  I know it doesn't sound very funny out of context, but trust me, it was really funny.  And besides trifecta is just one of those words that just sounds funny. Trifecta. Anyway, I wrote the line in my humor file and thought about the line from time to time--mostly when I was watching Lewis Black on the comedy channel.

Eventually that led to the creation of a line which you may remember from the better conference calls article. "A flushing toilet, a crowing rooster, and a crying baby? Did you figure it out? Yep, I once heard all those sounds on the same conference call—I felt like I had won a conference call trifecta."   

Tip #4: Follow the Rule of Three

Actually that line also takes advantage of the rule of three. Things presented in threes are inherently more satisfying and more enjoyable. Notice it's not just that I grouped three items, the parallel structure and matching cadence also helped to make it more memorable and interesting. Flushing toilet, crowing rooster, crying baby. Roy Peter Clark, who wrote Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer describes the rhythm as "boom, boom, boom".

Tip #5: Break The Rule of Three

By the way, you can easily create humor by breaking the rule of three. Roy Peter Clark describes the humorous pattern as "boom, boom, bang." The idea is to set the topic with the first word in the triad, establish the pattern with the second item, and then deviate with the third element.  Make it shorter, or longer, or change the meaning.  Although the third element still needs to be related, it should be unusual or unexpected. 

This advice for public speakers from Franklin D. Roosevelt is a great example: “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.” A variation on that same theme: “Stand up, speak up, shut up.”

One of my favorite examples is from a Beatles song, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four" The reason why this line is so catchy and memorable is exactly because it breaks the rule of three. The curse of knowing the rule of three is that you’ll now  hear it all the time. 

So there you have it: more quick and dirty tips to help you add humor and get more laughter when making presentations. Remember it’s important to encourage laughter, record your presentations, be on laugh alert, use the humor of others to develop your own, and finally to follow and break the rule of three.

This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall. Passionate about communication, your success is my business.

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If you have a question, send email to publicspeaker@quickanddirtytips.com. For information about keynote speeches or workshops, visit lisabmarshall.com.


The Public Speaker’s Guide To Ace Your Interview: 6 Steps To Get The Job You Want
Stevie Ray's Medium-Sized Book of Comedy : What We Laugh At... and Why
21 Free Humor Articles from John Kinde
Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer (Roy Peter Clark)

Woman Laughing image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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