Articles for Association Use

HUMOR IS NO JOKE (632 Words)

Feeling nervous? Open with a joke. Want to get the audience’s attention? Open with a joke. Is the audience half asleep? Open with a joke. You hear this advice all the time — usually from someone who isn’t trained in public speaking.


The idea of opening with a joke has been around for years. The problem is that it’s seldom a good idea. Why? First, let me say that I’m all for adding humor to presentations. It can be tremendously engaging. However, for the most part, I’m against telling jokes — in the opening or otherwise — because they often aren’t told well or aren’t relevant. How many times have you heard a speaker tell a joke and bomb? Awkward, wasn’t it?


Another problem with telling jokes is that they often lack the essential ingredient every joke needs — timing. Opening with a joke means you’re telling it when your adrenaline is pumping, causing you to rush through it and throw your timing off.


Humor is no joke

An effective alternative to telling a joke is to add humor. It can be mighty, and it can help accomplish many things, including:

  • Have your audience view you as being authentic.
  • Create a bond between you and your audience.
  • Break tension.
  • Assist in getting a point across.
  • Transition to a more serious or weighty point.
  • Make your talk more memorable.


Humor in business presentations

Add humor to your talks, but only when both the circumstances and nature of the humor are appropriate. Fortunately, the majority of occasions are suitable, including business meetings. As for the humor itself, it shouldn’t be controversial or made at anyone’s expense. You may poke fun at yourself, but even then, tread lightly. Self-deprecating humor can be funny, but too much can be misinterpreted as a lack of self-confidence.


Including humor in a talk is an art form in itself. For the vast majority of us, it requires forethought and perhaps some testing, and this often includes spontaneous humor. For instance, I know that when in a training session someone asks if public speaking is the number one fear, I will answer with something like, “No, it ranks behind spiders, snakes, and stepping on a Lego brick in your bare feet.” Is it hilarious? No. Does it get a few chuckles? Usually, yes.


To learn more about adding humor to your talks, check out the many YouTube videos and books on the subject. I highly recommend David Nihill’s Do You Talk Funny?


I know from experience

Just as you’re about to speak, you may second-guess yourself and, at the last second, want to abandon your prepared opening. Don’t do it! This is your brain trying to protect you at the last moment by supplying you with what it thinks is a better option. Unfortunately, this lifeline is more like a cinder block that will quickly take you down. I know. I have been there.


Many years ago, at a major event, I decided as I walked out on stage to change my opening — an opening I had used once before and had worked to perfection. Instead, I opted for a joke, and it bombed. To this day, it is the worst thing to happen to me during a presentation.


Unless there is a valid reason to do otherwise — for instance, a loud noise being made just before you speak — resist the temptation to alter your opening and stick to your original plan. You’ll be glad you did, and so will your audience.


Now, if, after reading this, you still decide to tell a joke, be sure it checks all these boxes: it’s funny, relevant, appropriate, and you can tell it well.


So, a speaker, an audience, and an MC enter an auditorium … Oh, you’ve already heard this one? Never mind.

Peter George Speaker and Public Speaking Coach

Peter George


With a wealth of experience as a veteran speaker, public speaking coach, and acclaimed author, Peter has assisted over 300,000 executives, consultants, and professionals across 50 countries in harnessing the power of public speaking to increase their impact, influence, and income.


Peter’s notable achievements include authoring the six-time award-winning book, “The Captivating Public Speaker,” and pioneering the AMP’D Framework™, a methodology designed to empower speakers in crafting compelling messages tailored to their audiences.


Drawing from personal triumph over speech impediments like a lisp and stutter, Peter believes everyone should be able to effectively communicate their advice, expertise, and experiences.

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