Pete’s Blog

Humor Keeps Audiences Engaged: Three Tips on Adding Humor to Your Presentation

Humor has a place in most presentations: connecting through laughter is one of the best ways to engage an audience. Humor keeps us focused on the speaker and topic, and creates a shared experience for the audience. The goal of a speaker is to deliver information in a way the audience can accept and retain so they can later act on the speaker’s advice.

One of my favorite quotes about using humor in a presentation is from Jeffrey Gitomer who said, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” Think about your own experiences. Maybe you connected with a teacher who made learning fun and challenging, or a mentor who used humor to help reduce tension. The way you felt then is how you want your audience to feel.

There are people who believe they are not a funny person. That’s fine because I am not suggesting you develop a stand up comedy routine. Adding humor to your presentation can be taught. Start with baby steps. No one gets their first driver’s license driving a Ferrari. I have a 16 year old – believe me, something bad is bound to happen! Take those driving baby steps with a Ford Escort instead.

Adding humor to a presentation is a learning process, and I have three tips to share with you.

Tip # 1: Dont tell jokes. Do use self-deprecating humor.

You never want to tell an outward joke in your presentation because it could be offensive to someone in the audience. You can, however, poke fun at yourself. My last name, Margaritis, gets commented on every time I introduce myself. So I use that to make fun at my own expense when I start a presentation by saying, ”my name is pronounced like a cocktail but spelled like an inflammation.” It always gets a laugh and helps to set the mood in the room. Word of caution: find the funny about you without going overboard because that can hurt your credibility.

Tip #2: Use a funny picture or movie to get your point across.

Begin by telling the story (setup) first to get the audience’s attention and then show to photo or movie, for a laugh. For example, I was presenting on the sexy and exciting topic of the new lessee accounting rules, and used a video to make my point and create laughs. I said, “the lessee will have to record the leased asset and the lease liability which now creates a highly leveraged balance sheet.” To illustrate a rather dry point, I showed a movie I made using the app Action Movie.

I had filmed a tiki hut while on vacation in Rivera Maya and added the special effect of a boulder crashing down on the tiki hut. When the video played, I said the tiki hut was the company’s balance sheet, the boulder was the new leasing standard, and you just witnessed your balance sheet being crushed.

For those of you reading this who are not accountants, sorry for the accounting reference. My point is virtually everything, even accounting, can be made funny and memorable with a picture or movie.

Tip #3: Remember the Rule of 3s

According to the world-renowned source for everything, Wikipedia, the rule of three “is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.” Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Times a Lady, Three Blind Mice, and joke structure.

Classic joke structure is premise, punchline, and tag but this can be difficult to master. Another form of joke structure that you can use is to set up a pattern – truth, truth, and misdirection. For example, “Thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference. I am looking forward to exploring your beautiful city (truth), getting to meet as many of you after my presentation (truth), and having lunch with plenty of chicken (misdirection).”

Observing how others incorporate humor into their presentations is a great way to learn from some of the best. One of the most popular TED Talks, with over 45 million views, was given by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity in education. In his talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, he masterfully connects with his audience by incorporating a snippet of humor every three minutes or so, an achievement that beats the laugh moments in many highly rated comedies. Watch Sir Robinson use humor to deliver his powerful message while keeping his audience actively engaged.

Now it’s your turn to find a way to add humor to your next presentation!

Learn more about becoming a better speaker. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter at, and listen to episodes of my podcast, Improv Is No Joke, available at, on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Three Tips on Getting Your Audience Engaged

At this point in your career how many dull, pointless, uninspired presentations have you sat through? There is always the ubiquitous PowerPoint slides that sludge through endless pieces of data, 15 or more bullet points per slide, and a presenter who reads every single point verbatim.

It’s doubtful you remember any important bits of information – you were either on your phone with emails or you let your mind wander to something else. Anything else. You weren’t paying attention because the speaker did not engage his audience. He didn’t allow you and the entire audience to be part of the presentation.

