Demo Lessons from Comedians: Part 1 – Why didn’t that joke land?
Demo Lessons from Comedians: Part 1 – Why didn’t that joke land? is the first in a series about comedy from Demo Solutions founder Ed Jaffe.
Imagine it – you’re in the middle of your presentation. You’ve created a nice rapport with the audience, they’re asking questions, everything is going great. So you decide to crack a joke to try to connect with the audience. And things just…don’t go as planned. Best case, you created an awkward moment. Worst case, you offended your audience.
I get it – you want to connect with your audience, and humor is a great way for people to connect. And sales is all about connecting with people – after all, people buy from people they like. Plenty of coaches out there will tell you to use humor, but in presenting, humor may not be all it’s cracked up to be. Let’s talk about some of the reasons that your jokes might not be landing.
The audience isn’t ready for jokes
I have some family members who are comedy writers in LA (I’m a Jew, so of course I do), and when I was a kid, I was fortunate enough to get tickets to the tapings of a few of the best sitcoms from the era – Friends and The Drew Carey Show. And something I didn’t know until I got there – before the show, you spend some time with the warm-up comic.
Warm-up comics are all about working the crowd. They get the audience ready to laugh at the show, and help keep the energy up during breaks. They also set the tone for what the audience should do For example, warm-up comic Brody Stevens fostered hooting and hollering when working on “Best Damn Sports Show Period,” but for “Chelsea Lately,” focused on an audience that would applaud, not scream.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as giving the audience permission to laugh. “I’ve been in a warm-up where I started a show and people said, ‘Is it OK to laugh?'” said Mark Sweet, one of the most famous warm-up comedians in Hollywood. “They’re not sure what to do.”
Sitcom producers have known for a long time that, if you want an audience to laugh, they need to be ready for it. You probably don’t have a warm-up comedian for your presentation. If your joke is out of nowhere, audiences may ask the same question: “is it OK to laugh?” And they’ll be so focused on that question, they won’t actually laugh.
You’re a presenter, not a comedian
It takes work to be funny, and good jokes take honing in front of lots of audiences. But here’s the difference between comedians and presenters, and the Demo Lessons from Comedians- comedians have more opportunities to fail and learn. Some working comedians can go to a few different clubs in a single night, and if they bomb (which they will), they can just go to the next club.
It doesn’t work like that in sales presentations. Most of the time, we get one shot. And each meeting is a continuation of that “one shot.” As the meetings go on, the people in the room become more and more important, and will probably have less tolerance for a poorly timed joke. I’ve seen the air get sucked out of a room because of a bad joke – I’ve even been the one to tell a bad joke – and it’s painful. Painful for the person who said it, and painful for everyone who watched it.
You don’t know their life
When someone goes to see a stand-up comedian, they are going because they want to see something funny, and they know there’s a shot that the comedian is going to say something offensive. But we accept that risk by going to see a comedian. In sales demos or presentations? Not so much.
Back in the days when we could fly (I think that was last year, but it could have been ten years ago. Who knows?), I was conducting an onsite workshop for a group of up-and-coming sales engineers. One of the presenters was trying to make a joke about how it’s easy to find bad information on the internet, and said something to the effect of “you have a stomachache, and WebMD says you have stage 4 cancer.” Needless to say, that joke didn’t land. But, even worse, the manager was a cancer survivor, so that joke made her quite uncomfortable.
Most of the time, when presenting, we don’t know our audiences that well. It’s so easy to make a joke that, while perhaps not offensive to most of the room, is particularly upsetting to one person (which is one too many). If you’re the presenter, something to ask yourself is “how is this joke going to land with everyone in the room?” If the answer is “I don’t know,” which, realistically, it probably is, the joke is almost never worth it. And if you’re trying to figure out what’s acceptable and what’s not, we’d be happy to give you some advice about demo inclusivity.
Political humor is for SNL
I don’t have to tell you that 2020 is a
dumpster fire unique political landscape. One of the most defining characteristics of politics in 2020 is that just about everyone, regardless of which side they’re on, is angry. It’s easy to make jokes about the state of the world, and for some of us, that’s probably the only way we’re getting through it. But you don’t know your prospects’ political views. There’s a 50% chance that your joke is going to offend them. So leave the political humor at the door – it’s not worth the risk.
Takeaway Demo Lessons from Comedians
Know your audience, warm your audience up, and practice!! Are you a natural comedian? Take our quiz! Stay tuned for more Demo Lessons from Comedians. If you enjoyed this piece, please let us know, if you didn’t, we love feedback.