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  • Bob Burg

“You've basically revolutionized the way we are doing business. . . Your teaching style is very, very effective.”

~ Thomas J. Bartosic, SVP, Career Sales, G.E. Financial Assurance

If Your Joke Has A Target…Then Make Sure It’s You!

December 9th, 2010 by Bob Burg

In a recent post I shared my thoughts on using cuss words and gross humor in one’s presentations, posts, tweets, and other types of communication.

May I touch on one point I neglected but believe to be just as important in effectively communicating your message?

Joking with a target: These are jokes or quips that hurt, poke fun at, insult, or in any way utilize another human being as a negative focal point. The intent is often nothing personal but merely a way to get a laugh. If I may opine…it is inappropriate at best; wrong at worst.

The best communicators know: if you’re gonna’ poke fun at anyone, it should be at yourself.

Of course, I did say I was “opining.” I’d love to know what you think?

10 Responses to “If Your Joke Has A Target…Then Make Sure It’s You!”
  1. Well, I can brief on both points:
    gross language – never – always weakens one’s presentation.

    targeting another human being – even if “poking fun” – never.


  2. I totally agree. I get really upset when anyone makes fun of or is prejudiced against any group of people. Doesn’t matter who. I don’t like it.

  3. Amy Wells said at 8:41 am on

    I agree that it’s wrong. I grew up being poked at and poking fun back with words like “You idiot, dork, what were you thinking?, etc…”, all while laughing. But I’ve learned that it’s just flat out wrong. While I’ve been able to chose additude and what comes out of my mouth towards other people, those words, because of years of engraving on my heart, take years and tears to remove. I hear the echo from my heart saying “I’m a dork, I’m so stupid, etc” and these “echos” make it difficult to journey at my full potential. It’s been a tough journey to remove the negative impressions, but awareness is a beginning. I learned about the word Genshai, from Kevin Hall’s book Aspire: don’t treat anyone as if they are small, including yourself. I work at Genshai every waking moment now.

    Thank for bringing this up Bob.

  4. Barbara said at 8:44 am on

    Humor is very tricky — it’s not only extremely subjective but if your timing is off, it just doesn’t work. What makes something funny is the revealed truth within the statement — that’s why the half-apology “just kidding” after a stinging remark doesn’t begin to mitigate what was said. You can poke fun at yourself, but as a speaker you have to be careful not to undermine your standing as an expert.

    You can also poke fun at a situation. This is about the safest way to go, since the revealed truth doesn’t “hurt” anyone. The beautiful thing about humor is that it can reveal a shared experience (we all know what it’s like to ALWAYS choose the slowest checkout line) that helps the audience bond with you as the speaker and with each other.

  5. Julie said at 9:46 am on

    A Great tip Bob for public speakers and anyone presenting themselves in public, I have seen many who’ve taken the stage and used jokes that are in very poor taste. I would much rather hear jokes about their own personal life experiences, those always seem more funny and entertaining in my opinion.

  6. Marty Caise said at 10:47 am on

    Time and place for everything! Using humor in a presentation is fine as long as it is appropriate to the content of the presentation. It is NOT a stand up comedy show. You want your audience to leave wanting more of what you were really offering and retaining the content.

    Being vulgar or insulting in a presentation, can have your audience immediately turned off by what you are trying to deliver to them. It also displays a lack of intelligence and limited vocabulary. When you compelled to use a curse word or an insulting phrase in place of a well thought out response to a negative issue, it gives the audience the impression you are unprepared about the content.

    I tend to gauge my audience and in my preparation, I determine whether a particular point of my presentation can include a humorous remark. Humor can be a great tool in keeping your audience engaged, but unless you are in a smoky night club with a 2 drink minimum, vulgarity and insults just don’t need to be there.

  7. Donna Thomas said at 11:31 am on

    Bob, Agree with you 100%. I have never really enjoyed the kind of humor that is hurtful or malicious. Aside from a good Charlie Chaplin, or Abbott & Costello slapstick which is these comedians poking fun at themselves, I don’t find it funny or humorous to make fun of others.

  8. Heather Stubbs said at 11:46 am on

    I believe the great Canadian humourist, Stephen Leacock, once said something to the effect that if anyone is hurt by what is said, it’s not funny. When I taught Grade 4 in Public School, I used to say to the kids, “You can’t build yourself up by putting someone else down. It’s not funny unless EVERYONE thinks it’s funny.” Like Amy Wells in an earlier comment, I, too, had a childhood filled with mocking and ridicule. Demeaning another person is not humour; it’s hurting.

  9. Bob Burg said at 5:52 pm on

    Thank you, all, for sharing your wisdom and your personal experiences. Terrific and helpful insight from one and all. I appreciate ya’!!

  10. Pamela McBride said at 7:39 pm on

    I loved my step-dad, who taught me to laugh at myself, especially since he was the one pointing out something to me that was funny! He never hurt me, Bob, not once, because I sincerely believe that he enjoyed my “sense of style”. He was a tease in the kindest of ways. Of all the things I miss about him, it’s his ability to call me a nickname, like “911”, because of something I had done That year. Yes, I had more than one nickname.
    BUT, and this is a big BUT, I KNOW that there are times that teasing is inappropriate.
    I was reading my granddaughter’s “character” goals from school the other and one of the things that it said was, “I will not make fun of anyone.”
    Okay, so there’s a thin line between making fun and teasing.
    I’ve been made fun of so much! And I’ve been teased so much! I hardly even recognize the difference.
    But the other day, my boss said something to me that crushed me, and when I looked at her, and I know my face must have registered hurt, she said, “I was only teasing.” Mmmm. I’m not sure I like that statement, “I was only teasing.” It’s kind of like hiding behind something transparent.
    I like what Heather shared in her commentary. “It’s not funny if anyone is hurt.”
    So, do I go without ever teasing anyone or allowing anyone to tease me?
    Do I forget how to laugh with others? About me?
    I think each situation is different.
    We are invariably going to hurt each other in this life. The trick is to never do it intentionally.
    Oh, and one more thing: Curse words. No. I was taught to keep my language in such a way that I could talk to anyone without insulting them. The only way to do it is to keep cheap words out of my vocabulary.

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