Bob Newhart said “The only way to survive is have a sense of humour.” Learning to tap into the humorous side of communication is key for leaders who speak. Learning what is funny and how to ‘be more funny’ is a true art. Developing confidence and discipline around comedic timing, how to tell jokes, anecdotes and stories with a humorous edge will give the leader that speaks a distinct advantage when it comes to being memorable. Humour helps communication in an endless number of ways. It disarms people, it builds rapport. It makes connection points more accessible. It humanises the speaker (especially if the story is about people being able to laugh at you) It makes sharing your priorities, your dreams, your goals and challenges even more effective when it’s served with an intelligent dose of humour.
Learning to be more funny is an art. In preparation, use these six simple guidelines to make your presentations more humorous and even more memorable.
- Identify what makes you laugh. The probability is that it makes others laugh too.
- Consider simple points of humour – surprise, irony, sarcasm, wordplay and puns for example.
- Study funny people – What they say, how they tell jokes & stories and model that.
- Decide on your own “style of funny” – if you can’t tell a joke, stick with anecdotes and stories. Find your “funny voice” so to speak.
- Work on the point of the humour as much as the humour itself. As a leader who speaks (even one who speaks and is humorous) you are using humour for a point.
- Know when NOT to be funny. When it simply isn’t the time or place.
In choosing a humorous approach or inclusion in your communication it’s essential you answer the following questions that give you context for your humour.
Who and what is this humour for?
Knowing the point of your humour is essential. To ‘crack a joke’ at the start of your presentation just because that warms up an audience may do the exact opposite. Unwise, unrehearsed and incompetent attempts at humour do more damage than most leaders are aware. Remember, it’s an art form that takes discipline and diligence that as a leader who speaks, you use to increase the ‘stickiness’ and leverage of your communication. Be absolutely clear on what you are using humour for.
Have I considered all the angles of the humour?
When you choose a particular joke, anecdote or story you need to track it out to the end point, so you know where it may go with respects to your audience. Will it create greater levels of engagement? Will your audience resonate? Has it got cultural and gender issues you need to be sensitive to? What focus do you need to take to make is accessible for all the listeners. Be aware of the potential off ramps and the points of disconnect that you need to make sense of for the audience. Create ways of telling the story that maintain the connectedness to and rapport with, the audience.
What is being addressed here is NOT stand up comedy. That is a different form of humour and can inform the way you share your humour, but is different when it comes to preparation and delivery. You are not trying to be a stand up comic as a leader who speaks, you are aiming to introduce the art of humour to your presentations so they are better and more memorable. It’s also NOT a political speech that’s trying to wrap it’s arms around as many people as possible. It’s the fine art of being more humourous so your leadership is more effective.
Do I know the punchline and the point?
The science of humour is crafting the point and punchline to take you closer to the reason for the humour in the first place. Knowing what you want to communicate rather than just ‘trying to be funny’ is a key discipline for the leader who speaks. Spend the time and the discipline thinking and practicing the punchline and the point. Say it out loud, full volume, with all the energy and effort you would do it live. If it doesn’t get traction when you’re on your own, it won’t improve with an audience. Be clear on what you will say at the end and why, that’s the climax of the humour and the bridge to the next part of your communication.
Have I road tested the humour?
Similarly to the previous point. This is the science and diligence of humour. When you are learning to be more funny it’s important to have an environment that gives you space and time to test what is funny and what isn’t. Check with friends, family, colleagues and listeners. Again, if it fails to fly with them, it’s guaranteed to fail in a wider group. Hold on tightly to the point of the humour but not the pathway. If something needs to change, change it. If it doesn’t serve the listeners and the point, jettison it for the pursuit of a better option, whatever that may be.
Am I clearly and obviously my authentic self (and my funny self:))
As with all forms of communication, finding your authentic voice is critical. Learning to be you, just a more funny version, is critical. Listeners know when you’re trying too hard. Listeners know when you’re not being yourself. Listeners know when you are copying something or someone.
That said, the art of modelling is critical. Study and digest what makes humour humorous and funny funny. How do the best of the best get their point across in various contexts? Learn that, model that and integrate it into YOUR humours leaderspeak self. When you are truly you and humorous the combination is both memorable and engaging and your listeners stay engaged with an unconscious sense of consistency. It’s almost magic!
Eric Barker writes for the website The Week and lists six helpful steps for people to experience humour. They are:
- Target – Focusing on the right issue for your audience.
- Hostility – Finding the appropriate level of dissatisfaction towards the target.
- Realism – Including the statement of a true and often difficult truth.
- Exaggeration – The licence to expand on accepted truths.
- Emotion – Leveraging and extending how people feel about a topic.
- Surprise – Introducing a detail or point that wasn’t expected.
Humour is an art form. You learn to craft, shape and tell your narrative in ways that can both shorten the length of connection with people and also communicate your point in a memorable way. Similarly to story telling leaders who speak learn to be humorous in ways that leverage their message, increase engagement and ultimately serve to move people towards mission accomplishment. That’s worth the work. And remember the words of Percy Ross when he said “A clever, imaginative, humorous request can open closed doors and closed minds.” That is what we do, as leaders who speak!
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