Too Funny

By Heather Baldwin

Everyone loves a good laugh – and most people are drawn to those who make them laugh. Which is why so many salespeople try to use humor in their presentations, believing that an audience that laughs is one who will like the sales rep and therefore be more likely to buy. Unfortunately, many presenters who use humor don’t do it well, and thus wind up doing more harm than good. But don’t let that stop you, says Thomas Leech, author of How to Prepare, Stage & Deliver Winning Presentations (AMACOM, 1993). Instead, he says, follow these suggestions for finding and successfully weaving humor into your next presentation.

  • Truth is usually stranger and funnier than fiction, so weave in current items from the newspaper, magazine, radio, TV, movies, cartoons or – best of all – daily encounters in your life. One manager, says Leech, livened up his annual lecture on time cards by including a cartoon on each chart. A veteran supervisor later said it was the first time he had ever paid attention.
  • As you develop material, stretch your creativity by including props, demonstrations and concepts adapted from late-night shows. Leech once worked with a team vying for a contract that, if won, would require the project team members to move to Washington, DC. At the end of the four-hour presentation, the team leader concluded with this: All of our team members have made their personal commitments to working with you all in Washington by publicly declaring loyalty to D.C.’s new team. At which point all eight team members stood up and placed new Washington Redskins hats on their heads. The audience roared with laughter, the team won the contract and the audience members talked about that ploy for months afterwards.
  • Use humor at the outset to release tension. Leech tells of a sales rep who opened his presentation to a notoriously negative review board by showing a cartoon. “In it, a medieval general was surrounded by enemies armed to the teeth with bows and arrows. A salesman attempts to sell him a new product, but the general rebuffs him: Don’t bother me now. I am in the midst of a battle. The salesman’s product? A Gatling gun,” says Leech. “The board members recognized his point in good humor and heard him out, something they’d never done before.”
  • Don’t hesitate to be outrageous. One executive started a presentation in a gorilla outfit. “We laughed and relaxed,” says Leech. “Then we listened and remembered. Fourteen months later, I can still tell you several points he made.”