And now, you are the one in front of the audience, delivering a presentation. I feel it is my responsibility to spare you the discomfort of speaking to a sea of blank faces – you and your audience deserve more.

You have one minute to capture the audience’s attention so don’t waste a second on “housekeeping” items or reiterating you bio. Instead, give a summary of your presentation and let them know why they need to pay attention. You’ll be sharing several important points that will help their careers and they won’t want to miss a thing!

There are three tips that I know can help you get, and keep, your audience engaged.

1.  Get them engaged right away. Clock starts now!

It is your job to break down the barrier between you and the audience. A great technique is to ask polling questions, like “show of hands, who has been in accounting for more that 10 years.” The audience gets to participate, and you learn something about them that may be useful during your presentation. Sprinkle polling questions throughout your presentation, even turning audience comments into a question.

Another good way to create engagement is to open your presentation by offering a statement they can discuss in small groups.  Lead with “My biggest fear about public speaking is…” Ask them to discuss this with the person next to them for five minutes and then share with the group. You have created a shared experience with common ground for those fears among the group. Bonus: Now you know what their fears are, and can be sure to include those in you presentation.

2.  It’s the sizzle that sells the steak.

Create a narrative around the facts or data you want to share. A majority of your presentation should be a compelling story that is supported by data. Why do the facts and figures matter; want do they mean to your audience?

“Facts and statistics may tell a story, but if you truly want to effect change and influence the way your audience thinks and feels, you will have to go beyond straightforward communications,” explains Marla Tabaka, contributor to INC. com. “The key to really getting people to listen and act: Touch them on an emotional level.”

3.  It is not about you. It really is about the audience.

How does the message you are delivering fit into the audience’s lives? What challenges are they experiencing, and how will your presentation help solve their problems? Restating facts and figures is not helpful. Identifying what the issues are, and offering new ideas to improve situations is very helpful.

Let’s say you are delivering a leadership workshop to a group of CPAs who have recently been promoted to manager positions in their firms. You recently read that many new managers are unable to manage to all the levels required: Up, down, out and in. Managing the partners’ expectations is definitely not the same as managing a team or the new workload.

Tailor your conversation to these points, craft stories about various challenges the new managers may be experiencing, and offer techniques to help them succeed. When you see smiles and “I get that” expression on faces, you know you have connected with your audience.

Develop a plan on how you will deliver your next presentation incorporating these three tips and you can engage your audience is less than one minute.

Learn more about becoming a better speaker. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter at, and listen to episodes of my podcast, Improv Is No Joke, available at, on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 6: Steve Sacks Show Notes

Steve Sacks is a right-brain thinker in the left-brain world of accounting. I first met him when he attended one of my workshops in Las Vegas, and since then we’ve had many spirited discussions centered around leadership and communications. It’s great that we’re able to continue our conversation here for the audience.

Steve’s always been more enamored with what happened to generate the numbers in accounting rather than the numbers themselves. To him, a financial statement a few months after the fact doesn’t add any value, and because of this he got into consulting. Through consulting, he can offer real help to his clients in the form of advice or direct action steps that need to be taken.

He’s looking to differentiate himself from other consultants in the field. He wants to go from just offering advice and a report to helping the client implement and get to the next level. “Identifying problems is not enough.”

Steve believes that the accounting profession is really a relationship building profession. When you meet with a prospective client you want them to leave the meeting knowing that you care and want to be a partner in their success. You can only do this by listening and asking great questions. You’ve got two ears after all, so you should be listening twice as much as speaking. Ask a question, listen to the answer then deliver on what the client wants. That’s what builds great relationships.

In all accounting firms now and in the future, we’ll be relying on the next generation of associates to help build the business. It makes sense to bring the younger, newer staff into meetings to learn from the conversations of the more experienced partners. “You gotta bring up the next generation sooner rather than later.” They should pay attention to the questions asked and the way the clients react.

Steve also believes it’s of extreme importance to foster in the younger generation an intellectual investment in the firm. Our management styles need to change to be more collaborative in our efforts, actually working with our new associates to create a more interesting and imaginative workplace. The younger generation doesn’t take too well to the rigidity of the old ways.

