be careful with jokes

Humour is often recommended, but starting your presentation with a joke is not without its risks. Of course, everyone loves a good joke, so why not use it at the start of your presentation? Well, we found some pitfalls around telling a good joke that you may not have thought of before, and briefly explain why you should avoid it.

White woman and black man sit in a living room and are laughing hard at a joke.

telling a good joke is an art.

Good jokes have 2 important aspects: the story itself and the timing. True comedians spend hours on a single joke. They carefully weigh up what words to use, where to place extra emphasis, where to pause and when to deliver the punchline. Taking all these things into account puts you under quite a bit of pressure. Stress that – if you are already a bit nervous about speaking in front of a group – you can do without.

Woman in white blouse in front of a pink wall looking upwards, appearing bored.

your joke has been told before.

Unless you hire a comedian to copywrite your speech, the likelihood is that you found your joke online. And if it’s a good joke, your audience has probably heard it before. If your joke is linked to a specific industry, this is even more likely. An important element in a joke is the element of surprise, such as an unexpected plot twist at the end of your story. If your audience has already heard your joke, it loses all its impact. What’s more, repeating an old joke will not do your image as a ‘specialist in the field’ any good, because you will have just told something that people had heard before.

Starting a presentation with a joke, woman appears surprised, man is laughing hard.

you could offend someone.

It’s not likely that you would start with ‘A Belgian, a Dutchman and a German were sitting in a café’ as this is a joke that could obviously be sensitive to an audience. But beware: there are so many cultural, religious and ethnic differences in an audience that a safe joke is hard to find. What’s more, you can never be sure if you have offended someone. Just because people laugh at a joke doesn’t automatically mean they don’t feel affected. People often laugh along with others due to social pressure, but it is quite possible that they have conflicting feelings. And insulting your audience at the start of the presentation won’t help bring your communication to a successful conclusion.

As you can see, we cite 3 good reasons why it can be risky to begin with a joke. You want to do it right, tell something new and not offend anyone, but that’s harder than it seems at first glance. Don’t worry, however, there are plenty of other ways to start your presentation surprisingly.

Want to know more? We are happy to help you with the structure of your presentation!