“If you’re going to speak in front a large audience, tell a good joke to warm them up first.” That’s the advice that many company presidents follow when they get up to present in front of their quarterly all-hands meetings. And that’s what my company president…let’s call him Bill… did in January of 1992. I’ll never forget it.
Why is the date important? It was less than one year after the widely-publicized Anita Hill /Clarence Thomas hearings, when awareness of sexual harassment was at its peak, lawsuits were starting to pop up everywhere, and human resources professionals were scrambling to train managers on prevention and proper handling of harassment claims. President Bill was presenting in front of 200 managers, a mixed group of men and women in the 35 to 55 age group. After his rousing state-of-the-union speech (which was really pretty good) it was time for him to introduce the next speaker, our very FEMALE director of human resources. And why not start with a joke?
“Thank you all for that round of applause! It is now my pleasure to introduce Beth Libhart, our new Director of Human Resources. It was Beth Libhart who taught me that ‘harass’ was one word, and not two.”
You may need to read that last sentence out loud to feel the full impact. Emphasize the second syllable in “harass.”
Hearty laugh from Bill… awkward chuckles from the crowd.
What’s my point? Think about what Bill really did in front of his entire assembled team. And don’t do that.