Magazine article Risk Management

Humor as a Presentation Tool

Magazine article Risk Management

Humor as a Presentation Tool

Article excerpt

You can give a decent speech. Your visuals are snappy. You are feeling ahead of the game. Now there is one more skill to master: Humor.

You have noticed that your CFO makes a self-deprecating comment or tells a story that always gets a chuckle and creates a foundation for what he is about to say. Your CEO is reading a cover story profiling Southwest Airlines CEO Herb Kelleher, well known for using humor as a leadership tool to create Southwest's legendary culture.

You panic. You are what can be charitably called "humor challenged." The good news is that humor is just one more set of skills that can be learned and practiced.

Funny Business

First, what not to do: Do not get a joke book. Humor is not about telling the one about three guys walking into a bar. Do not start by saying: "I'm not very good at telling jokes." That will be apparent. Now, what you should do:

External aids. Look for cartoons that illustrate your point and can be transferred onto overheads or Power-Point. Single box cartoons, like "Pepper and Salt" from the Wall Street Journal or many trade publications, make the best illustrations for presentations.

One executive used the same cartoon for years, showing a trembling man before a portly executive banging his desk, yelling, "I want a quick long-term fix." It always drew a smile and reinforced his point. (Generally, occasional use of cartoons for noncommercial purposes should be allowed. For an appearance before an industry group, write to the syndicate for permission or a use fee. Except for stars like "Dilbert," most cartoons are reasonably priced.)

Props. One client used a prop at an internal meeting about pursuing an acquisition. He broke down the numbers analyzing the target's value and brought along a golf club cover--a skunk. He presented the figures, sniffed the air, opened his briefcase and said, "I knew there was a smell."

Fun facts. There are several books that provide historical events for each calendar day. Suppose you are chosen to make a presentation to management on October 20 about what happened in the most recent litigation in Mississippi. You turn to October 20 in The Book of Days by Anthony Freewin (Madison Press, 1979). …

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