A tried and true way to win friends is to make people laugh. A good joke is a good start, but telling a joke well takes skill. You can learn by following this advice:
- Know your joke thoroughly. Memorize your joke so you don’t forget important details. Going back in mid-joke (“Oh, I forgot, there’s a chicken on the firefighter’s head”) distracts from your momentum. Rehearse ahead of time if possible. And don’t tell a joke you don’t understand—if you don’t know why the punchline is funny, you’re more likely to mangle it.
- Don’t oversell it. Resist the temptation to tell people how funny your joke is going to be. They’ll expect something fantastic and anything less will disappoint them. Keep your delivery relaxed and natural to draw them in.
- Easy does it. One technique is to offer the joke casually, as if it’s a personal anecdote: “I remember, a few years ago …” As your audience comes to realize you’re actually setting up a joke, they’ll nod or smile in recognition, so you’ve already “warmed them up.” If they don’t catch on until the punchline, the element of surprise adds to the impact.
- Pace yourself. Don’t race to the punchline. It increases the chance you’ll leave out an element, and your listeners may have trouble following the story. Get comfortable pausing at times to let the audience visualize what’s happening. Just don’t drag the joke out too long or the payoff may not live up to the buildup.
- Know your audience. You always want to avoid jokes that are racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive. But even a seemingly harmless joke can fall flat if your listeners don’t relate to it. A joke about your business, for example, may have limited appeal to someone who’s always worked in a different industry. Look for universal jokes that everyone can appreciate.