Skip the Jokes!

Woody Hayes, the legendary Ohio State football coach, once commented, “Only three things can happen when you throw the football and two of them are bad,” referring to an interception or incompletion of course.

In my experience the same could be said about telling jokes in the training room.  When you tell a joke, six things can happen and five of them are bad.  What can go wrong when you tell a joke?  Let’s count:

  • You think it’s new and original, and don’t realize it’s an old chestnut that everyone has heard; they’re waiting for you to hurry up and end it
  • You are the only one who thinks the joke is funny; everyone’s sense of humor is different
  • You might inadvertently offend someone.  You never can tell, especially in today’s politically correct environment
  • You don’t know this, but you are probably not a good joke teller.  Do you start with “Here’s a funny joke for you…”, or draw out the joke to make it a long story?  Oh, that’s bad.
  • It has no relevance to the program content and becomes a distraction instead of building interest or helping to make a point.  Serious learners will not appreciate time devoted to jokes instead of useful content.

Having said all that, there are some times when a funny story, a game, trivia contest or other off-content diversions are useful.  My learners laugh all day in my programs because humor helps keep people engaged.  But I never tell a joke.

Example: My favorite time is the minute or so just before and after any break.  I’ll ask a quiz question before the break and say that I’ll give the answer in 15 minutes when they return, then I keep my promise.  Late arrivals miss the answer only once.  They come back on time after that.

Also, following a break learners often drift in at various times, and you can use that getting settled time to debrief the quiz, share a story about a real experience that relates to the content or do anything else that is fun or interesting to get everyone settled in.  No sense diving into the content and excluding some of the learners.

A few years ago I did a program for Citibank out in California.  The District Manager told me, “Don’t worry about anyone coming back late from break.  They know not to do it.”  I was curious about this but didn’t think much of it until we resumed from the mid-morning break and this poor guy comes into the room and tries to sneak into his seat.  The DM jumps up and says, “Okay, you know the rules.  Get up there and sing us a song!”

Well, the guy was Vietnamese, and he sang a song in that language in a most beautiful voice.  Everyone was astonished and we all applauded, so the DM asked him to sing it again.  He didn’t come back late any more.

There are lots of classroom tricks like this and you learn them as you go, but just don’t tell any jokes!  After all, your learners are your customers and it’s important to

 Think Like Your Customer!

This is no laughing matter.

I send an e-newsletter first week of every month.  My June issue deals with one of the practices of effective coaches, how to deal effectively with excuses.  If you’re not signed up, just go to my website using the link to the right, click on the fancy “N”(for newsletter) in the top right and enter your name and email address.  Thank you.  Gregory

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at

One Response to Skip the Jokes!

  1. Rose says:

    Thank you. I enjoyed learning this lesson. Concise and to the point yet, engaging.

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