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Public Speaking Skills: 

How to Deliver a Punch Line

The punch line derives its name from the technique used to deliver it. You must punch the line out a little harder and with a slightly different voice than the rest of the joke. Try leaning into the microphone and say it louder and more clearly than you said the other lines that set the joke up. If the audience does not hear the punch line, they are not going to laugh. Just before the punch line you should pause slightly (see Timing article on this website) to emphasize and draw special attention to what you are about to say. Learning to deliver a punch line well should be part of your public speaking skills.

After you deliver the line, don't utter another sound. Give the
audience a chance to laugh. Words or phrases appended to the climax
tend to delay or impede laughter. Until you get some experience, it is
really tough to wait. Beginners tend to be afraid that no laughter will
come, so they keep going. If you keep talking during this period, you
will easily squelch the laughter. As your confidence builds, pausing
will become easier and easier. Sometimes waiting the audience out will
actually give them a cue to laugh even if the joke wasn't that great.
This public speaking skill includes emphasis, timing, and silence.

Deliver the line to one person.

When you deliver your punch line, deliver it to one person and one
person only. It doesn't matter how large the crowd is, you can look one
person right in the eye and deliver your line.

As you master this public speaking skill you learn the person to whom
you deliver the punch line is NOT randomly chosen. I deliver punch
lines to a person I know is going to laugh. How do I know? I pay
attention. That's how I know. It all starts with my pre-program
research. If I have spoken to any of the audience members and they were
laughing with me on the phone, I'll seek them out before the program so
I know where they are sitting. That way I can look directly at them
during the program. Before the program starts, I mingle with the
participants, not only to meet them, but to see who is and who is not
in fun (mingling with them helps to put them in fun (see the "in fun" article on this website).

Also I like to watch the audience while the emcee or program coordinator
is talking. This gives me a mental note of the people who are not only
having fun, but are also paying close attention to the person speaking.
Again, knowing your audience is an important part to your public speaking skills.

Watch out for alcohol

Don't be fooled by an audience who appears to be having great fun. It
could very likely have been induced by alcohol at their social hour.
They may be oblivious to what's happening on-stage.

Head nods

After you have begun your presentation, another way to tell who to
deliver to is by closely watching the audience. Some audience members
who are really in tune with what you are saying will nod their head
gently in approval. You should have great success delivering to these
people. Your public speaking skills should include seeing who is most
receptive to your message, to help you lead the others in the audience.

Why deliver to the laughers?

There are two reasons for delivering your punch line to someone you
know will laugh. The most important is that you want that person to be
a good example for the rest of the audience. If you direct a punch line
or comment to a person in the audience, the other members of the
audience will naturally look in that direction. If they see someone
laughing, there is a high probability they will laugh too. If you
deliver your line to some sourpuss that hasn't laughed for 20 years,
the rest of the audience will see an example of someone NOT laughing
and they will be negatively influenced.

A 1976 study by Antony Chapman and D. S. Wright supports the notion
that the lack of laughter or inappropriate laughter (the kind of
laughter you would get if you pick on someone or some group
inappropriately and they laugh to save face) are inhibitors of
laughter. Being aware of studies on how people react is part of your
mastery of your public speaking skills.

The second reason for delivering your punch line to someone you know
will laugh has to do with confidence. There is little chance that you
will get old sourpuss to laugh no matter what you do. If you kill
yourself trying and fail, as you probably will, it will knock your
confidence level and affect the rest of your performance. Combine this
with the fact that you will be ignoring the rest of the audience, who
will be watching this person not laugh, and you'll be quickly swinging
in the wind. Deliver to the ones that appreciate you! Approval aides
confidence, and makes you a professional with great public speaking skills.


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