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20 years

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jokes Are Risky – Even With the Dalai Lama. Just Ask Karl Stefanovic

As media and communication coaches, we often warn that telling a joke in a presentation or interview is like a forward pass in (American) football – there are only three possible outcomes, and two of them are bad! There are plenty of examples on the Internet these days of jokes that backfired, but a unique one just made embarrassing headlines from the other side of the big blue marble.

When TV anchor Karl Stefonovic interviewed the Dalai Lama on Australia’s version of the Today Show, he tried to break the ice with a joke. See it here (and about a million other places on the Internet!)

So, back to the football pass analogy – the one good outcome is a completed pass. That’s the equivalent of a joke is that it is received well, the speaker is rewarded with laughter and builds a good rapport. But the dropped ball equivalent is when the joke falls flat. The worst outcome is that the ball is intercepted and you lose possession altogether – the joke offends and now your audience turns against the speaker.

In Mr. Stefanovic’s case, I’d say it was the lesser of the two bad outcomes – that the joke simply fell flat. But it was still indeed a bad outcome. And, the poor guy will never live it down.

This lesson always seems obvious when you look in the rearview mirror – yet people refuse to learn from it!

Perhaps another lesson here may be a bit more subtle – know your audience! Whenever anyone is preparing to address an audience, they need to think of an open or a connection they can make. But they have to consider it from the point of view of the listener, interviewee or audience. And added consideration is required when you are speaking with someone for whom your language is not their native language. What will translate well? What won’t? What about cultural or religious sensibilities?

Mr. Stefonovic may have briefly considered the risk when he acknowledged afterward, “I knew that wouldn’t work.” If so, then why did he do it? A question I’m sure he is asking himself over and over!

What is your take? Was there any chance this joke could’ve worked in your opinion? Is there such a thing as a ‘safe joke’? Got any examples?

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