Way back in days of yore .. it was often thought that a good way to open your presentation was to warm up with a joke. Can it be effective ? Absolutely. Should everyone do it ? Errmm no. Recent scientific research has categorically established that the percentage of people who can get away with opening their presentation with a joke is exactly the same percentage of the public who should wear lycra in public … which by the way is 0.02%.
Opening with a gag is a very high risk strategy, even professional comedians can’t hit every single time .. and they do it for a living. Television performers are another example of polished performers who are very used to presenting in the public environment and delivering under pressure. But as this recent high profile example proves, things don’t always go to plan. Karl probably knew this could have gone wrong, but I think he wanted too much to make the Lama laugh.
The basic reason for the failure of the gag (which isn’t that bad) is the difference in native tongue and culture. I’m sure we all know the Dalai lama is smart enough to get the gag once he understands properly what Karl is saying .. but by then it’s too late. Consider this when next you are presenting to a diverse audience especially if they may comprise some people for whom English is not their native language.
From another perspective, even if they do speak english very well, some jokes simply do not translate from the specific cultural reference. As Jerry Weissman says in his new book Presentations in Action 1) Just don’t do it. 2) If you do feel compelled to do it, make it a self deprecating joke about you. At least if it flops the failure is at your expense and not your audience’s.
Still not convinced ? Then take some advice from the venerable Chinese philosopher Confucius who said;
“Man who try to use humour in presentation often end up with egg on face”
There, you see what I mean ?