This also has the effect of developing the company’s culture. We need to walk the walk and talk the talk, and being in-step with our nice and inviting marketing collateral. “Culture will be the determining factor whether you’ve created a home for that future star or not.” It used to be that job jumping made for a toxic employee, but now we’ve got to expect it and do everything we can to get them to stay.

Hiring practices need to be improved as well, and interviewing has become a lost art. It’s important to get the right people on board, as well as on-board them properly to the company. Steve recommends that every new associate be assigned to a mentor within the firm, and be given a career roadmap right from the start. Also, skip the yearly formal reviews as this should be an ongoing process throughout the year.

Steve gave us many of his insights into the future of leadership with accounting firms. There’s so much that he discussed that we all should be trying to implement. My thanks again to Steve for the time that he gave us today. If you would like to listen to his episode, click here

Saving You a Two Drink Minimium

This blog posting is part of a standup routine that I have performed.  The reason for sharing this is because standup comedy has taught me a lot about standing in front of a group of people, delivering a presentation and writing the presentation.  A recent quote sums up writing, “Brevity is the soul of lingerie. It has to be long enough to cover the important parts but short enough to keep it interesting.”  This type of writing is necessary in today’s short-attention span world.  Stage lights come up……

My name is Peter Margaritis and I pronounced my last name like a cocktail but as you can see my last name ends IS and should be pronounced like an inflammation,  MargarITIS [pause] like hepatitis, gingivitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, conjunctivitis and vaginitis, you get the picture.

  • [tag] My name’s NOT FUN It sounds like something that needs a [pause] Z-Pack.

All parents have their little dirty secrets. When I was 12, I learned my parents’ secret, I was adopted. My dad slipped up during an argument. Instead of saying, “Look son, I brought you into this world and I can take you out” he said, “Look son, I bought you [pause] and I can sell you.”

  • [tag] My brother was adopted and because we were paid for out of same checking account [pause] and I consider us identical twins.
  • [tag] They didn’t have a receipt for my sister because she was [pause] shoplifted.

There are benefits to being adopted. It can be fun. Under family medical history, I write Abandoned at Walmart.  At family reunions, I can hit on my hot cousins. At state fairs, I look for carnies [pause] and give them father’s day cards.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important in today’s society.  Watching the Macy’s Parade, I heard the announcer say, “McDonald’s spreads across the globe: joy, happiness [pause] and diabetes.”

  • [tag] WOW, that hit way too close because I am a Type 1 diabetic, which is ok. [pause] It’s the only time I’ve ever been #1.
  • [tag] Being diabetic, there are some FOODS I miss. White Castle, Skyline [pause] and edible undies.

I am like many of us who is trying to lose weight. Researches say if you want to lose 15 lbs in 15 days, drink eight glasses of water a day. If you want to lose 15 lbs in 15 hours, make sure that water [pause] is Third World.

  • [tag] Losing weight is easy, I am on the bourbon diet.  I have lost 30 pounds, 10 points of body fat [pause] and my driver’s license.

Marriage takes a lot of work and I have been married for 21 years, consecutively. We agreed to hang in there for the first 10 and if we did, she would find a creative way of keeping the suspense in our marriage.  She has, because for each of the last 11 years she has exercised [pause] the marriage option.

Marriage is more of a compromise and I am trying to get more of what I want. The other day she was looking in the mirror and asked me “Honey do you think I need a facelift?” I tried to turn this to my advantage and said “no one will look at your face [pause] if you get a boob job.”

  • [tag] Hey, I took a shot! But then she said, [pause] You option has expired

Raising kids is hard.  Relationships change. My son, Stephen and I were like tight like fingers crossed when he was eight. At 12 we drifted apart a little like fingers side-by-side. Now at 16 we are like [pause] the middle finger.

