Presentation Tip: Skip the jokes, connect with your audience


Presentation Tip: Skip the jokes, connect with your audience
Today’s tip from JerryBrownPR’s Tips for Telling Your Story on the Experience Pros Radio Show
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By Jerry Brown, APR
Public Relations Counsel

Presentation Tip: Skip the jokes, connect with your audienceLooking for a joke to open your next presentation? Skip the joke. Concentrate instead on connecting with your audience.

I spent more than half of my 17 years on the corporate PR staff of one of the Baby Bell telephone companies (U S WEST) as a speechwriter.

I wrote speeches for two company presidents and the CFO. But at least once a week someone would call or drop by my office to ask me for a joke s/he could use to open a speech.

The conversation almost always went something like this:

Executive: “I’m giving a speech tomorrow. I need a joke. Do you have one I can use?”

Me: “Sure. What should it be about?”

Executive: “I don’t care. I just need a joke.”

Me (to myself): Sigh.

Speakers sometimes rely on an opening joke as an ice breaker to get the audience in the mood to hear what they have to say. But opening your speech with a joke may do more harm than good. What’s the problem? There are several:

  • Most of us can’t tell jokes very well. Opening with a joke you didn’t tell very well is a minus, not a plus.
  • Speakers often pick inappropriate jokes. You may think that off-color joke you shared with your buddies over lunch is funny. But it may offend at least some of the people in your audience. Don’t use it.
  • Speakers often use jokes that have nothing to do with the topic of their speech. It’s wasted time and can leave your audience wondering what your point was.

What do you do instead? The point is to connect with your audience, to get them to like you and trust that what you have to say is worth hearing.

You can do that with a simple hello. Don’t deliver a “speech.” Talk to your audience. Look around and make eye contact with people in the room. If you use humor — and you can use humor without telling jokes — make it relevant to the rest of your presentation. If appropriate, ask questions and invite responses from members of the audience.

Remember you’re speaking to other living, breathing human beings. Address them person to person. Don’t spend all your time looking at your notes or your slides. Look at the people in the room with you while you’re talking. Connect with them. Most of the time they’ll respond by connecting with you and listening to what you have to say.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Jerry Brown, APR, is a public relations professional and former journalist. He specializes in helping clients develop the content they need to tell their stories. He also helps them develop strategies for getting their stories heard, understood and remembered. And he provides media training and presentation coaching for clients who need to tell their stories to reporters or in front of an audience. 303-594-8016 |

Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros radio show on KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet.

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