Executive Speaking Weblog

Communication – the future of business

Serious Message? Then Lighten Up!

Posted by Presentation Skills on October 18, 2008


Should a serious message—a life saving message—be entertaining? Only if you want it to work!


When VirginBlue first started operating, it had a reputation for being a fun airline on which to travel. The most obvious thing that the flight crew did to help keep the flight less boring was to have some fun with the ever dull safety demonstration before take off. They would have lines such as, ‘Don’t smoke in the toilets as there are smoke detectors and cameras watching you’ and ‘life jackets have a light to read by and a whistle for attracting sharks’.


Whilst these elements of humour were never going to get the crew invited to appear at the Melbourne Comedy Festival, they did get the passengers attention. Passengers paid attention if only to hear the odd line out.


On a recent flight I asked the flight attendant why they no longer used humour in the safety announcements. She said that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) had directed them to stop adding humour as the safety demonstration was a very important task that everyone needed to be taken seriously.


So what has been the effect of removing the humour? We ignore the demonstration and safety message. We know we should listen, but simply could not be bothered. This puts us and all the other passengers at risk ‘in the unlikely event of an emergency’. The safety message is less effective and does not convey the necessary information we need to hear.


Advertising companies know this very well. That’s why they spend lots of money trying to come up with funny ads! It helps to grab our attention so we listen to the message.


How are you using humour in your presentations? You don’t have to have them rolling in the isle and you certainly should not use jokes. Aim to entertain your audience so they are paying attention long enough to hear what you have to say.




Darren Fleming

Australia’s public Speaking Coach


7 Responses to “Serious Message? Then Lighten Up!”

  1. Darren what if you are not a naturally comedic person? I have seen non-comedic people attempt humour & fail miserably. What would you recommend?

  2. Hi John,

    You do not have to be comedic to be entertaining. Entertainment can be anything from an interesting story, an accurate (but often unspoken) observation through to a humorous remark.

    The idea of being entertaining is to engage your audience so they listen to your message. That is what VirginBlue used to do, but was told to stop!

    As a side note: after I posted that blog I got on a VirginBlue flight and headed off interstate. Whilst the Hostess did not include any humour in the safety announcement, she used it in a number of her other announcements. Did my blog have an immediate affect? I’d like to think so, but the reality is it is just the way the universe works some time!

    Thanks for stopping by JOhn.


    Darren Fleming
    Australia’s Public Speaking COach

  3. Darren, I so enjoy a humorous safety announcement on a plane. I wish I could remember what airline I was on recently where the crew took it upon themselves to make the announcement fun and entertaining. I don’t think it was an airline-wide practice, as on my return flight, the crew delivered the announcement straight.

    The worst announcements these days are the filmed ones shown on airplane TVs. On my flight yesterday, passengers talked all the way through it. At least a live person gets a little attention; we’re all used to talking while the TV is on!

  4. The nearest exit may be behind you…

    This post by Darren Fleming about using humor to lighten up a serious message reminded me of the second leg of my flight home on Monday….

  5. Question: When is humor *not* appropriate? Funerals? Black humor can be a relief, especially at _mine_ 😉

  6. Darren: just exactly who pays attention to the “standard” safety talk on a plane anyway? I think that I can take your story one step further, once upon a time while flying on a plane in the States I just happened to take a look at that emergency instruction card that they put in the pocket in front of you. To my amazement the pictures showed a clown in amongst the passengers as they where shown executing the safety procedures (using air masks, exiting onto a slide, etc.) It was a small detail, but I sure spent some time trying to find the clown in each one of the pictures. Hmm, I wonder what the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA)would have to say about that…?

    – Dr. Jim Anderson
    The Accidental Communicator Blog
    “Learn How To Calm Your Fears, Wow Your Audience, And Get Your Point Across”

  7. Technocrat said


    Its a good point that people do not give much attention to boredom message, but anyways i feel that, too humorous messages may divert the listeners totally from the central purpose of the message. Is that right??

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