No Joke – How jokes can kill your sales talk

October 14, 2014

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Know the difference between an anecdote and a joke

Getting up in front of a bunch of people to do a talk that promotes you or your service is the closest thing you’ll find to the stress of being a stand-up comedian.

Lets face it, both you and the comedian have only a microphone (sometimes not even that) to win-over and keep the attention of the crowd.

But it’s even more difficult than that, you not only want the attention of the crowd, but you also need to persuade them that you’re an expert in your field and it’s worth their hard earned money to hire you.

Doing a great presentation isn’t easy. And humour – if done correctly – can be a magic ingredient.

Making people laugh, or even smile, not only keeps your audience’s attention, it also makes them relax and drop their defences. If you’re looking to persuade people to do business with you, getting them into that relaxed state is important – so if you can use humor wisely.

But that’s where the similarities between you and the comedian end. The comedian’s job is solely to be funny. As a result, he will throw everything in his arsenal at the crowd to do that – even at the risk of bombing so badly that you feel sorry for him.


Don’t bomb like a bad comedian

However, when you’re trying to position yourself as an expert, having people feel sorry for you is the worst thing that can happen. Why? Because people will never buy from you in that state.

So here’s how you avoid it. DON’T. TELL. JOKES. Instead add humor to your presentations through humorous personal stories.

What’s the difference between the two?

Jokes have a setup and a punch line.

They can be short like this one liner: A horse walks into a doctor’s office. The doctor says “Hey, Why the long face?”

Or they can have a longer setup: A Priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar…

The telling of jokes used to be a staple of the old-style used car salesman and for many of us it still has negative connotations. Plus, most people are lousy at telling jokes – I spent years writing comedy professionally and even I don’t use jokes on stage.


Why don’t jokes work for business speakers?

They’re inauthentic. Jokes are by their nature are generic. Their humor has nothing to do with a genuine experience of the speaker. As a result they interrupt the flow of your presentation.

A joke is meant for one thing and one thing only. To get a laugh. If it doesn’t get that laugh it fails and so do you!

So how do you inject humor into your talk without jokes? You tell a humorous story. A story that’s relatively short, personal and fits in with your topic and your talk. Something like this:


After the funny part smile and pause for a moment – give the laugher some room to rise and fall. After the pause, go right back to your talk. Avoid using phrases like Anyway or So back to the presentation…. Just hit your next point. Even if no one gets the humor that’s okay. Because your story is a natural part of your presentation and not a generic joke, no one will notice if it doesn’t get a laugh.