Make Them Laugh: How to Tell a Joke on Zoom

From the old knock-knock jokes we used to tell as kids to stories that make light of the workplace, everyone loves a good joke. Using humor is one of the best ways to get people engaged. And when you add a friendly, “jokey” tone you let listeners know your presentation won’t be one huge bore.

But even if you’re a natural joke teller and known as the office comedian, it can be a challenge to make a joke come alive on Zoom. Why? First, your audience is often muted, especially if there is a large group. So that contagious ripple effect of laughter is shut off at the source. And if they are not muted, your audience’s response is typically delayed by a few seconds. There’s nothing worse than telling a joke, hitting a perfect punchline, and then having to wait 3…4…5 seconds in dead silence for a response. In that moment, a few seconds feels like years. You second guess yourself. “Did I blow it?” you wonder. It’s unnerving and the key reason why even people who are naturally funny shy away from telling jokes during their virtual business presentations.

So here are a few tips to help you create side splitting jokes and hilarious stories that work on the virtual platform.

  • Know your audience: Analyzing your audience is important for any presentation, but you have to be especially tuned in when telling a joke. In other words, tell the right joke to the right crowd. For example, you may have a great joke about your kids, but if your younger audience doesn’t have children, it will fall flat. Likewise, if you make a joke about a meme, the older crowd might not get it.

  • Create a dramatic set up: Set the stage for spectacle. Your joke must have elements of reality coupled with elements of exaggeration. So go ahead and overstate, inflate, and elaborate. Make a mountain out of a molehill and blow it out of proportion. Don’t worry … you won’t be accused of lying because you are telling a joke. Just remember to balance between the realistic elements of the joke and those that are completely, deliciously exaggerated.  

  • Cross the finish line with a punchline: The ending is why people listen, so make sure to craft your joke’s ending with care. The funniest punchlines are completely unexpected—the “I didn’t see that one coming” twist. Or use the technique of creating one surprise followed by another one. Comedians call this a “tag.” I use a boxing metaphor and call it the “one-two punch.”

  • Make it your own: Even if you heard the joke from another person, give it your own personal flair. Make it be about you, someone you know, or something that happened to you instead of the person who told it. Professional speakers tell their “signature” stories as if they were part of their ancestral heritage, even if the stories are totally fabricated. Jokes are made to be spun into your own personal gold.

Once you have the joke’s content complete, you now have to master the delivery. This is where practice and editing come in. As you practice, pay attention to your rhythm and timing. And keep a good balance between the build-up and the punchline.

Finally, when giving a virtual presentation, make sure your facial expression matches the funny story you’re telling. Then, when you land the punchline and end the joke, laugh! That’s right. Laugh at your own joke for at least 5 seconds while you let the crowd catch up. You might not be able to hear those ripples of laughter, but you will see smiling faces, heads thrown back with delight, and mouths wide open with glee. That’s what a Zoom laugh looks like. And that’s when you know you nailed it.

Humor is a wonderful addition to almost any meeting, but it’s a lifesaver on Zoom. People expect to be bored during virtual meetings. So surprise them. Make them laugh. As Barbara Walters once said, “A good laugh makes any conversation so much better."

Click here for a free worksheet that will help you plan your funny moments.