Effective trainers (and indeed presenters) seem to build and maintain two things with an audience… and misplaced (or mistimed) humour can potentially destroy both of them. If you are wondering, the two things are: ‘connection’ (including rapport and being likeable) and ‘credibility’ (including authority, confidence and trustworthiness).
When running courses, I like to have fun. I like laughter and playfulness… but I have to be careful sometimes to avoid getting too silly too quickly! I have learnt to start with a light-heartedness which then allows me to ‘test the audience’. I might mention something that happened to me on the way to the venue or at the hotel the night before. I read the audience at that point… am I seeing smiles and nods… or serious faces?
Even the most serious and pragmatic audiences can be led to laughter, though it may take a little longer for them to warm up (or for me to find their ‘funny bones’!) Herein lies the marvellous skill of the pace and lead… test them out and then develop the humour with the group. By working this way, I find that the stories I tell, and the examples I give are more spontaneous and relevant to the ‘group mind’. Every course has its own ‘group mind’ (the gestalt of the people in the room) and so each course is new and different, even if the course title and topics are the same.