You don’t have to be a professional comedian or have a staff of writers to make an audience laugh, although that certainly helped Jimmy Kimmel and President Obama during this year’s White House Correspondents’ Association dinner last Saturday. The pair kept the audience laughing for nearly an hour by spinning jokes off topics in the news, from the Secret Service scandal to Kim Kardashian’s celebrity.
Here are some techniques you can apply to your presentations:
- Record the opening. Last year the president’s speech began with the song “I Am a Real American” while the images on screen included his birth certificate. This year’s performance began with a spoof about an open mic while he was off stage. When you record your opening, you can test it with colleagues and fine-tune it, so you are guaranteed to get a laugh, with no pressure on you for a few minutes to perform perfectly live.
- Use sound effects. I can imagine the same sound in Obama’s opening, a flushing toilet, being used to make a humorous point about some type of failure that people can laugh about.
- Surprise them with images. Obama used that technique twice. First he mentioned that it had been a year since “We delivered justice to one of the world’s most notorious individuals,” and instead of Osama bin Laden the screen flashed an image of Donald Trump. Then as the president imagined how he might age over the next four years, the screen showed a photo of Morgan Freeman.
- Make fun of yourself. At the correspondents’ dinner, politicians, celebrities and journalists are all fair game for jabs, but in most situations you won’t want to offend your audience members. The safest strategy is to make fun of yourself. If the president of the United States can do it, so can you.
- Gesture. What made Obama’s comment about being born inHawaii funny was the big wink he gave the audience. Kimmel’s high five with the president was also a fun ending.
- Go ahead and laugh. As long as others are laughing too, it’s OK to laugh at your own jokes. While the audience laughed at the Morgan Freeman photo, Obama admonished them “That’s not even funny,” but then he couldn’t stop himself from laughing. Remember, you’re all there to have a good time.
What’s your favorite technique for adding humor to a speech?