3 Business Appropriate Ways to Make People Laugh

by | Mar 19, 2016 | Impact & Results, Presentations

Mexican Beach VendorsHave you ever been to Mexico?

When you walk down a public space like a beach or a boardwalk, typically there are vendors everywhere – all displaying their goods in front of you or yelling to get your attention.

When you first arrive, you may start off politely saying “No, gracias.” Soon though, you’re ignoring them completely, until a man yells:

Hey lady! It’s almost free! Come here – I want to sell you some stuff you don’t need.

You can’t help but chuckle. You look over and see he actually has a lovely collection of hats or silver. Of course you really don’t need anything, but he made you smile, and you let your guard down, and now you’re at least looking at him whereas you’ve just ignored dozens of others. If you can make people laugh, you can get their attention. And that is the first step to gaining influence and having an impact.

If you can make someone laugh or even smile, they will be more open to hearing you.

Look up ‘Southwest flight attendant safety message’ or ‘West Jet flight attendant funny safety message,’ and you’ll see a few videos with millions of views. The same old boring briefing that regular fliers completely ignore will get heard and even shared when it makes people smile.

Humor is tricky though. It is easy to get it wrong. If you’re trying to make your spouse laugh, it’s okay to miss with your jokes, but in a business setting you don’t want the room to go silent because your joke offended someone or didn’t make any sense.

The benefit of a good laugh often outweighs the risks so it’s good to try to inject safe humor into what you do.

Robert Orben, professional comic and speech writer, said “When we laugh we temporarily give ourselves over to the person who makes us laugh.”

That’s pretty powerful, so it’s worth trying, right?

Three Tips for Injecting Humor into a Business Setting

1.  Don’t take yourself too seriously

The line, “I used to think it was weird that dogs had nipples on their stomach … then I looked at myself naked” might work for a stand-up comic like Judy Carter, but for most of us, that’s a visual we’d rather not have associated with our personal brand, right?

Putting yourself down, ridiculing religion and race, and profuse swearing are common in stand-up comedy, but not appropriate for most business brands. There are exceptions, of course, but it’s not going to work unless that is just you being raw and open and it connects with your audience.

Your goal is to make your ideal client feel comfortable and connect with you in a positive way. You can do this really well by getting a laugh, but it has to be a laugh for the right reasons.

Jerry SeinfeldMy suggestion is to show your human side – the side that we all can relate to – in a way that gets a laugh.

The best approach is to share something that illustrates that you are just like your audience. We all have unique experiences or mindless moments that can get a chuckle from the audience. Being so nervous that I forgot to put pants on is an example of something I’ve done (don’t know that one? It’s time you signed up for the Broad Thoughts newsletter … then you’ll find out!).

Have fun with the things that happen to you or the thoughts you have. Jerry Seinfeld does this well in his stand-up comedy acts. “I like tiny hotel soap; I pretend that it’s normal soap and my muscles are huge,” and “You know you’re getting old when you get that one candle on the cake. It’s like ‘See if you can blow this out.’ ”

Make a note of it when funny things happen. You can leave yourself a voice memo on your phone, send yourself an email, or just keep a little notebook handy where you jot down everyday things that are amusing. You think you’ll remember, but you might not, so write it down. You never know when it could be a great story or idea for something you can use in your talks, marketing or everyday conversations.

2.     Kid humor

Kids don’t have the same filter that adults do and it makes for some great stories. A child will say it like it is, and that can be really funny.

You know … when you say, “I love you sweetie” to your daughter and she says, “I love me too!” Or, “I took my son to the doctor and he had to pee in a cup. After he finished, he looked at me and said, ‘You’re not going to make me drink it, are you?”

Kid humor is usually pretty safe and if it can fit in with a conversation or a talk, it will likely get a laugh.

3.  An unexpected twist

When someone expects a certain response, shake them out of their default mode by surprising them. My Dad is good at this. When you ask him, “How are you?” he responds with, “Charming.”

When you ask him “What are you up to?” he might say, “About 5’8’ and 185 pounds but I’m trying to lose weight.”

That’s how he gets attention and starts conversations. It works incredibly well for disarming people and being remembered. A simple way of going for the unexpected is what Jerry Corley, in his Comedy Clinic, calls it a Cliché Reformation. Look for things commonly said in your business, evaluate it’s intended meaning and come up with a comedic meaning.

For example:

Never give up on your dreams. Keep sleeping.

To uncover these kind of opportunities to add humor look at common clichés or sayings for your industry. Ask yourself:

  • What is assumed?
  • Is there a double entendre? In other words, what could it mean that it’s not intended to be?
  • Are there two dissimilar ideas converging?

The book Comedy Writing Secrets has eight chapters on humor writing techniques and dedicates three chapters to this type of ‘Play on Words’ technique because they are so powerful. The author, Mel Helitzer defines a Play on Words as “a twist on a familiar cliché; aphorism; book, movie, or song title; famous quote; national ad slogan – in fact, any expression widely known by the public. It can make use of double entendres, homonyms, or puns.”

It’s an unexpected response.

Whenever somebody expects one thing and you can deliver a surprise, you’ll get attention. Using this technique in your communications now and again will definitely make people keep reading, listening and engaging with you.

Humor is a powerful tool. Used in just the right way, it can be the perfect opening to gain attention and connect with your client, ease tension, or build rapport with your audience.

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Image 1: © Juliehewittphoto | Dreamstime.com

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