Jokes can do the job, but use them with caution! If you are using someone else’s material, you need to give credit. The joke needs to be relevant to your presentation (I hate it when presenters just tell a joke for a laugh, but it has nothing to do with their topic or the audience). Don’t tell offensive jokes.
Top tips on practicing and telling jokes:
1. Use funny material. Did you laugh when you heard it? Did other people laugh?
2. Remember it. Record it.
If you just heard a joke and want to remember it, try writing it down right away. You can also tell it into your cell phone’s voice recorder, which also gives you your first shot at telling it!
Save it in a joke file on your computer. Or, if you have a blog, use it in your blog, but make sure it is relevant to your topic.
3. Rehearse it.
I suggest starting out with short jokes—a short set up and then a punch line. For longer jokes, visualize all the characters as you practice the joke. Use body language as appropriate (moving your body will help you remember). Practice the pacing. Don’t rush it. Remember to pause a little before and after the punch line.
Set up . . . (pause) . . . punchline . . . (pause)
If people laugh after the punch line, pause long enough to allow them to laugh. Don’t step on the laughs. Milk the laughs with your reaction—just don’t say anything. Let your body and face do the talking!
If people don’t laugh after you have paused for a couple of seconds, you have a couple of options:
Option A: If it was very obviously a joke, you can make a self-deprecating comment such as, “Well, my cat thought it was funny.”
Option B: Just move on. Don’t react at all.
4. Practice in front of others. Practice on friends and family. They will love you even if you bomb. Nothing takes the place of practicing in front of others. Record yourself if possible. If someone laughs even a little, you can build on that. Maybe you can punch it up with attitude and body language or just change a single word.
“Words with a ‘k’ in it are funny. Alkaseltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a ‘k’. ‘L’s are not funny. ‘M’s are not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomatoes is not funny. Lettuce is not funny. Cucumber’s funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny — not if you get ’em, only if you say ’em.”
—said by a character in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys
5. Sell it! Tell the joke with ATTITUDE. You must be very sure of the content, the order, the timing and most especially, the punch line. If in doubt, keep it out!
Try out some jokes–it does get easier with practice!