Laughter is the Best Medicine

How to use humor in your academic or scientific presentation

So what’s the deal with humor in a
scientific or academic presentation? Should you use it or does it make you
seem unprofessional? And if you can use humor, then how and how much is okay in a
presentation? Are you curious about the answer? Then stay tuned and make sure you
watch to the end to learn about a free download you can get with this video! Hey everyone, it’s Dr. Echo Rivera from
Creative Research Communications. I help academics, scientists, evaluators, and
researchers learn how to create awesome presentations and have fun while doing
it. This video is based on a question from
the audience. Lance asked: “One presenter was adamant
that humor should be completely avoided especially when talking about science. I
personally disagree with this viewpoint and think humor should be ubiquitous. I
would love to hear your opinion and reasons on the matter. Should humor be
used in presentations? If so, how much would you recommend?” That is a great
question Lance. And hey, by the way, do you have a question about presentations?
Details about how to submit a question are in the description below. Back to
Lance’s question. Should you use humor or not? Well, like everything in this world
it depends. Take a look at these two scenarios. Which one do you want to see
when you’re giving a presentation? If you want to see your audience look like this
then make sure you don’t use any humor in your presentation. If you want to see
this one, then humor is probably a really good
idea. So recommending to not use humor…I have
to say this is a really odd piece of advice. And there’s a lot of bad advice
out there, but I can usually at least understand where it’s coming from. But
this one, I mean how is it that someone comes to hate humor in presentations?
Who among us actually hates to laugh, and then takes it one step further to say
it’s actually a bad idea to make other people laugh? The best I can figure
is that it’s based on this myth that anything positive, fun, creative, or
enjoyable is unprofessional and that if you want to be professional you have to
remove all enjoyment and keep it dry and boring.
Yikes! Boris the unicorn, Director of Joy here at Creative Research Communications
LLC, strongly disagrees, and so do I. But my definition of professional is that
it’s effective, so being a professional communicator means that people will pay
attention to, understand, remember, and ideally use the information I share with
them. And humor is actually effective at helping you achieve all of those things.
Like everything though, there are some boundaries to set so that you use humor
in the right ways. Here are three tips for using humor effectively in a
professional presentation. Number one: Don’t try too hard. Let it come naturally.
You don’t want to add jokes. Like don’t go searching for funny jokes about fungi,
or fish, or p-values, whatever it is that you study. Don’t do that. It’ll feel too
forced and it probably won’t make your audience laugh. The best humor in
presentations is more subtle than that. Good humor is an extension of you. Your
audience will laugh at things that you find funny. And you don’t need to have a
theme, or only have one type of humor, or style of humor. My humor is all over the
place but it works because it makes me laugh, so when I get to that slide with
the funny part the audience can sense exactly what I’m feeling based on my
body language and voice. So here’s some examples. Here’s an example of my
sarcastic humor. And another way to think about it is it’s demonstrating
contradictions. I drew this little comic to demonstrate how we tend to accept
that we should be trained on statistical analysis in grad school because just
reading a bunch of journal articles doesn’t teach you how to do stats, yet
when it comes to other skills, like effective communication skills, all of a
sudden we think we can learn how to create engaging presentations by
watching them. Which is especially funny because most presentations are awful so
it makes even less sense. So again, it’s a contradiction but I’m presenting it in a
sarcastic or funny way. And one thing that you can’t tell just by watching
this video is that when I’m doing this in person,
I’m saying it in a very light-hearted, fun way. I don’t say it with a shaming
tone or anything like that I keep it light-hearted and fun. I’ve also been a
bit dramatic at times in a way that crosses into being silly. So in this
example, I was sharing the results of an evaluation project and our clients…they
basically didn’t meet their initial goal, and it was actually really frustrating
for them to not have met this goal, because they spent a lot of time and
resources on it. So I added a bit of dramatic flair using this photo to add
some humor as we talked about something that was difficult, and it helped us get
through the material without people getting too upset. And here’s another
example from when I’m being silly. I will often use pictures of my dogs. Dogs and
pets are perfect ways to add humor and some fun to your presentation. So for
example, I used this picture to briefly explain reliability to a group of
service providers who participated in an evaluation project. They didn’t need a
whole lesson on reliability, just a brief introduction and I wanted to do it in a
fun, silly way. So I used this and it worked. After that presentation service
providers said things like: “I bet this research stuff is really complicated but
the way Echo presents it makes it easy for me to understand.” That’s the power of
humor. Hopefully these examples give you some ideas for how you can use humor in
your presentations. And I’ve put these examples in a handout that you can
download for free. Details are in the description below. Let’s move on to the
next tip. Number two: Don’t punch down, ever. Only punch sideways or up because
this is where you might come across as unprofessional. So for example, I just
watched a documentary where, you know, professionals were being interviewed. It
was a serious documentary. And some guy tried to use humor to make a point about
how excited he was about something, and his joke, his analogy was something
like he felt like a boy with a Playboy magazine. Like, that’s just nasty. I don’t
know why men think jokes like that are funny. And again, this wasn’t just some
guy on the street being randomly interviewed. This was a professional
being interviewed about a serious, important academic topic. It was
completely inappropriate, and again, just gross. Okay, if you’re still with me
then let’s move on to the last tip. Number three: Don’t worry about how often
to use humor. There’s no real formula to this, like add one piece of humor for
every five minutes. There’s also no max number of times you can use humor. It’s
just like I say with how many slides you should use in a presentation. Don’t worry
about it, that’s kind of the wrong question to ask because ultimately it
doesn’t matter. Use as much or as little as feels natural to you. Now here’s a
bonus tip. Number four: Humor isn’t your only option. If you watch this and you’re
really upset or you’re feeling like humor just won’t work for you, then don’t
force it. Humor is only one way to add joy to your presentation. You could also
just use really beautiful or powerful visuals. You know, stock photos of people,
or nature, or animals. Or you can use stories, or have fun examples and
hands-on activities. There are a lot of ways to do that.
Choose what feels natural for you and something that won’t make you feel
worried about what you’re gonna say. So that’s it for today’s video. Make sure
you grab the free handout with these examples of how to use humor that I
showed you in this video. Thanks so much for watching! If you enjoyed this video
please subscribe and share it with your friends and colleagues on social media.
I’ll see you in the next video. Bye.

3 thoughts on “How to use humor in your academic or scientific presentation

  1. Let me know in the comments: Did my answer surprise you? or Do you feel validated because this is what you were already doing?

  2. I work in HigherEd and you'd be surprised how many people think it's a bad idea to laugh…especially when it wasn't their idea. I love using humor and creativity in my day to day as much as possible. Love this validation – thank you:-)

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