You’re going for the chuckle, not the killer comedy club laugh. AND don’t worry about people not “getting” your humor. That’s a problem if you’re working in comedy clubs, but in business most people appreciate that you’re trying to lighten the situation. They don’t get mad at you. Just use your common sense and stay away from touchy topics (Sex, Politics, etc).
Here’s 3 important reasons to use humor in business, and 3 tips on how to develop it.
Humor connects people instantly. You know that "aha" moment you feel when someone else "gets" your humor? Well, that means you've just found some common ground without spending 20 minutes on small talk about their kid's school. Making this quick connection opens up the lines of communication easily with clients, potential clients, coworkers, and staff.
Humor gets people to listen to you and makes your message memorable. A lot of cats got famous on YouTube because they pawed a piano or stole a dog's bed (seriously, look up "cats stealing dog's bed"). People laughed AND shared the videos. Experts say that if you want people to retain information, then connect that information to an emotion. Humor is a great emotion to use because people will take time to hear/read something funny, and they’ll also remember it and want to share it (and buy from you!). Businesses spend millions on funny ads because they understand that humor works (but YOU don’t have to spend millions).
Humor tells you about people. Listen to the humor that people use, and it’ll tell you about their state of mind. Sarcastic humor lets you know that the person might not be taking things seriously while self-deprecating humor clues you in that the person doesn’t take himself too seriously. If you want to gauge people and what they’re thinking, pay attention to their humor.
So how do you FIND humor in business?
Pull out the contradictions. Humor is about irony, so look around and you’ll notice the ironies and disconnects (that is, things that don't make sense). Most people overlook these because they're not paying attention. A sign in the bathroom at my last company read "Low flush toilets--please flush twice." Somebody missed the point about water conservation! Comedians find contradictions all the time because we're constantly looking for them, and you can too! Point these out and you’ll get a quick laugh.
Ask funnier questions. When you’re networking, what do you usually say? “Hi, my name is Jan. I work at XYZ.” All the stuff that’s on your name badge. Sure, you need this information, but sprinkle in a few fun questions to get more memorable information AND information that may give you fodder to practice your humor muscle. Saying you work at the Federal Reserve Bank is good . . . but saying “yeah, this beats my first job right out of college selling sides of beef over the phone” is funnier. It peaks people’s interest, encourages them to connect with their funny job, and gives you an opportunity to come up with some funny lines about your bad job. This leads to a more interesting, and memorable conversation. BTW, yes, I did sell sides of beef over the phone . . . and yes, I have some humor about it.
Change the Acronyms. EVERY business uses a bunch of letters to represent a bunch of words – yet no one really knows what those letters mean. Add in a few funny definitions and you’ll get people laughing – they may even read your entire email. This is one of the quickest ways to add humor to your business communications with little effort. RFP - Request For Proposal becomes Really Frustrating Paperwork and HMO –Health Maintenance Organization becomes Having Many Oops.
Still afraid to use humor in business? A couple bonus tips:
Start small! Comedians start out doing three minutes at an open mic night because we can’t do an hour of jokes at first. You can start small too by just bringing up one funny thing you noticed or asking one client a funnier question. Then add more as you get more comfortable.
Practice. I'm not talking about standing in front of the mirror telling jokes—that’s for comedians. Practicing humor in business means actively paying attention to the things going on around you. Start looking for the humor now and soon it'll just pop out at you automatically. Then, when you want to use humor, you'll be able to find it quickly. Humor is a muscle that you need to exercise.
Do the humor passively. If you don’t want to say something funny, then show people you have a sense of humor by putting humor into your bio or the “about us” page on your website. Saying “John played football in high school” is boring. Saying “John was a great football player in high school, which was a big influence on his current career. After being repeatedly tackled by 300-pound guys, he opted for a career in marketing.” Just making your bio funnier makes people want to meet the real you!
Check out my YouTube shorts page – Funny Conference Keynote Speaker - for short, 1 minute videos, on how to find humor in business
Remember, your business may not be funny, but getting people to listen to your message can be.
And by the way, what was your first concert? Mine was KISS with Bob Seger as the warmup!