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What About Humor?

"Now that reminds me of a story." This statement can bring on a pleasant interlude or cause the audience to groan, "Oh, not again!" Do jokes or humorous stories have a place in business presentations? Maybe. Almost any audience appreciates a bit of levity, and I have seen many business presenters incorporate humor into their talks with good effect. The "maybe" is to put up a caution that humor can fall flat if it is out of place, is not pertinent to the subject, or is atrociously told. We're not all great joke tellers, and obvious attempts to add levity at any cost generally backfire.

Why use humor at all? Says Dr. Jerry Tarver of the University of Richmond: "Mainly because it can help hold attention and interest. Also, humor helps establish a friendly atmosphere. It can relieve tension and allow an audience to appreciate the human qualities of a speaker. I recall watching John F. Kennedy on television as he won over an audience by explaining his reaction to a political setback. 'I feel like the old pioneer lying on the ground after being shot full of arrows,' he said. 'It only hurts when I laugh.' "[18]


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