Sunday, February 14, 2010

Public Speaking: No Joke (Unless You Can Deliver it Well)

Public speaking does not come easy for some people. For others, it's a snap. The more experienced speakers have learned the secrets while many novices will wake up that morning with a major headache.

Making a presentation, or giving a speech, is part of the business world. But, in order for your presentation to achieve its goal, the delivery must be successful. This requires your connecting with the audience. Experience has demonstrated that a common technique, when applied correctly, is opening with a joke.

A joke, when delivered properly, can break the ice with the audience. It sends a message that the speaker is here to speak with us, not to us. Similar to the co-worker that attracts a crowd at the coffee machine by telling a good joke, you can attract the crowd in front of you to listen to you.

Of course, this is not an opening for a standup routine. Neither should you use the podium to tell the latest racist joke that you heard at the bar last night. The motto is KISS – keep it short and simple. It makes good sense to do some research beforehand and try to learn what makes the audience tick. For example, a high tech joke will not work well for an audience of medical practitioners. But, a good doctor joke certainly will. Be careful, though, not to insult anyone in the audience. If you feel that they will appreciate it, try poking fun at the industry, but only if you're part of it. Outsiders are not usually welcome to do this.

Learn to read your audience. If you see that your joke is not going over well, abandon it (with a shrug for a last ditch attempt at a chuckle) and get on with the business at hand. Delivery is everything! You have to go with the flow of the audience. Sometimes, the audience is waiting for what you have to say. Other times, they may be waiting to leave. Do what you can, in a professional manner, to win them over. Telling jokes, like making a powerful, impacting speech, is an art. Learn the craft carefully and you can be quite successful.

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