The Joke’s On You

As is often the case with this kind of thing, the opportunity arrived without warning.

Here’s what happened…

It was last summer and we were visiting our daughter, Emily, in Portland, Oregon.

I was standing at the front counter of the Next Adventure store, attempting to make a purchase.

In one hand, I held a jacket that my wife wanted. In the other, I held a tie-dye T-shirt.

I said to the young man behind the counter: “The guy in the discount department in the basement said these T-shirts are free if you buy something else.”

He said: “Hmm… I have not heard about that. But I’ll tell you what. If you can come up with a joke, I think I can let you have it for free.”

I smiled. Clearly, the young man had no idea who he was dealing with.

Not only do I love telling jokes, I tell the same ones so often that my children gave me a barbecue apron with a list of my favorites printed on the front.

And so I thought for a minute and unleashed one of my best: “Goat in a Hole.” A joke so relentlessly funny that I often have trouble getting through the punchline without laughing.

I told it to him and waited. Nothing. He just stared at me.

I looked closer, assuming that he must have had a stroke or something. No, it turned out he was just fine.

Eventually, he handed me my T-shirt and wished me a nice day.

Joke-telling is risky.

Every time you try it you risk failure…

You might blow the timing.

The listener might figure out the punchline before you get there.

Or, worst case of all, you might do everything right and still be met with a blank stare and a polite smile.

But I do it anyway. Because to me, the upside – causing another person to burst out laughing – is worth the risk.

Sharing an opinion in your chosen profession is risky too.

Here as well, there’s a chance that things can go wrong…

What if somebody disagrees?

What if somebody already made the same point?

What if “they” figure out that you’re kind of faking it and don’t really know what you’re talking about?

All possible outcomes, of course, but rarities all the same. The first two are uncommon and the third, since it lives only inside your own head, never happens.

Here’s what is typical, though: Your fear causes you to say nothing.

So you don’t publish a newsletter. You don’t post your thoughts on LinkedIn. You don’t do any public speaking.

And even when you do occasionally make a point, it’s so watered down and plain vanilla that it goes unnoticed.

It may be safe, but so is staying in bed all day.

Here’s the bottom line. The one thing all “industry experts” have in common (other than a tendency towards adorable baldness) is a willingness to take a position when they write and speak.

It doesn’t have to be loud and crazy – in fact it usually isn’t.

But it needs to be clear, confident and decidedly unwatery. That’s how you become somebody worth paying attention to.

Might you be met with the occasional blank stare (or worse)? I guarantee it.

But it’s a whole lot better than never risking a joke at all (he said, expertly).

About the author

Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping (tiny) professional service firms talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here. (LINK:


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