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Humour works when the joke’s on you

Using humour in presentations is like a fireworks display.

It can light up the atmosphere or blow you to bits.

People can be offended easily.

So it’s best to make yourself the butt of the joke.

Read on.

A dazzling display

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I’ve just watched a musician entertain the BBC Breakfast News audience.

With a dazzling firework display of quick wit and gentle humour.

And the only target was himself.

Justin Currie is the founder and principal song-writer for Del Amitri.

The band had five albums enter the UK’s Top Ten.

But that was in their prime in the 80s and 90s.

Can they produce the goods once more with their new one?

Justin asked:

“I mean, what were you doing in your late 20s?  And could you do it now?”

Referring to being a singing star now in his mid-50s, he added:

“You’ve got to take more breaths.

“And you can’t jump up and down the same way.”

Hitting the right notes

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In between the punchlines were words of wisdom and reflection that held a great interview together.

Before another punchline was delivered.

The earnest interviewer Dan Walker asked:

“Will the fans get the old music or the new?”

Holding a wry smile, Justin replied:

“Mainly the old!”

He then recounted the story of performing in their prime at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut in Glasgow.

They were determined to play only new numbers.

They got 40 minutes in and the response was muted to say the least.

He explained:

“They were not just drifting off to the bar.

“They just looked completely stricken!”

Walker asked him about his 1998 anthem for the Scotland football team.

The song celebrated the Scots’ qualification for the World Cup Finals in France.

It was called Don’t Come Home Too Soon.

A reference to Scotland’s failure to ever make it out of the initial qualifying group at finals.

Would he write another to celebrate Scotland qualifying for the Euros this summer?

Justin replied:

“I got a slating for writing a song that wasn’t sufficiently jubilant or triumphalist.

“Literally, old men would cross the street to say ‘you should be ashamed of yourself!’”

He explained that Scotland lost the last of three matches to Morocco and came home too soon.

He added with a smile:

“I can’t go through that again.”

The interview was entertaining, honest and, at times, revealing.

All wrapped up in self-deprecating humour.

It’s the first time I’ve seen Justin interviewed.

It made me want to listen to his music and see him on stage.

So job done.

Humour in presentations

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In our presentation skills courses at our Glasgow studios.

Or on presenting courses in Edinburgh.

The virtual courses we run across the world.

And highlighted in our online course in the Pink Elephant Academy.

We urge people to use humour carefully.

Because it can blow up in your face.

And it will if you make others the butt of the joke.

But a skillful display like Justin’s is a delight and an inspiration.

With himself the target at all times.

One last word of caution.

In the first question, Dan Walker asked:

“How did you feel putting the album together?”

To which Justin replied:

“Mildly terrified.”

Which reminds me of an interview done by a senior crew member of the soon-to-be-launched Queen Mary 2.

A reporter asked how he’d feel taking the largest passenger ship in the world out of Southampton Sound for the first time.

On TV, he responded:


It was far from the inspiring message all the souls on board needed to hear.

Which is why I got a call from the ship’s owners, requesting media training.

By the end of the session, the same person’s answer was clear.

“It’ll be the proudest day of my life at the helm of the greatest ship in the world.”

 An answer which demonstrated the confidence his audience needed to hear.


Bill McFarlan is Co-Founder and Executive Chairman at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos in Humour in presentations by BBC Breakfast / Del Amitri on Twitter / and Pink Elephant Communications.
Humour in presentations blog edited by Colin Stone.

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