Is it okay to start a speech or presentation with a joke?
Short answer – No.
Three reasons to not start with a joke
One: Poor Delivery
The average person can’t tell a joke well in front of an audience. Consider that professional comedians rehearse and train to deliver their material and still they occasionally bomb.
Imagine if you start with a joke and the joke fails or they’ve already heard it. You’ve lost the audience before you’ve even started do deliver your key message.
Two: Not Relevant
The joke often has no connection to the topic or your key message. That leaves the audience wondering, “What does that have to do with the topic?” That means the first impression is both disappointing and confusing for the audience.
Perhaps the most important reason to avoid using a joke is that most jokes make fun of somebody else.
Don’t make the mistake of telling a lawyer joke to a group of lawyers, unless you are a lawyer. Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can make a joke about somebody not in the room. The danger is that that joke might offend some of the people in the room. Offending your audience or putting people down isn’t a positive way to begin your speech.
Instead of Telling a Joke…
If you want people to laugh, tell a funny story about yourself. The story doesn’t need to be hilarious. It simply needs to encourage your audience to relax and lighten up. If most smile, the story was effective.
Be sure to tell a story that relates to your message, so the speech naturally builds upon that story.
That’s a delightful and positive way to start your speech.
A better way to help people laugh
When I deliver my presentation about communication skills, I often relate my experience of the first lunch with my new boss. Naturally, I wanted to make a good impression. He ordered Steak Tartare which I had never heard of. I assumed that it was steak and I like my steak medium well. Imagine my shock when the dishes arrived. I picked my way through that meal.
The story is funny and it reveals an embarrassing moment. The audience can laugh and feel that I’m being open and honest with them. The story also makes a point that fits the message of this presentation. The point is that assumption is one of the biggest causes of misunderstanding.
That story is much more effective than a joke.
When you tell a story about a flaw or embarrassing experience, the audience feels that you are being authentic. Thus they can relate to you more easily.
Don’t start your presentation with a joke.