We hear it all the time: if you want to get the big bucks, you’ve got to use humor in your presentations. Even if you’re not in it for the money—humor definitely helps you to get your point across.
There’s no question that if you give presentations in front of an audience, humor should be one of the big hammers in your speaking toolkit. For some people (the lucky ones!), this comes quickly and easily. The rest of us have to work at it.
Some speakers solve the problem by trotting down to the nearest Barnes & Noble and plopping down twenty bucks for a big book with a title like 1,001 Sure-Fire Jokes For All Occasions. Then they trot merrily back home (in my world, people trot a lot), pleased that they finally have that “humor monkey” off their back. Just memorize a half-dozen or so of these babies, and go out and wow ’em at the next keynote!
Um…I don’t know how to tell you this, but the odds are that that ain’t gonna work. Unless you’re really, really lucky. And do you really want to count on luck while you’re up there on the platform with 500 pairs of eyes staring blankly at you?
Okay, what’s my beef with jokes? Why do I say to virtually all of the speakers I consult that jokes, for the most part, simply don’t work? 3 reasons:
1. Most People Can’t Tell a Joke
Have you ever heard somebody try to tell a joke, only to end up sounding something like this: “Okay, there were these two guys, and…no, wait, three guys, and they walk into this bar. And the bartender says, ‘Hey, Fred…’ oh, the first guy’s name is Fred, and the bartender knows him. And he has a parrot on his shoulder. But you’re not supposed to know that yet. Anyway…” Let’s face it, that’s how most of us tell jokes! Look, I made my living in comedy for 15 years, and I can’t tell a joke well. Why? Well, like a lot of people, I have a tough time remembering how the joke goes! And believe me, I’ve got enough to think about when I’m standing in front of an audience! I certainly don’t want to be bogged down trying to remember what my next line is—do you?
2. Jokes Aren’t Unique
If your joke is coming out of a book, you’re probably not the only person in the world who bought that book. The odds are that other people have heard your joke. In fact, there may be another speaker using the same joke! That may not be a big deal to you, unless that speaker happens to be speaking right before you, to the same audience! (Believe me, I’ve seen this happen!) Even if you’re not on the same bill, however, it’s probably not to your advantage to be using the same material as other speakers. Somebody will have heard it, and do you really want your audience to be thinking “How many more times do we have to hear that stupid parrot joke?”
3. Jokes Exist Solely to Get a Laugh
When you tell a joke, there are two possible outcomes. Laughter, or silence. Laughter, of course, is great. Silence…is death! Worse yet, it’s a very public death. It’s called bombing, and the entire audience knows you’ve bombed! Everybody knows that a joke is supposed to get a laugh—and if yours doesn’t, you’ve failed! No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Oh, I know some of you—the enlightened ones—are saying, “Wait a minute, Bill, I use jokes to make a point!” If that’s the case, you’re on the right track…but it’s still a joke, and if it doesn’t get a laugh, you’ve bombed!
If you put these three reasons together, you’ll see that by using jokes, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Let me make it clear, however: I’m not saying you’re going to fail, just that you’re stacking the deck in that direction. You’ve got three pretty strong drawbacks working against you. Now, maybe you’re one of the gifted few who are brilliant and natural at telling jokes. If that’s the case, you can ignore everything I’ve said so far. If not, however, you’ll have to look someplace else for your humor.
Fortunately, there is such a place. And it’s a place where you’ll find a wealth of humor that is unique, compelling, easy to remember, and free! It’s called “life experience,” and if you know how to listen to it, it will never let you down! To find out more, check out my article called The Power of Personal Stories.