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We often stress that your one job in any business presentation is to deliver your message. Like a postie, except without one of those cool silent MailMobiles. Clearly, concisely, in a way that’s relevant to your audience – communicate your message. You shouldn’t feel any pressure to entertain, especially if worrying about your delivery is going to distract you from the job at hand. But - and it’s a big but – humour can be a way to deliver that message more effectively. Like a courier van. Or skywriting. Or a metaphor that has passed its usefulness. Let’s move on.
Using humour can make us more appealing for a couple of reasons. At its most basic, it’s transactional – we enjoy the sensation of amusement, and our gratitude makes us more receptive. Humour is also tied to perceptions of intelligence, the belief that dexterity with words and ideas extends out into other areas of competence. Self-deprecating humour implies vulnerability that you’re comfortable revealing – not weakness, but intimacy. Comic ability is a skill not everyone has, and we admire those who wield it well – in show biz, it’s almost as valuable an asset as beauty, which is why David Spade dated Heather Locklear.
So You’ve Decided To Be Funny
If you feel comfortable including humour in your business communications we encourage you to go for it. There are a couple of rules though. This can sound like a list of ‘Don’ts’, because it is. Organisations are no place to attempt edgy or provocative comedy, so leave the fedora at home. It’s not regulation headgear for posties anyway. Avoid digs at religion or politics. Jokes that reference race, gender, sex or sexual identity are not appropriate, nor is ablest humour or mental health. Even if you mean well, what’s light-hearted to you may hit hard for someone else. Here’s a quick test - if your joke can answer NO to the following questions, it’s probably okay.
1: Would I need to believe in anyone else’s inferiority to find this funny? To phrase it another way, do I think what makes someone different from me is inherently laughable?
2: Would this joke make my listeners picture something that couldn’t be shown on kid’s TV?
3. Am I really, really, REALLY sure that everyone in this room votes the same as me? NB: this is not the same question as ‘Am I sure they should.’ Just because someone has a job in an organisation doesn’t mean they vote with the organisation’s interests in mind.
4. Am I describing a bodily function I wouldn’t actually perform in this room with all these people watching?
Remember, good comedy punches up – that is, it only attacks things more powerful than the speaker. It never punches down – attacks the vulnerable. Punching down is bullying. Instead of the postie, you risk becoming the dog biting the postie - getting in the way of the message delivery and creating some untoward hostility.
Leading With A Joke
As a leader, warm humour that implies you’re facing challenges together works well. A gentle mockery of endless meetings can soften yet another meeting appointment. A wry dig at difficult customers can help the sales team feel seen and supported. There’s a wealth of jokes around remote working right now – don’t pick one that shows working from home as a pyjama holiday but rather one that shows you appreciate the difficulties. Your humour should send a message that you’re aware of your team’s challenges and you’re grateful for their efforts.
If you think you can incorporate humour into your communications, don’t be afraid to explore it. You can talk to us about how to do it appropriately, and how to become comfortable with it. Follow us on LinkedIn or Facebook for thought-provoking content. We’re always on route to deliver public speaking and presentation training, whether in-person or virtual. When it comes to message delivery, we’re the total package.
All the best,
The Pickering Group
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