We all know that laughter reduces stress, increases energy, motivates and makes people feel better about themselves and others. Yet many offices, or cubicle farms, are serious spaces, with people worrying that a joke could offend, inspire ridicule or make them look unworthy of promotion.
Yes, humor can bring risks. But, handled the right way, the risks are outweighed by the rewards of happier people.
After too many years of serious corporate writing, I’ve tried to be funny in some of my blog posts. As some of my readers might agree, often I’m a comedian only in my own mind. In case you didn’t catch on, this is an example of self-deprecating humor. No belly laughs, but maybe you smiled.
From much of the tedious communication that crosses my desk, I know that many others need help to rediscover their inner comedian.
I asked for advice from one of the funniest people I know, Kathleen McAulay, therapeutic clown, stand-up comedian and workplace humor consultant.
That last title is not a joke. She’s worked with many organizations that recognize the benefits of laughter.
Kathleen offered three tips for revving up humour: be yourself, tell stories and interact.
1. Be yourself
Kathleen urges would-be office comics to think about the kind of humor that works for them. “Some people just can not tell a joke, but they’re quick with the one-liners. Other people may want to illustrate their point with a funny story about what their kid did the other day.” Observational humour, satire, exaggeration, fantasy or silliness may also work.
To make my humor work for me, I might leverage the fact that I’m a speed talker. When I get going too fast, I will often pause briefly, telling people I need to breathe and let them catch up.
The point is to cultivate your personal brand of humor. As Jerry Seinfeld said: “The whole object of comedy is to be yourself and the closer you get to that, the funnier you will be.”
2. Tell stories
Pick the physical details that will help your audience visualize your story. Share feelings they can identify with. Although the stories should be based on the truth, feel free to exaggerate wildly.
For example, I’ve written about my frustration with my 82-year-old mother who insists on smoking outside of her nursing home in raging blizzards. I point out that she permits me to wheel in her snow-crusted body before hypothermia strikes.
Or, when talking about saving money during the recession, Kathleen urges people to wear knee pads and a helmet when shopping at Value Village on half-price day.
With live humor, you must interact with the audience. Kathleen advises people want to inject more humor into their presentations or meetings to take courses in improv comedy. “It’s the best way to learn how to read your audience and learn how to communicate through body language, tone and rhythm.”
For written humor, Kathleen recommends writing in a conversational tone, as if you were performing, building in phrases and styles that suggest body language, pauses and other live elements.
Now you’re probably rolling your eyes and making that “tsk” sound between your teeth, while muttering “How can I convey body language and interact?” Hint: I just did.
Kathleen encourages people to test out their comedy, especially if they’re in doubt, with someone who will be brutally honest.
Stay away from the sarcasm and humor that could take a nasty turn. Kathleen promotes humor that builds up, not tears down.
Why do we need more laughter at work?
Laughter reduces stress by making people breathe deeply and shift their focus. As Mark Twain wrote: “Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit take their place.”
We spend more time with the people at work than we do with our families so there are plenty of reasons to laugh more. Here are a few.
• The bottom line will be served by decreasing stress and increasing motivation, energy and creativity.
• Customer service will be lifted up to a level of personal expression that warms customers, suppliers and prospects. Bosses, project leaders, customer service reps and sales people will connect with their teams and customers.
• People are far more likely to remember what you’ve said. “It’s like a highlighter,” Kathleen says.
• Humor makes us less likely to want to shoot one another.
Filed under: 1, Effective Communication Tips, Hear Me Roar Tagged: | comedy, content marketing, email communication, employee communication, humor, laughing, meetings, presentations, speeches, story telling, writing, writing blogs