“Laughter is an instant vacation,” said comedian Milton Berle. And let’s face it, we could all use a vacation from the stress of public speaking. But what if we told you that adding some humor to your presentations can actually make them more effective?
According to studies, humor can increase likability, enhance credibility, and improve the retention of information (1). In fact, a survey found that 92% of respondents felt that humor was beneficial in getting their point across (2). And if you need some more convincing, here’s a cool fact: laughter can actually reduce stress and boost your immune system (7). So, not only will your audience enjoy your presentation more, but it could also be good for their health!
This week, I rummaged through my college archives for comedy resources (yes, I kept notebooks and textbooks), and retrieved my notes from a theatre class on comedic plays. The following lists of comic devices are taken from my personal class notes. My hope is that these lists can be a resource for you so you can identify the various comedic conventions in your own life and stories. You’ll know where the joke is and what to emphasize as you tell your stories.
So, pack your bags, grab your sunscreen, and let’s take a trip to the funnier side of public speaking!
Comedy is an art that has been around for centuries. But what makes something funny?
“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot”Charlie Chaplin
According to research, comedy evokes laughter and adds levity to even heavy subjects (3). Additionally, topics that center around relationships and socialization are funnier than those about death or isolation (4).
There are many comic devices you can use to add humor to your presentation, including:
For a classic literature example, in the French play Tartuffe by Molière, the titular character is a liar and imposter who poses as a righteous priest to gain money and power from a family. He fools the head of the family and gets out of incriminating situations by lying. In the end, the head of the family is about to be sent to jail, and all his property will go to Tartuffe. However, Deus ex machina comes in to save the day! The police arrive and arrest Tartuffe because the wise King (the God-like figure who was never mentioned before in the play) heard about the problems in the household and knew Tartuffe had a long rap sheet. Magically, all the family’s problems are solved!
For a modern cinematic example, in the Marvel movie Avengers: Endgame, the superheroes are fighting against Thanos, a powerful villain who had previously destroyed half of all life in the universe. The superheroes are losing, and their situation seems hopeless. However, at a crucial moment, a previously dead superhero, Iron Man, uses a powerful technology called the Infinity Gauntlet to defeat Thanos and his minions. Iron Man’s sacrifice results in the defeat of the villain and the restoration of all life in the universe. In this way, Deus ex machina is used to provide a satisfying ending to the story.
Verbal comic devices can also be used to enhance humor in your presentations, including:
Using comic devices can be a great way to engage your audience and keep them interested in your presentation. But how do you implement them effectively? Here are some tips:
Adding some humor to your presentations can do wonders for your audience engagement and retention of information. As we’ve seen from the research, humor is not just beneficial in making your presentations more entertaining, but it can also enhance your credibility and make you more likable. And let’s face it, who doesn’t want to be liked?
With these comic devices in your toolbox, you’ll be sure to have your audience in stitches in no time. Just remember to choose the right device for the subject matter, practice your timing, and don’t be afraid to be a little self-deprecating.
As the great comedic actor and writer, John Cleese, once said, “Laughter connects you with people. It’s almost impossible to maintain any kind of distance or any sense of social hierarchy when you’re just howling with laughter. Laughter is a force for democracy.” So, go ahead and use humor to connect with your audience and make your presentation a success!