Monday, September 10, 2007

Ever hear this one before?

Speaker walks up to the podium. Tells a joke. Half of the audience has heard it already. The other half doesn’t get it.

Too often a joke fails to add anything to the presentation, even when it comes from one of those books on humor for speakers. Even less effective is a joke that doesn’t really relate to the subject.

Besides, the audience is expecting information, not stand-up comedy. Our objective should be to leave 'em smiling, not laughing. The job calls for a humorist, not a comedian. It requires someone who can spot the ironies and other funny aspects in almost everything we do and who can integrate the humor into the presentation – perhaps with a simple phrase, an aside.

Most importantly, humor in a presentation must be not only relevant but brief. As a discerning client once told me, "Set it up – and pay it off." I did and so did he.


In addition to canned humor, speakers often try to use familiar quotations or sayings. But they’re unlikely to find these:

Let a thousand mushroom clouds bloom. (China, urging the U.S. to give North Korea more time to shut down its nuclear arms program.)

Where they smoke, they fire. (Employers, forcing their employees to forego cigarettes.)

Never cry over spilled milk – lick it up! (Researchers, concluding that food items can be eaten off the floor even beyond the "5-second rule.")

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