How to Tell a Joke

Many people shy away from telling jokes because they once told one that fell flat or they are afraid of appearing silly or of offending someone. Jokes are canned humorous stories which are subtly different from personal anecdotes. With personal anecdotes you have the authority to tell them because they happened to you. Jokes are independent and in a sense artificial so you take a little risk when you launch into one. However, when told well, a joke can cause great amusement and lift the mood of the gathering. A speaker who puts some relevant and well-told jokes into his or her speech will be appreciated by the audience who are often bored with bland presentations and are crying out for a little entertainment.

Here are some tips on how to tell a good joke:

1. Select. Choose three or four jokes that really tickled you from the internet or a joke book. If you are giving a talk or presentation look for ones that have some relevance (however slight) so that you can work them into the pitch. Have one or two generic or topical ones that you can use on any occasion.

2. Practise. Practise them aloud – in front of a mirror if possible. Deliver them with style, confidence and panache. Focus on the punch line and ensure that you can deliver it word perfect.

3. Choose your moment. If there is a convenient hook in the conversation for one of your jokes you can introduce it then. Otherwise wait for a pause. Sometimes the most amusing jokes occur when people least expect the teller to tell a joke. So, if appropriate, be serious as you introduce the story and then catch your audience out with the punch line.

4. Deliver slowly and with confidence. Many people ruin jokes by rushing them, mumbling incoherently or just getting the words wrong. Your practice should have overcome this but there is still a temptation to hurry. Slow down a little. Try to pause for effect before you deliver the punch line. That can add enormously to the impact.

5. Match the joke to the audience. A joke which is hilarious with the guys on the 7th tee might well be a disaster at the Church Bazaar. Jokes often challenge taboos so it is OK to risk a tiny amount of offence to one or two people. But if your joke seriously offends people then you were guilty of misjudgment. In mixed company during the day you should stay with safe material. In the evening you can be a little more risqué and with the men in the bar you can be outrageous. Choose wisely.

6. Reciprocate. Never finish anyone else’s joke. Always laugh or smile even if you have heard it before. Be a good joke teller and receiver.

7. Develop. As you build experience and confidence try more and different jokes. But don’t overdo it. Don’t hog the conversation with one joke after another. A few really good jokes that you can tell with perfect confidence is the aim.

Finally have some one-liners to throw in from time to time. Here are a couple to get you going:

  • Velcro – what a rip-off!
  • ‘Shut up!’ my father explained.

Funny jokes make the world a more interesting place. Enjoy your joke telling!

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