“I’m thinking of starting my talk with a joke. Is that a good idea?” I get asked that a lot in presentation coaching workshops. My answer? No, unless you are a skilled comedian or have a staff of comedy writers!
Famed Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes was known to say, “There are only three things that can happen on a pass, and two of them are bad.” It’s the same with kicking off a presentation with a joke. You may find your audience doesn’t think you’re as funny as you do. Worse, you may offend somebody.
This doesn’t mean humor should be avoided. To the contrary, it is very effective at engaging your audience — if used properly. Here are some tips to get started:
Skip the jokes for stories. Comedians often find their best material comes from everyday life. I bet one of your kids or a child you know has said something very funny that can illustrate a point. Use a picture of the child if you have one for added effect.
Build on a famous quote. In my media training I use this one from Mark Twain as a reminder to avoid speculation: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt.” It always gets a laugh.
Try out your talk on some co-workers. Even pros like Jay Leno test new material at comedy clubs in LA before adding it to their roadshows.
Practice your delivery. Use your phone or a video camera to record key parts of your talk. Make certain you’re pausing for the “punch line” and smiling.
Keep humor relevant. Be sure your stories relate to your topic.
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Have a great week, team, and HAVE FUN!