Humorously Speaking

by Jeff Justice, CSP

Funny BusinessmanHumor is a great teaching tool. Use it to make a point, not just to get a laugh. Maybe you’ve noticed that I’ve done that before. (And sometimes, not laughing at a bad joke actually gets people to remember even better!) If you rewrite an old joke to help make your point, that’s great. But if you just tell jokes to get a laugh, people often resist you. Even the best known comedians aren’t “on” all the time — they know we need a break.

If you announce that you are going to tell a joke, I think, “I’ve heard lots of jokes, so this one better be great!” Don’t set a level of expectation that your joke can’t reach or apologize for using humor. “You know, I’m not very good at telling jokes, but my wife says I should start with one, so here it is….” People hear, “I’m not very good, but I don’t mind boring you to death!” And be careful about stretching out jokes or stories. The longer you make it, the funnier it’s got to be to get a laugh. George Burns said, “Make the beginning quick, the end quick; put the two of them as close together as possible.”

If you have to introduce confusing details, understand that statistics baffle most people. When Yogi Berra ordered a pizza, the server asked him, “Do you want it cut into four slices or eight?” Yogi replied, “Make it four — I don’t think I could eat eight.” Numbers confuse most people. (I just used a principle called the “sandwich technique.” I introduced my point, used a little humor to drive it home, then repeated my point. “Sandwich” a little humor between the points to help people remember.)

Tell a joke or story three times in “safe” situations before using it when and where it counts. Salesmen and bartenders tell the best jokes in the world, and that’s what they do — as soon as they hear it, they tell it three times immediately so it becomes embedded in their memories.

If you can’t do that, write down only the punch line — later on, reconstruct the rest of the joke in as few words as possible. Then tell it to at least three different people because you’ll have to get down your timing and confidence. My wife never does that! She starts a joke, gets to the end and then says, “I don’t know. It was something about a donkey and a chicken.” Thanks, honey — just remember who wears the funny pants in this family!

If you found these tips from Jeff Justice, CSP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in his self-paced, downloadable courses at


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