One of the most common bits of conventional wisdom about public speaking is: “Break the ice with a joke.”
First things first: this is bad advice. If you’re a person who uses human naturally and easily, you can find places to lighten your talk with a funny moment. But if you are not, this advice will make you nervous and definitely backfire.
Second, there is interesting new research that indicates that humor, like so much else in the brave new world of screens, doesn’t work as well virtually as it does in person. This article explains a few reasons why this is, but one in particular jumped out at me. Humor is contagious. We get social cues from people around us as to what’s funny, and one person laughing often leads to more laughter.
The lack of connection and contagion (the good kind!) means humor is hard to manage in a virtual space. What can you do instead? I suggest having a light tone, when appropriate, and making sure that you’re involving your audience in the experience, whether through discussion, chat, or other facilitation tools. As the group finds ways to connect, humor will naturally find its way back into the mix.