There’s a good reason that the most successful public speakers — and psychologists — will advise you to infuse your public talks with humor. Actually, there are several good reasons.
But keep in mind, we’re talking relevant, contextual humor — not jokes like “What do you get when you cross a caterpillar with a parrot?” (In case you’re curious: A walkie-talkie.)
Research reported by the American Psychological Association demonstrated that when professors inject appropriate, relevant and well-placed humor in their lessons, students’ academic performance improves. Researchers attribute humor’s positive effects on learning to relieving students’ tension in class, as well as enlivening lectures making them more engaging and memorable. This leads to better understanding and information retention.
More engaging? More memorable? Improved audience retention? Sounds like a compelling case for adding humor to your webinars, right? But there’s more.
Research covered in Forbes found that humor in a business setting can help facilitate trust and a sense of group cohesion. So when you infuse your webinar with humor and your unique personality, you create a rapport and establish the all-important bond of trust with your attendees. This will help drive more value from your webinar.
Of course, you won’t enjoy these benefits — and you could even undermine your message — if you end up being inappropriate, offensive, or just plain unfunny.
So here’s a helpful checklist you can use to screen any joke, cute remark or hilarious visual — before including it in your webinar.
5 tests any humor should pass before making it into your webinar
1. Keep it clean.
You never know what might offend or turn off an attendee, so your clean threshold should be high. Don’t use profanity. And be wary of even the most tame references to sex, bodily functions, drugs or potentially offensive topics.
Rule of thumb: If you wouldn’t make the remark to your seven-year-old daughter, you should probably keep it out of your webinar.
2. Keep it uncontroversial (and ideally, timeless).
You can never be sure who will take offense at your sarcastic comment about a politician, celebrity, or hot-button social issue. So keep those comments out.
Also, be careful about including funny remarks, memes, or GIFs on current events, even if they’re not controversial. The jokes themselves might not be offensive, but injecting references to topical issues can “date” your content if you plan on making your webinar an evergreen piece of content.
If you’re using the right webinar platform, you will be able to record the content and make it available forever. Your webinar could lose impact with future viewers if it includes jokes about events or topics your viewers don’t understand because they’re no longer in the news.
3. Keep it relevant.
Before economist Thomas Sowell, PhD, begins one of his public lectures, the event’s host usually introduces him by reciting his lengthy and impressive bio for the audience: Harvard graduate, author of dozens of books, former professor at UCLA, Cornell and Rutgers, etc.
Then Sowell, who is in his late 80s, walks to the podium and says, “Wow. That was like hearing a sneak preview of my own obituary.”
That’s a terrific example of how to use relevant and contextual humor in a public talk. Sowell finds a way to tie the impressive introduction his audience just heard with a funny reference to his advanced age. And the fact that he’s poking fun at himself, endears him to his audience.
Likewise, make sure your humor is relevant to your topic and your audience. You audience will feel like you are one of them and understand them.
4. Keep it friendly.
If your funny remark is going to come at the expense of someone or something, it had better be you.
Jokes or sarcastic comments that poke fun at anyone else can be just as much of a turnoff for some attendees as jokes loaded with profanity.
Some light, harmless teasing can work in a one-on-one business setting — assuming you’ve already established trust with the other person. But in a webinar, when you’re speaking to a large group, you don’t want to risk coming across as mean-spirited.
5.Use it sparingly.
Let’s talk donuts. Your first one is a great treat (at least if you’re me it is). Your second: Still pretty good, but you probably feel like you’re on your way to a sugar crash. A third, a fourth? Enough already!
You can think of humor in your business webinars in a similar way. A little goes a long way. Too much humor can start to detract from your webinar’s actual messages and goals.
Infusing your webinar with humor should be a well-thought-out decision, designed to improve your webinar and increase audience engagement for business purposes. I understand not everyone is funny, so just being yourself and having fun will go a long way. You can also easily infuse your personality into your slides with a well-placed GIF or picture.
Bottom line: Stay loose and have fun, but use humor carefully.