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Bad Humor is No Joke

Categories: Business Presentations

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 last Friday.

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 appropriate.
  2. Don’t repeat a joke that someone else used, thinking if it bombs you can blame it on the original teller (see above story RE Senator Specter).
  3. Humor often doesn’t “travel” well (internationally or regionally).
  4. Self-deprecating humor can be good, unless they take your foibles seriously.
  5. Don’t blame others for your poor judgment

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 humor don’t 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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