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5 Secrets for Telling Better Stories and Jokes

As a comedian and keynote speaker, I have discovered 5 amazing keys for telling great jokes and stories. Use these tips to enhance the entertainment level the next time you give a speech. Apply these techniques as you sprinkle stories into your presentations. And keep this in mind: facts tell, but stories sell. Your audience will thank you for sharing funny stories (and jokes) with them.

Here’s how you can improve your ability to connect with humor and storytelling:

• Let your set-up sink in.

Ever notice how most good jokes begin? The joke-teller says something like: “These two guys walk into a bar…” The key thing to establish, in your jokes and stories, is the WHO, WHAT, and WHERE. Comedians call this the “set-up.” The same idea applies to a good story. Remember, before your audience can follow your story, they have to know who it’s about. Make sure you set the table before you serve the meal. Before you launch into your joke or story, let the listeners know who/what it’s about and where the action is taking place!

• Don’t just tell it . . . live it.

You must invest in your story. What should you put in? More of yourself. Your listeners are silently hoping you will put your heart, voice, and movements into your joke/story. If a funny event happened to you, don’t just re-tell it, RE-LIVE IT. Help the listeners see and feel what you experienced. A great joke is not just told–it is performed. Here’s another little secret: When you enjoy sharing it, your audience will enjoy hearing it.

• Punch up your punch line!

Do you remember Coca-Cola’s classic slogan? “The pause that refreshes.” Well, a strong pause in your story or joke might be called the pause that empowers. Every good story, and every good joke, has a surprise twist. You can hit your audience much harder—and make them much happier—when you pause before the joke’s final punch line or your story’s big finish. Sometimes, this silence might feel a little uncomfortable to you. Use it anyway. You will be amazed at the way a well-placed pause will draw your audience in. And BOOM. It will make the impact of your tale so much stronger.

• Keep a straight face.

Steven Wright is one of the great comics of the last 50 years. His humor is outlandish, but his delivery is always straight serious. When he says hilarious things like: “A friend of mine has a trophy wife. Apparently it wasn’t first place”, what makes his humor even stronger is the way he delivers it. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to be silly to tell a good story or joke. You don’t. The straighter you tell a joke or story—like it really happened—the funnier it will be. Rick Reynolds once performed a solo show based on this premise: only the truth is funny. Keep this in mind the next time you speak to an audience. Present your material as fact, even when it’s funny.

• Wait for your audience.

Here are three things you can learn from famous comedians and great storytellers: A) Don’t laugh at your own jokes! 
B) Don’t step on the laughter. This means, give your audience the space to react to your joke or story. Let it breathe. 
C) Listen to the reactions you are getting (or not getting). This will help you crank up what’s working and tone down what isn’t the next time your tell your funny story. When you wait for your audience to respond, you will to improve your “LPMs” . . . Laughs Per Minute.

Now you try these techniques.

Here’s a classic joke/story you can tell. Try it out loud in front of your friends, family, and your next audience. Can you apply the 5 Secrets to your telling of it?
 I’m worried about my health. My doctor called and said, “Your test results are back, and I need to tell you that you have ten . . .” I interrupted him. “Ten what? Ten years? Ten months? Ten weeks?” He said, “NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX …”

• Did you set the table for this joke by emphasizing your health concerns and the word doctor?
• Did you invest yourself and your emotions into the joke?
• Did you punch-up the ending with great emphasis?
• Did you tell the story straight—like it really happened to you?
• Did you wait for the laughter?

The next time you are asked to make a presentation, give your group the gift of laughter. Use these 5 Secrets to make your jokes and stories more fun and maybe even unforgettable.

The most important thing is not the joke or the tale you tell, it’s how you tell it!

Adam Christing is a popular Event MC and Funny Motivational Speaker. He is the author of Your Life is a Joke: 12 Ways to Go from Ha Ha to AHA! (For more information go to AdamChristing.com)