Seven Tips for Telling a Joke

By guest author Brad Montgomery, CSP

To be honest, I think that most presenters should avoid telling jokes.  But on the other hand, telling jokes around the water cooler or on the porch while sippin’ lemonade is a time-honored tradition.  If it was good enough for Gramps, why ain’t it good enough for us?   But if you are going to tell jokes, you should do it right.

1.  Make sure you actually know the joke.  Practice it!  Tell it to your kids, your spouse, and your dog. Trust me, you want to tell the joke a few times before you do it for real.   Nothing will make you look like a bigger idiot than telling a joke wrong.

2.  Scan the internet for jokes to AVOID.  Don’t tell jokes that everybody has heard…if your joke is all over the internet, then this is a great joke to AVOID.

3.  Shorter jokes are better.  I know, I know.  You think you’re a great story teller.  But trust me, your audience will appreciate you for NOT adding all of the colorful details and fluff.  Just tell the joke.  Shorten it if you can.

4.  The punch line comes last.   And I mean last!   Nothing should come after the punch-line.   Consider this joke done well. Why Did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.  Now, the same joke when the punch-line is not last.  This is much worse.  (I know, that joke is pretty bad on it’s own, but… you get the idea.)  Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get to the other side of the road which was on a long block because he wanted to get to his chicken coop.  See?  Punch-lines should be last.  Period.  NOTHING comes after the punch.  (Except for your silence and their laughter.) 

5.  Keep it clean.  And I mean crystal clean.  If you wouldn’t tell it to the Queen of England (who probably doesn’t like jokes much anyway) then leave it out.  Seriously.  If you have any doubt whether you are “crossing the line,” then don’t tell it.   Think of it this way:  If you tell a joke to 10 people and 9 of them laugh, then you’ve still alienated a friend.   Don’t do it.

6.  If you are telling a joke as part of a presentation, don’t take credit for the joke.  You can do that before the joke with something like, “Here’s one I read on the internet.”   Or after the joke with something like, “That old joke was on the internet, but it reminds us to…. (follow with a point.)”  If you don’t let people know that his joke is from the internet, you risk looking like a fool.  I guarantee that at least a couple of people in every audience already know your joke, and if you want to earn and keep THEIR respect you need to make sure you don’t (tacitly) claim that joke to be yours.

7.  Don’t steal jokes from stand-up comics.  Unless they are dead.   Jokes are material, and it is how they earn a living. If you tell it, copy it, email it…whatever…you devalue the joke for them.   Besides, it’s bad karma.

Brad Montgomery is offering my Humor Power subscribers a terrific new audio product that teaches humor skills to presenters of all types (speakers, trainers, salespeople, entertainers, financial advisors, teachers, etc.)  It’s a terrific program with excellent, practical, how-to tips you can use in your next program…I have a copy myself.   If you want to learn from a total pro who is also a top-flight teacher, click here.

To enjoy another Brad Montgomery article, You Can’t Use Humor Until You Get Over the Fear Of Failure, subscribe to the Humor Power Tips Ezine.  He’s our guest author for the Mid-February issue which will be available only until March 1, 2007.