Magazine article Marketing

Public Speakers Train for a Laugh

Magazine article Marketing

Public Speakers Train for a Laugh

Article excerpt

Is comedy a serious presentation tool?

"So, I went to the dentist. He said: 'Say aaah.' I said: 'Why?' He said: 'My dog's died."' While no one's suggesting that you walk into your next business presentation and become Tommy Cooper, it seems there's something to be said for making people laugh. It goes back to the old adage that we buy from people we like--and, of course, making people laugh is one of the best ways to get them to like you. But if you're naturally about as funny as Adolf Hitler, how can you learn to put your audience at ease--and even get a bit of a giggle-when you're presenting?

Help is at hand in the shape of the Jongleurs School of Comedy. Born out of the Jongleurs comedy club chain, launched ten years ago, the school is just seven months old. It was established, says Jongleurs founder Maria Kempinska, with marketers in mind. "The comedy workshop is a course for people who are in a job where they have to have innovative ideas and think quickly," she says. "Marketing, advertising and business leadership professionals need to do that more and more, so writing and dealing with comedy, and then having to perform it, is immensely challenging and improves mental agility."

Kempinska firmly believes that using comedy in pitches, presentations and public speaking increases the speakers' chances of a successful reception. "To have comedy in a pitch or presentation is so useful -- it relaxes the listeners and makes it far more interesting for the presenter. Making someone laugh opens their mind to viewing things in a different way."

Yet, not all marketing experts share Kempinska's view, maintaining that humour can cause offence. Wendy Lomax, head of the school of marketing at Kingston Business School, says that although she uses comedy when training others, she doesn't teach her students to use it in a presentation environment. "There's a fine line between building rapport and offending people. You could appear flippant about things that others are serious about," she says.

Death by PowerPoint

The industry view, however, is different. Lou Burrows, head of the people team at full-service agency HHCL, believes humour can bring warmth to presentations, making people relax and listen more intently. HHCL runs a training programme called Mind Gym, designed to make staff aware of their mental processes and boost their 'brain fitness'.

The course uses comedy as a teaching method. "Humour is an integral part of culture at HHCL. Formality is blown away, and comedy brings a lightness of touch that relaxes clients," says: Burrows.

Johnathan Gabay, a course director on the faculty of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, (CIM) warns of the danger of 'death by PowerPoint', saying there is a limit to the amount of presentations that should rely on PowerPoint slides. If the presentation itself is not creative, he argues, how can the audience expect its content to be inspiring?

Gabay teaches a three-day course called Advanced Business Presenting, during which he takes a session on using the "most startling techniques", for which he uses comedy and magic. "Delegates think they shouldn't use humour, but once they've tried it, they generally wish they'd done it before," says Gabay.

So, as long as you remember you're not Tommy Cooper, it seems injecting a little comedy into your presentations can only help you relax and encourage your audience to warm to you. …

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