There’s no better feeling than when you rattle off a well-timed one-liner during a presentation and you’re greeted with a burst of genuine laughter. You nailed it.
But hold on.
Before you think your calling just might be a gig on Comedy Central, there’s the reality check: dead silence save for a lone cough coming from the back of the room. What happened?
Your joke went flat. Your vision is blurred, your face is tingling and your script is a swirling mess under your prickly scalp. You’re hoping for a hook to yank you, now a full-blown fool, off the stage. The lectern is a useless shield against the barrage of unimpressed stares from your audience.
Here are a few things to think about before you try your hand as a standup comedian:
1. Know your audience. If you’re speaking to a group of journalists, you may not want to tell a joke at the expense of the news gathering industry. Instead, poke fun at yourself. It’s your best chance to draw laughs.
Also, be mindful of your topic. If you’re speaking about how the company is clawing back after an embarrassing PR error that cost tons in lost business along with several, there’s no room for any comic relief.
2. Keep it fresh. If you’ve heard it before, chances are they did too. “I just flew in this morning and boy, are my arms tired,” will buy you silence or some courtesy giggles from a few who might feel embarrassed for you. The most effective jokes are unique, well-placed and come at a time when the audience least expects them.
3. Memorize it thoroughly and deliver it with confidence. Your zinger is DOA if you stammer through it or back up to repair it. The delivery should be natural, as if it just came to you on the spot. But in reality, you have the words down cold, along with your vocal inflection and your facial expression.
4. Plan for the silence. It may happen on your first try, your fifth, or your 12th. But eventually, one of your jokes will wilt. Be prepared to recover.
Here are some tactics to transition back into your presentation: You can cup your hand behind an ear, put a quizzical look on your face and slowly pan the audience. Then smile and go on with your speech. Or you can shrug and say something like, “Hey that’s my best one, they all go downhill from here” or look offstage and say, “Hey, Joe, I want my $20 back for that one.” Then smile and continue.
The main thing is to recompose yourself.
5. Realize the risk. If you can’t handle the embarrassment, then stay away from humor. Some people are just better at it than others.