The other night I was at a schmooz for a new media company. They were
launching an internet product that they hoped might be the next big thing. Cool
technology, big dollars, forward thinking – all the hype, all the right buzz words.
Lots of people milling about, some old friends in the biz, some newbies and the
usual hangers on and wanna bees you always seem to find at these things.
At one point I found myself standing in line, engaged in conversation with a small
group and one of the fellows launched into a rather
long but very well executed joke, and on command we all laughed and smiled,
nodded our appreciation and hunted for the next vein of discussion…
But one of the women in our circle piped up and said that while she loves a good
joke, she simply couldn’t tell ‘em. Surprisingly, at least to me, almost everyone
else joined her chorus agreeing that it was a special gift, some kind of personal
art form, only ‘funny’ people could tell jokes.
I ventured that they got it all wrong. I said that telling a joke, presenting an idea,
selling a client, convincing the boss or grandest of all, reaching an audience were
all related and that if you could do one, you could do ‘em all. All you need is one
simple tool. OK, two simple tools.
Two simple, easy to understand, easier still to implement tools that transcend the
message – the ‘joke’ as it were, and they always work. Ready? Wait for it….
One: You have to understand your audience. 
And Two: You have to know how the story is going to end. 
Certainly it always helps; in fact in the creative game it’s essential to know as
much about the audience as you can. Who are they? What do they do for a
living, how much money do they make, what do they read – or don’t read - their
likes and dislikes – as much as you can manage to find out. All that stuff only
helps to better tell your story.  Consider it research material – maybe your
accountant can write it off!
And knowing exactly where the story is going – How does the story end? Once
an end-point has been established, you can use whatever data you might have
on hand to develop, promote, sell or satisfy your audience. That stuff becomes
the incidental, the fill, the ‘set-up’.
So how does knowing something about your audience, and knowing where
you’re going get results?
It’s all in the delivery. A joke, like damn near any other presentation has a
beginning: ” Two guys walk into a bar…” a middle: “ … so then my wife says…”
and an end-point: “ … after the dog! “ As long as that particular joke, be it two guys in a
bar, or two Nuns on a bus, ends with “…after the dog!!!” You’ve got a winner!
That’s where the story has to end. No matter how you get there, that’s the goal.
People who say that they can’t tell jokes always start the joke before they’ve
remembered how the joke ends. And how many ‘presentations’ have you sat
through over the years that suffer the same painful dilemma? The audience
doesn’t care what happens along the way, certainly it’s nicer if it’s relevant to
your cause, but that’s not why your audience is listening. They’re listening for the
reward. They’re listening because you promised to give them something. In
business, you’re either going to make them money or save them money. In a
joke it’s that last sentence, the big pay off.
So the next time you hear someone start to tell a joke at a cocktail party, listen
carefully, and remember to pay particular attention to the way the joke ends.
Three good reasons for this; One, you get a laugh, and who can’t use more
laughing, Two; you’ll learn a new joke, one that you’ll be able to launch into the
next time there’s a lull in the conversation, and Three; you’ll learn that it’s not the
specific joke, but rather, how the story teller brings his audience along for the
ride, involving and engaging them, always moving his listener towards that final
pay-off, the rich reward, the grand finale'…  the punch-line.  End of joke, laugh here.
Get it?