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#379: Consultants Really Can Use Humor Effectively

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Thursday, August 26, 2010
Updated: Thursday, August 26, 2010
Including a little light humor in my presentations and speeches seems like a good way to improve how well the message is received. However, a joke that bombs can create a disaster. What should I do to make sure that humor is effective?

"An accountant, attorney and management consultant are in a lifeboat . . ." is one way to start a speech, or "Tom Feldman is the kind of HR Director that . . ." can kick off a client presentation. They can win the audience or start the paperwork to assure you are not welcome back. Humor is something that needs to be planned carefully. If you can't pull it off well, then be cautious about giving it a key place in your opening remarks.

A couple of thoughts:
  • Make sure the joke isn't offensive. You don't have to be mean to be funny
  • Make sure the humor is simple to understand. The audience should not have to work to understand it. Don't require the audience to get obscure references or need information that few have.
  • Make sure the joke is blindingly relevant to the topic of your speech or presentation. Jokes are useful to introduce a topic or point of view, not distract the audience. Too oblique and people might not get or misinterpret the reference.
  • Make sure humor is the best way to make the point. A serious topic should be expressed in ways other than humor.
  • Make sure the humor is timely. Most jokes have a shelf life - be careful yours hasn't expired by the time you deliver it.
  • Try it out on people like those who will be in the audience. This makes sure they get the joke and the point you are trying to get across.
Tip: Your talk doesn't have to incude humor. Martin Luther King, Jr.s, "I Have a Dream" speech and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address both did OK without an opening joke. So can yours.

© 2010 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client relations  communication  goodwill  meetings  speaking 

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Roberta Guise says...
Posted Wednesday, September 8, 2010
The late great John Cantu had the following advice: don't confuse jokes with humor. A stand-up comedian tells jokes and expects people to laugh. If you use humor, people may laugh, but if they don't laugh, move on with your presentation and no one other than you will know that the audience missed your humor.

Telling a joke can cause an awkward moment if no-one laughs, or worse, if the joke bombs. I advise my clients to stay away from jokes, because most likely they're not original and have been told and heard before. Instead, tell a story or paint a humorous verbal picture that's from your own personal experience.
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