Laugh more at work: 3 tips

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.

3. Interact
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.

Tell me a very short story: 8 tips

This post has been updated and moved to

Persuade from the heart

If writing to persuade people were all that easy, I would have millions of subscribers and way more clients. And I would write notes to remind my teens to clean up after themselves.

But persuasion takes time and motivation.

Like you, I need to build awareness and credibility and convince readers that I can solve their problem or fill another need or desire. I have to answer the readers’ question: what’s in it for me?

Personal benefits
With people reading my blog, the benefit means providing advice that will make their writing easier and more effective. With my teens, it usually involves money or favors.

Whether you’re selling a product, pestering teens or pursuing a more subtle goal like building respect for your expertise, you need to focus on benefits. That means whatever you’re writing, from post to presentation, has to be more about the reader or audience and less about you and your product, service or expertise.

You have to back up the benefits through emotions and logic. The balance will depend on the people you’re appealing to and the specifics of your objective.

For example, if you’re trying to sell safety devices to parents, you will stress emotion; if you want to impress geeks with your knowledge, you will emphasize logic. However, even if you are taking a mostly logical approach, you need to touch some of the emotions that propel everyone.

Today, I’m going to focus on emotional side of persuasion. I’ll follow up with the logical side next week.

Fear, frustration, pain
In order to understand what motivates people, you need to drill down to the emotions that drive them. Fear, frustration and pain are the big ones. The desire to escape the clutches of negative emotions like these is what compels people to think or act in a certain way. Maybe your readers are worried about losing their jobs, exasperated with an ill-informed call center rep or just want that damn headache to stop.

Unless you’re writing for a very targeted audience, you may need to tap into more than one emotion. So think carefully about your readers, then pick the most important ones. With business communication, the emotions may be more subtle, such as looking well-informed to their colleagues after reading your white paper.

To be credible, you need to demonstrate that you understand how your readers feel. So select feelings you share. Use an anecdote to explain. For example, a CEO can talk about learning the basics of customer service when he was a teenager working in fast food.

Anecdotes are one of the best ways to appeal to emotions. In addition to revealing feelings you share with others, you can tell true stories that reinforce your benefits. For example, you can talk about the customer who stopped biting her nails from stress because of how your software simplified her work. Or you can go on about the children you met who will eat because of their donation.

Unless you are a very gifted storyteller, you need to keep the anecdote short and to the point, including only enough physical detail to paint a picture and add credibility. No one likes people who tell stories that are too long, in conversation and especially in writing.

To keep it short, focus on the conflict and resolution parts of the story structure. Don’t spend any more time than is absolutely required to provide setting or develop character. You’re not writing the great American novel. Just a quick anecdote that supports your credibility or benefits.

If it’s a really good story, use it both in your opening and closing. In addition to doubling the emotional wallop, this technique can help link problem-solution-you in the reader’s mind.

As you revise, try to imagine you’re the reader. Does the anecdote move you? If not, rewrite until it does.

As you can see from this blog, I don’t believe in including graphics simply to make things prettier. But if you are writing for emotion, the right graphic works well.

A good example is the post from Darren Rowse that started with an anecdote about his youngest son learning to walk. This tied into his point about bloggers needing to start slowly. The photo of his two sons melted my heart.

One last piece of advice: Remember that a little emotion can go a long way. There’s a fine line between schlock and warm and fuzzy. Choose your stories and details carefully.

One last benefit: Keep coming back and tell your friends so I can afford to write notes promising to pay my teens for picking up. (I’d include a cute photo, but they’d be embarrassed.) Also, so writing can become easier and more effective for you.