Monday, December 22, 2008

Bad Humor Is No Joke

Using humor can be a great lead-in to an effective presentation, and even sprinkled throughout a talk.

But U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is now apologizing for telling Polish jokes at a gathering of Pennsylvania political insiders earlier this month.

Senator Specter says he was recalling stories that had been told by the late Philadelphia Republican political boss, Billy Meehan. He explained, “On the Pennsylvania Society weekend, the subject came up and I told a couple of Bill Meehan stories. And they struck a nerve. And they were insensitive and, I now see, inappropriate.”

Even seasoned orators like Senator Specter need to remember a few rules for the effective use of humor when giving a presentation:

1)Never disparage any ethnic, gender, age, or racial group. This type of humor is NEVER funny, nor appropriate – despite what you may think.

2)Don’t repeat a joke that someone else used, thinking the blame for it if it bombs won’t be placed squarely on you (see above story RE Senator Specter).

3)Humor often doesn’t “travel” well (internationally or regionally).

4)Work on your timing – a humorous story improperly delivered is ineffective.

5)Self-deprecating humor can be good, unless they take your foibles seriously.

6)Don’t blame others for your poor judgment (Senator Specter take note)

The good news is that Senator Specter realized that he had made a mistake in using this inappropriate humor and apologized. Many speakers whose presentations fail due to bad use of humor don’t often realize in retrospect why their message wasn’t effectively received.

Senator Specter says that he makes a lot of speeches, and usually uses humor in good taste. But he says sometimes he makes mistakes –-and this was a big one.

Presenters can learn from this example, and carefully consider the use of humor – following the guidelines above.

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