Presentation Lessons from Kevin Hart


We can learn a lot about presentation from stand-up comedians.  One of my favorite comics is the always inappropriate, hilarious Kevin Hart.  In his 2009 Comedy Central special, I’m A Grown Little Man (really really NSFW!), Hart makes fun of his children, analyzes his fights with his wife, and explains memorable moments at the gym and the zoo.  Hart uses 7 techniques we can all study and apply to our next presentation:

Lesson 1: Audience Interaction.  Like most skilled comedians, Hart gets his audience involved.  He asks them questions before delivering his funny message.  For example, he asks, “Have you ever met someone with a laugh that is so bad that you have to stop having a good time?”  He then goes on to describe a date he had with a girl with a terrible laugh.  Because he gets the audience thinking about their own lives and personal experiences, they really connect before the joke even begins.

Audiences automatically expect your presentation to be terrible.  It’s because they’ve spent their entire lives sitting through boring, terrible presentations.  You can create a strong speech by getting the audience involved.  Ask them questions; ask them to picture or imagine something; ask them to participate.  Involvement leads to engagement, and engaging presentations are presentations that work.

Lesson 2: Repetition.  Repetition is an age-old public speaking tool.  Garr Reynolds blogged about repetition back in January of 2008: “Repetition is a classic technique in presentation and speech making (and in design as well). It can help you tie the theme together and it creates clarity for the listener. Every school kid in America, for example, learns about one of the greatest speeches in American history, “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr. In that 1963 speech, MLK used the “I have a dream” refrain through out” (Source).  In fact, MLK repeats the phrase “I have a dream” in “eight successive sentences” (Source).

Kevin Hart uses repetition in his comedy routine.  For example, his children are a theme continuously repeated throughout the show, and they pop up in jokes from the beginning to the end.  You can repeat not only theme, but also individual words and short phrases.  At about 30:00, Hart explains his encounter with an ostrich.  He keeps repeating that the ostrich’s body was facing one way with its head facing another way. He repeats this description several times, and the repetition works to put us in the moment; to give us a memorable phrase to repeat along with Hart; and to move the joke along while coming back to the same familiar punchline.

Lesson 3: Self-Depreciating Humor.  Hart constantly makes fun of himself.  This is always the best kind of humor because the audience doesn’t feel guilty about laughing.  The very first joke he makes is that the microphone stand stands too high and makes him look small.  The audience immediately feels comfortable with Hart because he doesn’t take himself too seriously.  Some comedians’ first joke is to make fun of audience members.  This makes people in the first row uneasy.  Hart never does this to his audience, and the only person in the room he takes shots at is himself.  In a presentation, audiences respond well to self-depreciating humor.  Never make fun of specific audience members.  They don’t like it, and they don’t like you when you do it.

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Lesson 4: Storytelling.  Duarte tells us that storytelling is essential in a presentation.  Hart is a strong storyteller because he puts the audience right there in the moment with him.  He uses vivid detail, imagery, and concrete language effectively.  For example, within the first 10 minutes, Hart describes a scene where his friend gets into a fight at a bar.  He sets up the punchline with a story – explaining in detail the scene, what he was doing, what his friend was doing, and how the fight occurred.  His storytelling helps Hart land the punchline, and just like story is essential in a comedy routine, it is just as essential in a presentation.  Duarte recommends you mix a little bit of story with a little bit of report (facts) to make your next presentation memorable.

Lesson 5: Pause.  Hart works the pause.  For example, at 54:00, the audience is hanging on his every move until he claps.  The tension created during the pause is dynamic, exciting, and funny.  Use pause in presentations to make audience members lean forward with anticipation.

Lesson 6: Transitions.  It is important that you transition well between your introduction and your body, between all of the main points in your body, and between your body and your conclusion.  Without those transitions, your audience can’t make those connections.  Hart transitions well between all elements of his comedy routine, so his entire bit seamlessly flows together.  What would be considered the “downtime” between jokes is calculatingly transitioned, and no word is wasted.  Hart uses that transition time to connect Joke #1 with Joke #2 with Joke #3.  The audience uses his transitions as arrows forward to the next funny moment.

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Lesson 7: A Conclusion That Sticks.  Hart makes fun of his two young children throughout his stand-up routine.  In the most memorable ending of a comedy special I’ve ever seen, Hart brings his small children out on stage in his arms so that the audience can see the two creatures he’s been joking about during the hourlong show.  Hart reveals his human side and his authenticity by sharing something deeply personal with his audience that most comedians wouldn’t: his babies.  Your presentation should have a sticky ending in order for audiences to keep talking about what you’ve said beyond the final moments of the speech.  Hart definitely created an intimate moment with the audience.  Chip and Dan Heath of Made to Stick talk about the power of emotional content to create stickiness, and Hart nails it.  Try breaking down all barriers and showing your audience the most stripped down, real version of yourself.

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