Celebrate successes. Most people rarely celebrate their successes and it happens even less frequently in the workplace. When is the last time you took time to celebrate your successes, regardless of large or small or even whether anyone else felt it was a success? Recognizing people is the best way to have more fun because people love recognition, but they hate the exposure of it. That very fact creates a great situation where you can have a ball. John Wagner says that you want to remember to laugh with the people you're recognizing, not at them. Have the group sing a song in someone's honor. Crack jokes, wear funny hats, do anything that will bring smiles to people's faces. That's the whole point of adding humor to the workplace. This way you will have even more fun.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO OUR HUMORIST SIDE?
Humor is a kind of play, and most of us were taught very young that play is the opposite of work. What gets suppressed along the way as we get older in traditional education and then in business is not just humor and playfulness, but other traits that go with them. One is emotional range, which I talked about earlier with reference to the number of facial expressions adults have compared with children.
Also squelched along with humor are imagination, creativity, the ability to see things from different perspectives, and other forms of mental flexibility. Psychologists put these under the heading of "divergent" or "lateral" thinking—the kind that is open-ended and not aimed at just one goal.
In his classic book on creativity, A Whack on the Side of the Head (Warner Books: New York City, 1983), Roger Von Oech gives an example of how schools squelch divergent thinking. When he was in the tenth grad, Von Oech's English teacher came into class one day, picked up a piece of chalk, and put a half-inch dot on the blackboard. "What's that?" she asked. Then, as now, most high-school kids never answered any questions. But finally someone said, "A dot on a blackboard." The teacher asked: "Any other answers?" No response. Then the teacher explained how she had done the same exercise the day before in a kindergarten class and had gotten 50 answers—an owl's eye, a cigar butt, the top of a telephone pole, a star, a pebble, a squashed bug, and soon.
John Morreall says that when most of us joined the workforce, we found the same prejudice against humor and playfulness we had learned at school. He says that one computer manufacturer has even put a rule in its manual banning laughter on the job. Ironically, it is precisely the divergent thinking and mental flexibility promoted by humor and playfulness that American employers now see. "How could we redesign this product to gain a new market?" "What if we outsourced everything?" Questions like these are now routine, but most people are unequipped for the creative thinking they require.
In the last 15 years, fortunately, many American companies have used humor and playfulness to promote divergent thinking and mental flexibility in their employees. Some have built humor rooms, outfitted with comedy audio and videotapes, props, and games.
Of course, companies are not in business to amuse their employees; their goal is profits. But have found that joyless drudges are not as creative, team-spirited, or productive as their colleagues who have a sense of humor.
• Keeps attention. Grabbing interest at the beginning of a presenta
tion is not enough to carry you to the end. You must keep the atten
tion of the audience all the way. Unfortunately our audience's at
tention spans are becoming shorter and shorter. They are becoming
more of the MTV generation where the average time a shot is on
the screen is just a few seconds. We are competing with movies that
have $100 million in special effects. We must be prepared to de
liver a fast-paced program that surprises members of the audience.
• Helps emphasize points and ideas. Anyone who has ever taken a
simple speaking course knows that you must hit your audience on
the head with your point over and over before they get it. Humor is
one of the hammers you can use.
• Helps relate facts and figures. Technical and financial presenters
must be especially careful to spice up long lists of numbers and
generally dry material. You must keep in mind that most people in
your audience are not as passionate about your subject as you are or
they would be up in front of a group.
• Shows that you don't take yourself too seriously. The old saying
goes, "If you take yourself too seriously, no one else will." If you
can laugh a little bit at yourself at the right times, your audience can
laugh with you and not at you.
• Makes information more memorable. Joyce Saltman, a college
professor and well-known speaker in the health care field, did ex
haustive research for her 1995 doctoral dissertation, "Humor in Adult
Learning." She concluded, "Most researchers agreed that humor
generally aided in the retention of materials as well as to the enjoy
ment of the presentation of the information."
WHY USE HUMOR IN BUSINESS PRESENTATIONS? REFERENCES
In his book, Wake 'Em [^/(Anchor Publishing, Landover Hills, Maryland, 1997), Tom Antion says that Bob Orben, special assistant to President Gerald Ford and former director of the White House speechwriting department says, "Business executives and political leaders have embraced humor because humor works. Humor has gone from being an admirable part of a leader's character to a mandatory one."
Tom Antion says that "a survey of top executives who earned more than $250,000 per year conducted by a large executive search firm found that these executives believed their communication skills were the number-one factor that carried them to the top. Mastering the use of humor and other high-explosion techniques puts a fine polish on those skills which can help propel you to the top more quickly, or make you stand out from your colleagues when you are doing a business presentation."
Tom also says there are many benefits you can derive from using humor in your presentations. Keep in mind that these benefits only help you reach your ultimate purpose for making the presentations. They are not purposes themselves unless, of course, you are only interested in entertaining. Use humor does the following for you:
• Helps you connect with the audience. What audience is going to
listen to you if they don't feel you are one of them?
• Makes you more likeable. The more an audience likes you, the
more they will be likely to agree with your ideas.
• Arouses interest. Many speakers speak to audiences that don't even
want to be there. Humor can help you gain their interest.
"Always laugh when you can. It is cheap medicine," according to Lord Byron. Many years ago, Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks. His answer was, "That's where the money is." Why humor? Because that's where the influence, the appeal, the control, the good feeling— and eventually, the money is. Deepak Chopra, M.D., endocrinologist, author, and keynote speakers says, "It is important to not take yourself too seriously. Life is a joyous, magical experience and laughter is an essential element to happiness and fulfillment."