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How to Tell a Funny Joke

How to Tell a Funny Joke

“The human race has only one effective weapon, and that is laughter.” -Mark Twain

If you want to impress somebody, make them laugh. If you want to connect with someone new, make them laugh. If you want to get a raise from your boss, make him laugh. If you want to take yourself out of a completely miserable situation, make yourself laugh. And if you want to change the world, make the world laugh. What’s the easiest way to make someone laugh? Tell a joke.

Some people are good at telling jokes, but have no idea how the jokes come out of their mouths. These people are naturally funny. But if you are not one of these people or have always had a problem with being funny, don’t sweat. Understand that all jokes have a formula behind them that makes them funny; otherwise, it’s not funny and that’s not a joke. Here are the ingredients to tell a joke. I’ll walk you through it step-by-step.

The Anatomy of a Joke and Its Formula

1. Target. Every joke begins with a target, and it can be targeting anything – people, places, ideas, etc. The most important thing to remember here is to relate the target to the person or people you’re telling the joke to, so they won’t be offended. For example, if you were telling a joke to your friends about your wife, you’re friends are going to laugh with you because they can relate. But if you were to tell that same joke to your wife, she’s not going to crack a smile. She’ll just slowly stare you down while you slowly tiptoe out of the room.

2. Hostility. I know some people are going to cringe at this, but the truth is jokes aren’t always “nice”. The essence of a joke is usually going against an idea or a type of person, but because the joke is funny (if you can pull it off the right way), it usually loosens the tension and eradicates all hostile feelings at the end. If you don’t get this, ask yourself if you have ever heard of a joke that was between two perfectly happy people? Take a look at these examples and see if you can pinpoint the target and who the joke is making fun of.

  • “Artificial hearts are nothing new. Politicians have had them for years.” -Mack McGinnis
  • “My wife said that her wildest sexual fantasy would be if I got my own apartment. -Rodney Dangerfield

3. Realism. Jokes aren’t funny unless there is some truth in them. You can’t just go in and start telling something ridiculous because first of all, the audience won’t be able to relate to it and secondly, you won’t get a chance to surprise them. Humor is a paradox. It’s funny because you’re juxtaposing the reasonable next to the unreasonable. If you don’t understand this, just remember that the more you can start a joke in a serious, casual way, the higher the payoff will be towards the end. For example, imagine if somebody with a straight face walked up to you and said:

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  • “If you think the world is normal, why do hot dogs come in packages of ten and hot dog buns come in packages of eight?”

4. Exaggeration. If you have a realistic setup from the previous step, then the next step is to exaggerate the second part of the joke. You want to make it “just a little bit more” out there than what human beings expect. The more you can exaggerate it but not completely ruin it by not saying something that’s completely unrelated or random at the end, the funnier it will be. In essence, could you exaggerate the joke as far as you can and yet make it still believable at the same time?

  • “You know, it was pretty hot yesterday. I saw a dog chasing after a cat, and they were both walking.”

5. Emotion. Why do human beings laugh? Biologically speaking, it is because there is a release in our emotions. That’s why this step is so crucial. For any joke to be hilarious –
I mean out-of-this-room hilarious – you to learn how build up anticipation. You want to person or group of people you’re telling the joke to feel like what’s coming next? You want to keep them guessing, on their toes, biting their nails, and leaning over their seat waiting for an answer that they will expect to hear. Here are some ways to create anticipation.

  • The Pause

“Take my wife – please!” -Henny Youngman

  • The Question

“Okay class. Calm down. Who wants to hear the latest dope?”

(Class cheers)

“Well, well, well… Here I am.”

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6. Surprise. Alright so we’ve come to the last step of the joke and perhaps the most vital one and that is the surprise. No surprise, no joke. When you go through steps 1 through 5, your audience or whoever you’re telling the joke to is going to expect something. So what do you do? Give them the unexpected. Imagine if a pitcher threw a ball and right before the batter hits it, it curves, and then flies out of the ball park. It’s sort of like that. The more anticipation and the greater the surprise, the funnier the joke, and the greater the laugh.

  • No Surprise

“He may not be able to sing, but he can act pretty well.”

  • Surprise

“He may not be able to sing, and he sure can’t dance either.”

So let’s review again.

Every joke begins with a target. The target can be anything from dogs and cats to lawyers or bosses. Just remember to cater the joke to the right audience. The joke is usually going to be hostile in some way, shape, or form. It’s going to make fun or someone or something, but usually the end result will not even make the joke seem hostile at all. And if you happen to find yourself to be in the position of where you are one of the nicest or kindest people on earth, like me, then you can always slim down the hostility. It’s okay.

After this, the joke needs to start off real – something that people can relate to and tell themselves that what you’re telling them about is real and there’s nothing to worry about. From there you can build up a story through anticipation or tension, and then give them an exaggerated response that has a surprise ending the blows them away. You choose how you want to go about doing this.

“A man and a woman who have never met before find themselves in the same sleeping carriage of a train. After the initial embarrassment, they both manage to get to sleep; the woman on the top bunk, the man on the lower.

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In the middle of the night the woman leans over and says, “I’m sorry to bother you but I’m awfully cold and I was wondering if you could possibly pass me another blanket.”

The man leans out, with a glint in his eye, says, “I’ve got a better idea… let’s pretend we’re married.”

“Why not?” giggles the woman.

“Good,” he replies, “Get your own blanket.”

Pass me another blanket.

Final Thoughts

I’m not even going to begin listing the positive traits that humor gives us which include relieving stress, living longer, feeling healthier, and feeling better about your day. If you can master telling a joke, people will like you and you’ll be able to make connections easily. If anything, life will be a lot less seriously and a lot more fun. Opportunities will come to you if you can be funny and people will be attracted to you as well. So now that I have given you the magical formula for being a jokester, do you have any jokes up your sleeve? Why not share one in the comment section below?

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“Laugh at yourself for a man is most comical when he takes himself too seriously.” -Og Mandino

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Hulbert Lee

Hulbert writes about motivation, doing whatever he can to help put people in a position to create a better life for themselves.

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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