This is a response to the trending article on LinkedIn, “Making Jokes During a Presentation Helps Men But Hurts Women.”
I’m not convinced that humor in presentations hurts women more than men.
First, it depends on whether or not the humor is well done. Is it really funny? Next, is it appropriate for the audience?
Second, it depends on how well one can use or deliver humor. Some people are naturally funny and at ease. Some, are not and can be awkward. My firm measures one’s ease in presenting as well as one’s “Amusement & Hedonism” motivational drivers. If one scores high, man or woman, they are naturally at ease with humor and being “funny”. I wrote an article titled “Do You Have A Funny Bone?” about the impact of this motivational facet on individuals and, in the aggregate, on organizational cultures. If someone has a low score, they are not comfortable with humor, being playful or kidding around, and would come off very stiff and uncomfortable.
Last, I found the humor or joke used in the study to be too gender sensitive. The joke used for demonstration purposes was funny for a man to deliver. However, it was concerning for a woman to use because it was, by design, going to trigger less positive reviews for the woman. The joke used in this demonstration was,
“So, last night, my husband (wife) gave me some good advice about this presentation. He (she) said whatever you do don’t try to be too charming, witty, or intellectual… just be yourself!”
This is self-deprecating and funny for the man. For the woman, it leaves the audience wondering whether her husband was being a jerk as the joke can be easily taken as insulting and demeaning.
I suggest the study be redone with a gender-neutral joke that would be funny to all audiences. Until then, I don’t think the study makes the point.
From my personal perspective as a woman who presents and instructs frequently, I use humor (more in the form of stories) most of the time unless I am in front of audiences that I know have low scores in Amusement & Hedonism (banking for example.) These cultures prefer a more serious tone so I try to reign it in for these groups.