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The Sweet Science of Wit

Whether it's over a round of golf or at a sales seminar, telling a good joke can help keep your clients smiling and listening.

By Larry Klein

Humor can be an integral part of closing a sale or just building a relationship with a client. But your jokes must be tasteful, appropriate and, above all, funny to be effective. In the introduction to his book 400 Greatest Jokes for Stockbrokers, Financial Planners, Investment Advisors, Insurance Agents, CPAs, Bankers and Financial Speakers, Larry Klein outlines the keys to telling a successful joke and how to keep your clients smiling.

A word of caution: Humor is a personal thing. You have, of course, noticed that some things that make you laugh, other people think are stupid—other people like your wife. (Ladies, you already have a good sense of humor, so my comments are directed at the men).

Good joke-telling is not in the joke, it’s in the telling.

So be prepared to think that half of the jokes you hear are stupid. These are the ones your spouse will urge you to tell at your next seminar because they’re “cute.” But a 50 percent “funny ratio” is pretty good because 95 percent of the jokes in the world are really bad. In fact, if you find one dozen jokes that you really like, you’ve hit pay dirt. I have used the same six jokes for my entire seminar-giving career and the audience gets a good laugh every time.

Almost every good joke should be able to be told in mixed company, and therefore be appropriate for seminars and presentations. There is a place, however for a few that are best left as one-to-one stories for your close clients.

Stand and deliver
Let me spend a little time on the issue of delivery by stating that there is no funny joke. The funniness is the way you tell the joke. Every salesperson gets introduced to this model early in their career:

Effectiveness of communication

  • What you say = 7 percent

  • How you say it = 38 percent

  • Body language = 55 percent

Body language is so important that, if you were here with me now, without saying a word I could start dancing and make you laugh. Believe me, watching me dance is funny. Good joke-telling is not in the joke, it is in the telling.

Here are three rules for telling a joke well:

1. Your descriptions must paint a picture. A weak joke begins, “This short guy walks into a bar…” However, a strong joke starts out with, “This tiny, little guy walks into a bar. He’s so short that, when he raises his hands over his head (you raise your hands over your head when you say this), you still can’t see him over the table.”

2. You must step into the shoes of the characters in the joke and alternate between narrator and characters. Again, a weak joke continues, "So he walks up to the bar and asks for a drink in a high voice." While a strong joke teller might say, "So he walks up to the bar and says, in a high, squeaky voice ’Can I have a drink?’ (as you squeak in a high voice)."

3. And the most important part: You must act out the joke with your body. For example, when you are the tiny guy asking for the drink, you put your hands up to your chin like your straining to speak over the edge of the bar, and you look up as though you are talking to the six foot bartender, and you are four feet tall.

Learning these tree tactics is easy with a little practice. Rehearse jokes in front of your spouse—your best critic. This will be the best test as your spouse won’t like the jokes you select, but if he or she says you’ve told it well, you’ve got a winner.

(By the way, if you’re waiting for the punch line about this little guy with the high voice in the bar, I don’t know any joke like that.)

Now here are a few jokes from Klein’s 400 Greatest Jokes to help you practice your newly sharpened joke-telling skills:

On financial pundits
Albert Einstein goes to heaven and meets three other new guests. He asks the first guest, a physicist, his IQ:

“196, sir,” says the first.
“Excellent,” says Einstein. “I look forward to talking about my theory of relativity with you.”

Einstein asks the same question to the second, a schoolteacher:
“150,” says the second.
“Not bad,” Einstein says. “We can discuss pressing problems of world justice and peace.”

Einstein asks the third person the same question:
“75, sir,” is the reply.
Einstein thinks for a minute, and then asks, “So, how do you think the economy will do next year?”

When speaking about estate planning and charitable giving comes up
Two friends are marooned on an island after their boat is destroyed during a storm. The first man is frantic, he is ranting on the beach, “Oh no, they’ll never find us; we’re doomed!”

His friend is swimming around calmly in the blue waters enjoying himself.

“How can you be so calm? We are going to die.”

The calm friend responds, “I earned $50,000 my first year in business and gave 10 percent to charity. I earned $200,000 the next year and gave 10 percent to charity. This year I made $500,000 and haven’t given yet. They’ll find us!”

For life agents
“You ought to feel honored,” said the businessman to the life insurance agent. “So far today I’ve had my secretary turn away seven insurance agents.”

“Yes, I know,” replied the agent, “I’m them.”

Opening a seminar
A Harvard study was done on the relationship between an audience and the speaker at a financial seminar.

The psychology department found that one-third of the audience would be able to follow and understand the speaker’s presentation, which is good news for me.

The bad news is the second third could not care less. They have been dragged out by their spouse and are there for the food and drink.

However, the most interesting part of the study was the last third of the audience. They found that during the presentation, they would be having their own personal fantasies.

So, it is very comforting for me to know that at least a third of you will be having a good time here.

Larry Klein, CPA, MBA, CSA, is president of NF Communications and offers marketing programs to financial advisors throughout the United States. His book, 400 Greatest Jokes for Stockbrokers, Financial Planners, Investment Advisors, Insurance Agents, CPAs, Bankers and Financial Speakers, can be purchased here.

 


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