Firstly, let me be absolutely clear: comedy is a dangerous business.
The risk is colossal: get it right and your audience will love you; get it wrong and you’re sunk. So how can you cast that magic spell of humour in your meeting, interview, phone call, presentation or pitch without destroying all rapport? Well, in these ways, of course:
1. Leave your ego at the door
It’s not about you. Try to appreciate the ridiculous situation that you’re in: you’re going to stand up in front of a group of people and attempt to convince them of something by leading them on a journey of some kind. In a way, trying to control what happens is preposterous; it’s out of your hands. If you’ve prepared correctly then you can comfort yourself with that. React with good humour to any of the things that might happen (people arriving late, loud noises outside, your stomach rumbling, an audience member sneezing violently) and just go with it. It’s not a trap; your audience wants you to do well, so they’ll welcome any ego-less light-hearted humour.
2. Be yourself
Reveal something personal; a flaw, a love, a hate or your obsession with punctuality and a nice strong cup of tea (OK, that’s me, but use your own peculiarities). Letting the audience know what you really care about can be funny, especially when it’s something irrelevant but authentic, such as your love of a type of music or specific model of car, your loathing of bad cyclists, or your excitement about a recent film trailer. Discovering that the lecturer in molecular science went to London Comic Con is funny if it’s genuine.
3. Be interested in your audience
Children are interested in the world around them, and will ask questions without fear of offence e.g. “Why don’t you have any hair?” (one of my favourites). This is wonderful because it breaks down the barriers of British awkwardness and etiquette which can get in the way of fun and meaningful interaction. As an adult, obviously you have to tread carefully, but I find that asking people about their experiences can reveal very funny insights that create trust, interest and useful examples.
4. State what’s happening
When something unexpected happens (remember those people arriving late, loud noises outside, your stomach rumbling, an audience member sneezing violently?), it can create a tension in the room. Break the tension and you may get a laugh without the thing you said being funny in itself. For example, an image you’ve used is of a shockingly low resolution, and your audience are web designers. I’d say something like “Wow. That is slightly lower resolution than I’d intended” or “I tried to get the image size smaller, but I gave up at 4K” or “on my laptop screen that image looked super crisp”. (Those are funny, by the way. Use them). You can easily get a laugh by calling out what’s happening, especially if it’s potentially embarrassing to you. Counter-intuitive perhaps, but very, very funny.
Relax, lose your serious ‘game face’, and have some fun. Your presentation/interview/phone call/meeting/date* will be 100%** more productive and enjoyable if you let go of the ‘business’ approach that’s stifling the most useful interaction: the personal.
* You know that your date isn’t a business transaction, right? You’re not showing slides or anything, are you? Good.
** Let’s say 124%. OK, I don’t have actual data to back this up, but you get the point.