I am a PhD student in economics and working on stuff like Hopf bifurcations and limit cycles used often in mathematics.

One of the graphics that I will use for my presentation is very similar to one of the photos in album booklet (dark side of the moon) of the legendary progressive rock band Pink Floyd. Here is the link ;

Album cover

It is like a limit cycle (it is a heartbeat sequence, note that there are also bifurcation analysis for heartbeats) and gives a quick idea about the concept.

I am wondering if it is really appropriate to make this kind quick jokes during presentations. Anybody having bad experiences about that ?

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    It's always safe to not include jokes in your presentation. It's sometimes bad to include jokes in your presentation.
    – iayork
    May 25, 2017 at 18:56
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    If you want to put in jokes, put in jokes. See the literature on overoptimization or premature optimization. However if you put in enough jokes that you annoy yourself, or people tell you that you are annoying, you need to learn to tone it down. May 25, 2017 at 20:47
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    I think I agree with everyone's advice. Just one thing to note: if what you mean as a joke is to simply use album art to introduce a topic like Hopf bifurcations and limit cycles, perhaps to an audience less familiar with those terms, I would say that is absolutely the least offensive category of joke because it is a tool to convey your message, not a mere distraction to convey your character. I think only the stiffest audience would have any sort of objection.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 25, 2017 at 20:57
  • It's bad to make bad jokes. Problem: very few people who make bad jokes think that their jokes are bad. You run into a Dunning–Kruger situation, where any (positive) assessment of the appropriateness of a joke is immediately suspect.
    – R.M.
    May 25, 2017 at 21:58

4 Answers 4


I would encourage you not to force humor into - or out of - a presentation, depending on your goals for the presentation and the context of the situation you are in.

The thing with humor is it is deeply contextual, and how it is received depends heavily on the delivery, the audience, and how you are perceived as the 'performer'. For a Brilliant, Serious Scholar, a light-hearted joke can help to improve your likability and make the talk more memorable and understandable to a wider audience. On the other hand, a Mewling Youngling cracking wise can bring about eye rolls and grumbling and help to cement an impression that you are insufficiently serious, plugging your talk with frippery because you don't have anything really substantive to add.

It's annoying - and often unfair - that two people can say the same thing and have the reception of the statement be completely and utterly different, but in practice that's how it goes.

Your talk is your performance, your work, and you decide what impression you want to give, how you present yourself, and how you want people to view you. Humor can be a useful part of that, neutral, or counter-productive.

Personally, as a one-size-fits-all suggestion, if you plan a joke I suggest you also support it in such a way in the slides that you are free to skip it without it harming the presentation. You can then decide, on the spot and based on your read of the room and intuition, to use it or leave it out. Jokes bomb for lots of reasons, so don't try to lean on it too heavily, regardless, and don't set yourself up for needing the joke to kill to give a good impression.

  • Your insights are very helpfull indeed, thanks ! May 25, 2017 at 20:06
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    Frippery-free fine sausage, on a stick, as it were.
    – cat
    May 26, 2017 at 0:12

I know someone who used to regularly present at certain top-tier computer science systems conferences. He had at some point gotten in the habit of inserting woodcuts (from, or seemingly from, very old texts) to illustrate points he was making. They were usually funny because the audience had to connect the dots and understand the relationship between the image and the CS content being presented. This approach was extremely successful, and I'm sure many people looked forward eagerly to his presentations.

I agree with the comment that it shouldn't seem forced. If it can come across naturally, go for it! You may want to try it in a practice talk and see how it goes over before using it in a larger audience.


It depends on your audience. If you are, for example, on your PhD defense, it is best to keep strictly formal. If your audience is your supervisor and your colleagues, who react well to this type of jokes, then you can include it.

I saw some very informative and amusing talks that did include some jokes in them:


so if the context is right, I think that it is OK to include this in your presentation.

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    I finished the talk of my PhD defense with a joke - because that's who I am - and it went very well. May 25, 2017 at 18:52
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    Indeed, I finished my defense with an XKCD comic and it went very well. A friend of mind wore chain mail to his defense (and had some audience members show up in costume). That also went quite well. Of course it depends on the committee.
    – David Z
    May 25, 2017 at 20:41

This depends strongly on the audience and cultural context. In external presentations it is less often appropriate than in internal presentations. In Germany, it is far less often considered appropriate than in the UK. If seniors are in the audience, it is less appropriate than if it is composed of peers or juniors.

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