I don’t understand why parents complain about their teenagers texting all the time.  I encourage my son to text because who really WANTS to talk to teenage. He will ask,  “Dad, I can I borrow some money?” I reply, “send me a text!”  He will ask, “Dad, I can I stay up late?”  I reply, Send Me A Text.  He will say, “Really, Dad.” Then I will text him [pause] an emoji of the middle finger.

A friend of mine called me before my son’s 16th birthday and asked, “What does a 16 year old boy want for his birthday.”  I replied, [pause] hand lotion.

I realize that I haven’t done the best job of bring my son up in the church. My mother asked my son if he knew the 10 commandments. He said , of course, [pause] “you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can be used anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law.”

  • [tag] Guess what, [pause] I am up for adoption again.

Thank you very much. You have been a great audience.
In future blog posts, I will share more of my stand-up writing, along with some of my sketch comedy writing.  If you want to be a better writer, you must practice.  If you want to add humor to your presentations, you must practice.  Don’t be Allen Iverson! Practice everyday.

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 5: Karl Ahlrichs Show Notes

I always enjoy speaking with Karl Ahlrichs, a human capital consultant and a far-thinking and future planning individual. He comes on the podcast today to discuss some of the storms he sees coming on the horizon, particularly where HR and the next generations of employees meet.

Even though our current economy is far greater now than it’s been in a while, Karl sees quite a few potential problems on the horizon that we need to be prepared for:

  • Baby Boomers – due to the recession of 2008, many of these people delayed retirement to rebuild their nest egg. Many of them are now ready to leave and hit the beach.
  • High Performers – they’ve driven the country’s productivity to unprecedented levels, but now they’re looking for the next challenge. They’ll be ready to migrate jobs soon, so we need to figure out our management style and plans so we can attract new ones and keep the old ones in place.
  • Social Media – sites like LinkedIn will attract high performers away from you by enticing them with great challenging opportunities as well as being a source of candidates for recruiting companies.
  • Digital Natives vs Digital Immigrants – this is a great way to divide the world when looking to hiring in the future. Digital immigrants need jobs without lots of tech involved, and we need to hire people who line up with their jobs. You can’t put somebody tech savvy into a job with minimal tech interaction and vice versa.

Karl knows that business practices also need to reflect the current majority group within the workplace: millennials. Studies have shown that 2/3 of millennials don’t plan on staying with their current employee for more than 5 years. We have to change our business and management practices to keep these high performers more engaged. “We have to adapt the very work we do to fit a more project thinking pattern.”

There are a few things that we can start to do now to keep those high performing millennials in place:

  • Better hiring practices and higher standards. High performers love to work with other high performers and are pleased and impressed when their bosses hire the best.
  • Management sincerely listens. High performers tend to stay in their jobs 20-30% longer if they perceive their manager listens to them and values their input.

Millennials are only one employment group we must contend with, but the new Gen WiFi will be a handful as well. These future employees became aware at the age of 3, the same time as Google came online. This generation doesn’t need or want to know anything; they rely on Google over memory. One other key distinction about this group is their lack of ethics. The ends justify the means for them. This will create ethics issues in the workplace and it’ll be up to us as management to parent them along ethical lines.

Underscoring all of these issues is the fact that people nowadays are overwhelmed with the glut of information they’re presented on a daily basis. The average person is subjected to 32GB of data per day. Talk about overwhelm! This has created the need for simplicity in answering questions or solving complex problems. The ability to simplify the complex and communicate it will be invaluable in the near future. “That’s the most important human skill going forward; to take complex things and make them understandable.

So the most important thing people can do, to sum everything up, is to focus on hiring standards because if we bring in ethically challenged poor performers, we’ll destroy the cultures and businesses we’ve worked so hard to develop. We need to screen for, teach and practice for ourselves a higher ethical standard because, “Ethics are learned by modeling, not by reading.”

Karl was very gracious with his time and wisdom today as he dropped value bomb after value bomb on us. I took a great deal away from our discussion, as I’m sure you did as well. We all now have lots to take away and apply to our own lives and business to make our lives easier. If you would like to listen to this episode, click here