Do you know how to use humor in your B2B pitch?

Here are seven great tips for using laughs to boost sales

There are many great reasons to use humor in your pitch or presentation with a prospect. A funny story, joke, quote or prop can grab attention, create rapport and make your message more memorable. It can also relieve tension when your laptop freezes, your demo doesn’t work or you’re running late. Humor can even add welcome lightness to a heavy subject or diffuse bad news, like a price increase or delay in delivery. 

Yup, humor can be a great addition…when it works. And when it doesn’t?

Few things will suck the confidence out of you faster than starting off with a joke or story that bombs, annoys or confuses your business audience.
Using humor in your pitch is not without risk, so be smart about exposing your funny side by following these seven tips:

Make it relevant. I sat in on a presentation where the salesperson started with a story about his new puppy's obsession with the family goldfish. It was funny, cute and heartwarming. But the audience’s smiles quickly faded when he abruptly clapped his hands together and said, “OK, so let me tell you a little bit about our company.” Especially with busy executives, humor for humor’s sake is not always welcome and it can seem like a cheap ploy to grab attention. You can avoid this pitfall by making sure your joke or story ties to the situation, circumstances or topic you’re there to discuss.

Limit the sarcasm. You only have to spend a few minutes on social media to recognize the wildly different reactions people have to sarcasm. Some people love it, whereas others find it negative or grating. Some cultures embrace sarcasm, and some may be more likely to misinterpret its meaning. If you do use sarcasm, make sure you have a good read on your audience (See Guidepost #7) and use it sparingly. A little goes a long way.

Nail the punch line. Have you ever listened to someone get all the way to the end of a joke and forget or botch the punch line? It doesn’t instill much confidence, does it? Nerves can do funny things to presenters (no pun intended) so take your humor as seriously as the rest of your presentation. Practice your story or joke until you have it down cold.

Avoid controversial subjects and stereotypes. I’m going to assume you know what topics are inappropriate, but stereotypes can often sneak into a conversation without us realizing how they might offend our listeners. One salesperson I know told a joke about millennials to a prospect only to discover too late that the prospect’s millennial son was the actual decision-maker for the company. He didn’t get the business. Make sure you’re not inadvertently offending someone in the audience or the company. When in doubt, don’t.  (Tip: The one person you can safely make fun of? Yourself!)

Deliver it with confidence. When using humor with business audiences you can’t be the least bit sheepish or embarrassed about it. Your audience will instinctively pick up on your discomfort and start to feel uncomfortable themselves. If you can’t commit to your joke, story or prop 100 percent, it’s better not to do it at all.

Punch and pause. Often salespeople tell me their joke or story didn’t work when often it’s just a matter of timing. Saying something funny and then rushing right into the next point doesn’t allow your listener a chance to react. Like a good comedian, you have to take a beat (or two or three) after your funny bit to let people recognize the humor, process it and react.

Do a test run. Even after following these guideposts, your best fail-safe measure is to test it out on people who are representative of your audience. Try your story or joke out in conversations and see what kind of response you get. If you’re honestly unsure of your audience or humor is not your forte’, choose something simple and less risky, like a short quote, a funny picture, or a quick metaphor. 

Good things happen when people laugh together, so don’t be afraid to interject some much-needed humor in your b2b pitch or presentation. Just be sure to minimize the risk by taking a few minutes to run it by these guideposts.

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