Humor in Presentations

TED lectures on the Internet provide rich and diverse examples of presentation skills. We have used them to explore such techniques as opening and closing a presentation and encouraging audience participation. Here's a double exposure activity that deals with the use of humor in presentations.

Basic Idea

Teams watch different video lectures, paying particular attention to what makes the audience laugh. Based on these observations, participants create sets of guidelines, first within the teams and then across the teams. They apply these guidelines to plan and rehearse a humorous presentation.


To discover, discuss, and apply best practices for injecting humor in a presentation.


Minimum: 8
Maximum: Any number
Best: 12 to 20


1 hour


Four computers connected to the Internet (or four devices that can play back TED videos)


Set up four computers to play different TED lectures. These computers should have Internet access. Make sure that all team members can watch the monitor and listen to the lectures. Place the computers at different tables so that the teams do not interfere with each other. Pre-select four different lectures, one for each device. Select lectures that have good content presented with an appropriate amount of humor. Do not select comedy shows for this activity.

(Note from Raja: You may not need full-fledged computers with Internet access. For instance, if you have iPads, you can install the official TED app and save [download] videos for later viewing.)


Round 1. Working with original teams

Brief the participants. Explain the importance of adding humor to presentations. Briefly discuss different ways of making humorous presentations.

Divide participants into four teams of approximately equal size. It is not critical if a team has one more participant than the other teams. Assign each team to one of the four computers, each ready to play a different TED lecture.

Ask teams to watch the lecture presentation. Help the teams to play the appropriate TED lecture. Instruct the team members to take notes on what makes the audience laugh. Encourage them to write down guidelines for adding humor to lecture presentations.

Ask teams to analyze the techniques for adding humor in lecture presentations. After the TED lecture ends, instruct the team members to share their observations and come up with a set of guidelines for adding appropriate humor in a lecture presentation.

Round 2. Working with new teams

Re-organize the participants into new teams. Explain that you are going to facilitate sharing of best practices for adding humor to lecture presentations. Create new teams that consist of one member from each original team. If you have extra participants (because some TED lectures were watched by more participants than the others), add them to one or more of the new teams. You will end up with some teams having two people who watched the same TED lecture, but this does not present any problem.

Ask the new teams to share their guidelines. Begin by asking each team member to share the humor techniques that she observed in the TED lecture. Encourage participants to continue sharing and consolidating their guidelines.

Round 3. Preparing and rehearsing humorous presentations

Ask each participant to prepare a short humorous presentation. Explain this presentation should not take more than 3 minutes and it could be a segment from a longer presentation. Encourage participants to incorporate as many of the humor guidelines as possible.

Pair up the participants. Ask the two members of each pair to take turns making their humorous presentations. Invite the listener to give appreciative feedback by identifying the things she found to be especially humorous in the presentation. Also ask the listener to give useful and constructive suggestions.


Do you have more time? Ask each team to watch two different TED lectures. This will enable them to discover how different presenters use the same humor technique.

Do you have less face time? Ask participants to watch different TED lectures before they come to the face-to-face session. Also ask them to come prepared with individual lists of humor guidelines.