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Humour me

Getting more laughs at work can up your presentation success


December 7, 2010
By Darren LaCroix

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Humour me
Find out how a sense of humour can relieve tensions in meetings and presentations and improve your bottom line.

Ever notice how some people in your office are just naturally funny
when they make presentations? How they seem to know when to make a joke
and what to say to make their audience chuckle? Your presentations have
the same great information, you sell the same great products, and you
work for the same great company. So why do these people have exciting
meetings, get more sales, and have customers and co-workers who show
appreciation, when all you get is blank stares?

It’s because they “get it.” They “get” humour and how to use it. Good
for them and their naturally funny genetic code, right? What about you?

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Well . . . the great thing is that you don’t have to be a naturally
funny person to learn to infuse and use humour in your presentations at
work. You don’t even need to know, or tell, a joke. You just need a few
tips to get you started.

Three reasons to be funny
1. Relieve the tension.
Seeing stress in others and doing something about it is a great
function for humour. When you are making a presentation at work
identify the types of stress and tension of the parties involved. You
may be stressed because you are the one delivering bad news, or perhaps
trying to close a sale. Your audience might be stressed because they
don’t want to spend too much for your product or maybe they don’t
understand what it is exactly that you do.

Doing something about these stressors is more than a chance to use
humour; it’s your opportunity to offer the ultimate in customer
service. Making your audience more relaxed is a good thing.

2. Interact with your audience.
Who really likes to sit in a room and be talked at? No one. Humour
helps you engage your audience and opens lines of communication. You
show yourself to be vulnerable when you use humour; they show
themselves to be vulnerable when they respond to it.

Humour requires a response. It is a two-sided conversation, even if the
attempt doesn’t get a laugh. There. Now you all realize you are just
humans with a job to do, so let’s do it.

3. Be memorable.
When was the last time you left a presentation and thought the
information was just stunning and memorable? Was it the information, or
the way in which the information was delivered? A day later, after you
had sat through four more meetings, did anything pique your mind to
think about the first? If it was an information dump with numerous
slides, probably not.

Now think about what your potential clients go through when they are
listening to proposals. If you simply drone information to them they
won’t remember your presentation long enough for it to get a second
thought. If you successfully use humour, you exponentially increase the
chance that they will.

The list of three
This technique comes from the stand-up comedy world. Comedians use this
regularly in their professional routines. You may already use it and
not be aware.

Listing three steps, illustrations or examples is a tried and true
presenting device. Three items help the audience identify themselves.
Four items belabour your point and make it sound like you are
overexplaining. You get the 1, 2, 3 set-up idea, now you just need to
make it funny. You can do that by raising expectations and ending with
a punch.

Say you are visiting a client out of town. It’s a great tool to show
the client that you have made the effort to know more about where they
are from. You can use humour to show your efforts. For example:

“I’m glad to be able to visit you here in (name the town/city). I’m
told you have great native wildlife. I saw a (insert cute fuzzy nice
animal here) on my way from the airport. Then I saw a (insert nastier
local animal here) this morning on my run. Of course, neither of those
compared to what I witnessed when I drove by (local stadium/arena) and
saw the (insert local rowdy college or pro team) fans. (Pause . . .
LAUGH) Wow, are you all passionate fans!”

Each example builds up to a more intense level, and ends in a punch
with the last example, which is not meek, fuzzy and cute native
wildlife, but bound to get cheers from the fans and non-fans alike. The
third one is the exaggerated.

The unexpected
From the last example you can see that the setup and punch is an
important element of humour. The setup creates expectation, and the
punch line changes that expectation. Unexpected responses work the same
way. Listeners are caught by surprise.

You can plan an unexpected response in your presentation. What might
your audience not expect you to say? What question are you constantly
asked in presentations that you could twist to make humorous? For
example:

You are creating a list of a client’s needs for the development of a
new product. The client asks, “Can your product do X?” Your normal
response during the meeting is “Oh yes, it can do X and it does it
better than companies L, M, N, O, and P.”

Your humorous response: “Yes, but only when the moon is full. We
subcontract to werewolves for that portion. Wait ’til you see what they
have planned for rollout at Halloween.” If your client laughs, good. If
they smile, then they acknowledge your attempt to make emotional
contact. If they stare blankly, maybe they don’t know what werewolves
are.

Making light of yourself
Being comfortable with yourself is key to your audience being
comfortable with you. Going overboard on self-deprecating comments
isn’t going to win you any champions, but using self-humour is a good
way to break the ice. While it’s unfortunate that many stereotypes
exist, you can gently use them to get your audience’s attention and
create a relaxed atmosphere. For example:

“Good morning, everyone. I’m Ted from Acme Company. I’m a salesman. So
that means I’m going to start pumping you for information, show you a
lot of charts, and talk in a REALLY LOUD VOICE, starting riiiiiight.
(pause) Now.”

Of course, we hope Ted doesn’t actually do that during the rest of his
presentation, but he’s instantly made his audience more comfortable
with the tension placed on the sales meeting by showing he is aware of
the stereotypes of salesman.

When connecting with your audience it is crucial to understand their
thoughts, objections and preconceived notions about your topic. Always
present the problem as funny, the solution as serious. Do not “make
fun” of people; leave that to the comedians. Offensive humour leaves a
lasting bad taste. Please your people with relevant humour. It is easy
to “lighten up” a presentation and stand out from a boring one. Your
audience is looking at you, thinking “humour me?”

Remember that every audience is different, and their reactions will be
as well. Even professional comedians try out new material and hone it
until it gets a laugh almost all the time. So don’t feel bad if your
first attempts fall short. Keep practising and trying to infuse humour
a little bit at a time into your presentations. You really can get more
laughs, and it will show in your success.


Darren LaCroix is a World Champion of
Public Speaking and author of “Get More Laughs by Next Week.” He
travels the world demystifying the process of creating a powerful
speech. Darren’s clients include IBM, Fidelity Investments and numerous
associations. His successful book, “Laugh & Get Rich: How to Profit
from Humour in Any Business,” contains interviews with corporate
executives who share his philosophy. For more information, visit www.darrenlacroix.com or www.humor411.com.

Three Ways To Be Funny
A brief note before the “how to be funny” portion on what to be funny about: Stick to a topic that won’t be offensive. Don’t talk about how hot ladies are or the fact you can count the number of teeth the hotel receptionist has on one hand. Humour at work has the same rules that apply to small talk. Stick with the weather, wildlife and driving.


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