To Meme or Not to Meme

I was working on a technical presentation to present to C-level people for final approval of a project. The idea we were pitching was fundamentally sound but difficult to communicate what it was and how it worked. I was concerned that my audience was going to lose the main point in a sea of technical details. I am a connoisseur of memes, I had a great template and phrase in mind that would distill the idea down to the basics and prepare the listener to follow the real technical ideas knowing where they would ultimately end up. The problem I had was this was a real professional presentation to people that are going to make a decision about spending money on this technology. Could I really drop a meme in the middle of this presentation?

I’m not going to tell you what to do, but I did use the meme. And it worked, in fact I was complimented on the use. No, I won’t be sharing the meme with you because it wouldn’t make any sense without the context of the presentation and the presentation deals with some intellectual property that we are currently working to protect. I will however give you some guidelines on how I would suggest you use memes in a professional setting.

Keep it clean - Memes are often funny or at least humorous. As with any humor in a professional setting, you need to be more conservative. Risky jokes pay off for stand up comedians, not for professionals. It is easy to take a picture and slap some text on it and call it a meme, but it is best to be thoughtful in how you represent yourself.

Ha, yeah I'm not putting up something inappropriate.

It needs to contribute to understanding - Presenters sometimes like to start off with a small joke in the beginning to break the ice, if you want to do that I would suggest telling a joke rather than just showing an unrelated meme in the beginning of your presentation. It is best to treat the meme as you would any other graphical representation of information; it is used as an aid to demonstrate a point. Currently memes are not used very often in a professional setting, so it is likely it will be memorable. Make sure you use it for the point you want them to remember. For maximum effectiveness use it to distill a complicated concept into something easily understood and remembered.

First issue, this isn't funny at all. Most importantly it doesn't contribute to understanding. This does not move the conversation forward. In fact is probably detracts from the conversation.

Less is more - Okay memelords, I get it you make dank memes. You don’t want to have a reputation as the meme guy in the office. You want the reputation as the polished, professional communicator. Your goal is not fake internet points, your goal is to be a persuasive communicator. So, I would suggest that you use them sparingly, only when there is not an equally good way of communicating the idea.

Keep it simple - If you are inclined to make a meme, chances are you speak fluent meme. The reality is most people do not. A good rule of thumb, make the meme for someone that has never seen a meme, someone that clicked on the hyperlink in the first paragraph to see what a meme was.

This is a more complicated meme format called "Socially Awesome/ Socially Awkward Penguin" the basic layout is something starts out awesome and turns out awkward. There are variants of this where something is always awesome (all red), something is all awkward (all blue), and starts out awkward and turns awesome (blue on top, red on bottom) The fact that I need to explain this in such detail shows you how it is not a great format to use at work.

Do your research - Internet trolls are real and there are groups that attempt to claim meme formats. Just read the Wikipedia for Pepe the Frog. The point is look at the history of the way the image was used and make sure that is something you want to be associated with.