There is nothing more painful to watch than public speaking humor. Normally it falls flat on it’s face, and the carnage is difficult for the audience to watch. A joke gone bad can cast a lingering cloud on the remainder of the speech, and lead to poor performance perception, even if the rest of the material was fine.
If you read a book on the great public speeches of all time, you seldom if ever see any that have jokes in them. There are no humorous public speaking quotations out there. Why is that? Because most professional speakers shy away from deliberate humor, so why do so many amateurs seek it out?
One reason is the prevalent public speaking fear of large audiences. Many speakers think that the best way to get the audience to like them is to use humor. Unfortunately, this approach only makes matters worse. A humorous public speaking anecdote that doesn’t render even a chuckle is going to hurt the speakers confidence.
One of the first delivery tips for public speaking is to stay away from humor. If the audience starts to laugh, but is not expected to laugh, then that’s great. You should never put the audience in a position of having to laugh to meet your objectives. Unless you have access to Hollywood “canned laughter” you can play during your joke, then you may be hearing a lot of painful silence. I was at a conference on improving speaking and presentation skills in Salt Lake City, and a speaker tried time after time to make the audience laugh. I don’t remember the speech, only the pain of watching the speaker fail and humiliate himself.
Unless you have the charisma of Elmer Gantry, or the experience of Jay Leno or David Letterman, it’s best to stay away from humor. Often, the only joke will be on you.