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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Joke's on Who?

One of the first tips CommCore provides our Public Speaking and Presentation Training clients is NOT to tell a joke as an ice-breaker, an unfortunate device relied on by too many public speakers. The reason should be obvious-- you have a 50-50 chance that all or part of the audience will not find the joke funny, and who wants to peg the success of their ensuing presentation to those odds?

Tell that to Groupon, the new shopping incentive website that has become the latest darling of the Internet. The joke’s on them after the quick negative fallout from their Super Bowl commercial featuring actor Timothy Hutton offering discounted dinners at a Tibetan restaurant in Chicago following a set-up and video clips about the ongoing cultural and political struggles in Tibet. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXGYK1eP_wo). "Borderline offensive," "crap," and "just plain dumb" are among the milder comments elicited by the spot.

Both Groupon and their ad agency have tried very hard to explain what they intended. CEO Andrew Mason said their ads seek to "highlight the often trivial nature of stuff on Groupon when juxtaposed against bigger world issues, making fun of Groupon." Well, who's laughing at whom now? Internet news bible Fast Company opined that "there is nothing less humorous than a joke explained." (http://bit.ly/gmRcHT).

Whatever you think of the ad, the point should be taken: jokes are often at the expense of the jokester. There are plenty of ways to communicate effectively that use calibrated humor without running the very real risk of being too clever by half. The world is an increasingly out-of-context,sensitive, and intolerant place these days. Sometimes the best defense against your "joke" being misinterpreted is simply not to tell one, eliminating the risk that it will be perceived as offensive in the first place.

What are your experiences with humor – especially jokes – in public speeches or presentations?

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