"How many New Yorkers does it take to put in a light bulb?" "One, but he's on a break."
See, now you're listening. Actors, professors, toastmasters and salesmen have always known the virtue of starting with a joke. They know that a joke gets the audience's attention.
Because humor equals shock. Humor makes an audience more receptive by loosening people up.
As a result, the presentation itself becomes more personal. Presentations are more successful when your relationship with the audience is one-on-one.
Humor can be hard-working and do a lot of important jobs.
Humor Can Make The Point
Being funny does more than make presentations personal. It has tangible effects, it can help convince and it can reinforce your goals.
Humor is most effective when the joke or crack is relevant. A joke about confusion can help you make a point about restructuring the organization. A joke about poor service can help you make your point about good service. A joke about neatness says something about sloppiness.
And jokes can certainly underscore or defeat a point. Nothing makes something look as bad a making it look silly with a joke.
Humor Can Help Your Agenda
Telling jokes helps bring any presentation back to your agenda because it puts you in charge. The audience does your bidding by laughing at your jokes - when you want them to.
Humor Relaxes Your Audience
Starting with a joke is good, but continuing to be loose and light is better. Pepper your whole part with humor. There's no way an audience can be relaxed and receptive the whole time if you only tell them one joke.
Humor Makes You Likeable
People are more likely to buy a program, a product or a point of view from someone they like. They warm to funny people. Jokes can help you ask for an order - and every presentation asks for some kind of order. The presentation asks if they'll buy this car, agree to this financial plan, strive for this goal, embrace this philosophy or vote for this candidate.
So give your joke the funny test. If it fails, it could mean a lot more than a joke bombing and people not laughing.
Jokes do work, but we are not all born funny. Suppose you never hear any jokes or remember them? Suppose you forget the punch line? This calls for learning some all-purpose joke and some specific jokes.
The All-Purpose Joke
If you can't think of something more spontaneous, use the all-purpose joke. It's a joke that fits any time, any place with any group - a joke you have in reserve. For example: "I wanted to talk to you today, but I seem to have forgotten my notes." Or, "I wish I was smart enough to work this podium light." Or, "I'll stand behind this podium, because I don't want you to see this dress doesn't go with these shoes." (This works best for a man.)
Specific jokes as a rule are funnier. The more specific they are to your audience, the funnier they are. It's worth making a joke specific to a big city, if you're in one or a rural area if you're in the country. Make jokes specific to those you're addressing.
It's worth it to tell the specific jokes, but make sure you pick the right sports joke, state joke or pertinent career joke. If you pick the wrong specific joke, you'll end up with egg on your face.
Also, whatever you do, stay away from sex, race, politics and religion. Even if you handle these topics well, a joke will offend someone. There's a good reason why they say, "never talk politics or religion."
How about these specific jokes:
For New York City
Visitor: Can you tell me where the Empire State building is or should I just go to hell?
For a Small Town
My town is so small, all the ladies had the same dress on at the Easter Parade.
How many Californians does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the light bulb, and nine to share the experience.
For the Marines
Is it true all the food in the Marine Corps gives your jaw a hard workout?
I know a great "Knock, knock" joke. You start it off.
Specific jokes work especially well if you choose the appropriate ones for the audience. But suppose your humor bombs?
Using humor can be risky because it can backfire. Members of the audience can sit on their hands, roll their eyes and sigh instead of laughing uproariously. You'll need to know how to react and continue.
Make a joke out of the fact that they are not laughing. Like, "guess it was better when Groucho said it." This allows you to recoup and continue in a light-hearted way.
First-time presenters should be cautious with their use of humor. There's no reason to make yourself sweat if you don't have to.
Humor has not only worked for me as a presenter, but on me as a prospective buyer.
I remember when my real estate agent was funny and said, "They're gonna bury me here," instead of being boring and saying, "I like it here in Hawaii."
Partly as a result of what his joke conveyed, I bought twelve remote acres, 3,000 miles from the US mainland. And I've since bought twelve more acres from him.
Proof positive - his humor worked!
Never forget that people come to presentations for entertainment. They can get information from books, computers, movies and magazines. People never attend a presentation just for the facts.
They really come to see you in action. Maybe they've heard you're good on your feet Maybe they've heard listening to you is worth their time. Maybe they think your showmanship is a welcome break from doing hard work in the office.
Think about it: a presentation is frequently the most fun working people have at their jobs. A glimmer of light in a sea of darkness.
Props, jokes, stories, acting -what a great way to get the necessary scoop.
We can't all be naturals. People excuse themselves for being corny by saying, "Sorry, I've never had a good sense of humor." But not having a good sense of humor or a natural sense of humor is no longer an excuse for not being funny. There are thousands of new jokes written for daytime talk shows, late-night talk shows, variety shows, drive-time shows, magazine cartoons, joke books, even the daily comics.
There's never a reason you can't tell jokes because we can all tell someone else's jokes.
There's no reason we should have to write our own material. Often, even comedians don't write their own stuff.
Professional comedy writers write funny jokes every day. So why not use the best jokes in the business?
Being deadly serious will compromise any presentation, but being funny will help it. Humor helps make the point helps you control the agenda and makes you likable.
Specific jokes are always better than an all-purpose joke, even though an all-purpose joke can come in handy.
Remember the folks come to be entertained, not lectured. And there's no reason not to use the best jokes you can whether you write them or not.
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Never Let 'em See You Sweat