“Open with a joke,” people often tell public speakers. “Warm the crowd up. Get ’em on your side.”
It can work. But mishandled, it can also be incredibly risky — and I’m not talking about not getting guffaws. The price for a lukewarm laugh from the folks in the room may be some decidedly unfunny blowback from your other audience: the one outside.
These days, you’re never just speaking to the people sitting in front of you. Whether your speech is being covered by the CBC or live-tweeted by an audience member, there’s a good chance you have others listening in. And the joke that just kills with the partisan, supportive folks in attendance can sink your reputation out in the rest of the world. (more…)