Presentation Skills training during your professional career should have included a lesson about telling jokes in a presentation. That lesson should have been, “Don’t tell jokes!”

Unless you are performing as a stand-up comic in a comedy club, your presentation should not start with or include a joke.

Let me give you five reasons why I think you should avoid jokes.

1. The people in your audience probably have already heard the joke.

Have you ever attended a presentation where someone told a joke and you knew it?

Or, have you ever been at a party and where someone tells a joke and you’ve heard the same joke 25 times within the last 25 days.

If the audience knows the joke – if they’ve heard it – that diminishes the power you have in your presentation.

2. They might not get it.

They just flat-out don’t get the humor in the joke. It might be something that’s an inside joke for you or your group or your department or organization.

If they don’t get it, your presentation and your message lose importance and credibility.

3. It might not be funny.

Have you ever had someone tell you a joke that you did not find even passingly amusing?

Either the person telling the joke either did a poor job of telling the joke, or, it wasn’t funny.

Either way, you might have felt foolish because you weren’t laughing.

That situation put you and the joke teller in an awkward position.

The possibility of putting your audience in an awkward position should be enough reason for you to avoid jokes in your presentations.

4. The joke might not be relevant.

Some presenters use jokes to warm up the audience.

They might tell a joke because it, to them, is really funny. The problem comes when the joke has no relevance to the topic.

All points in your presentation need to tie to your message. If the joke does not tie to your message, or, if the relevance is not clear, you lose your audience.

5. Different people have different humor quotients.

Some people have the humor quotient of a rock.

You might think that everyone in the audience understands the joke.

But, if any of these people have a low humor quotient, the joke will either go right over their heads or they’ll feel embarrassed because they didn’t get it.

Or, they’re going to think you are being sarcastic and you are trying to embarrass or intimidate them.

Rather than tell a joke, tell a story related to your point, use humor, or tell a humorous story.

You can find humor anywhere. Humor is all around you.

Don’t make fun of others. Make fun of yourself. Tell a story about something humorous that happened to you.

Let me give you an example.

For eight years, I traveled around the United States conducting seminars in hotels for two major seminar houses.

Perhaps the most memorable and the most embarrassing seminar happened on a Monday in a hotel in Lanham, Maryland.

The topic of this seminar happened to be customer service.

Unlike several of the hotel experiences I could relate, I was delighted that this hotel did an exceptional job of making sure everything was perfect for my seminar.

They even apologized to all the overnight guests for the low water pressure in the hotel showers. They explained that somewhere in the hotel, water was leaking from a pipe and that they had not yet found the source of the leak.

At 2:23 in the afternoon, my seminar participants found the source of the leak.

At 2:23, while I was in the middle of explaining a very important principle in customer service, a two foot by four foot drop ceiling tile, completely saturated by a weekend of accumulating water, crashed down directly on my head.

Seconds before 2:23 in the afternoon, as I maintained eye contact with audience, they seemed to be moving in slow motion.

Their mouths seemed to drop open in slow motion. Their eyes opened wide in amazement in slow motion. Their arms, with almost drill team precision, moved upward to point to the ceiling tile in slow motion.

Imagine a two by four ceiling tile, completely saturated to the point where the braces holing it up could not bear the weight of another ounce of water, lets go and lands on your head.

My head was covered; my suit was covered; my glasses were covered.

Without skipping a beat, I raised my left arm, looked at my watch and said, “This looks like a great time for us to take our break. See you at 2:45.”

Funny story? I think so.

Relevant? Yes.

When the participants came back from the break, I was able to relay to them all the hotel did and planned to do for me.

The participants saw first hand how quickly the hotel staff responded to make participants comfortable and content with complimentary coffee and cookies for the remainder of the seminar.

They experienced a humorous spectacle and learned a few lessons in customer service.

All of you have humorous stories to tell. Make a deposit from your memory banks and invest in a good story rather than a joke to add zest to your presentations.

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