Humor and laughter is a method of communication designed to capture the attention of others, convey important information and activate similar emotions in others. According to founder of Berkeley based research company, NeuroFocus, Dr. A. K. Pradeep, notes that humor is one of those tools our brains are hardwired to react to and is key to making a message new and novel.
In the Psychology of Humor, psychology professor Rod A. Martin argues that humor is used as an ingratiation tactic, making it easier to be accepted in a group. According to Martin, studies show that when we meet people who have a good sense of humor, we are more likely to associate other desirable traits to their personalities. Studies have shown that humorous people are seen as friendly, extroverted, considerate, pleasant, interesting, imaginative, intelligent, perceptive and emotionally stable.
Yet inappropriate jokes in business settings which are ‘put-downs’ can work against you. We are not skillful comedians like Jerry Seinfeld who takes years to perfect his jokes. In deconstructing a joke, Seinfeld explained in a video how he carefully crafted his Pop-Tart joke and tested it to achieve maximum comedic affect.
So how can we use humor in our job interviews, presentations and speeches in business to leave a memorable impression on our audience. You don’t have to be funny to be humorous. Here are some techniques to make your presentation, speech or interview with the right touch of humor.
1. Anecdotes, Observations, and Personal Stories
Find the absurdities in our everyday lives and retell them as a story is artful that can be acquired with practice. Make observations and look for the humor and contradictions in your life, with your family and friends and yourself. Try to retell the story with your close circle of friends and family and see if it works and then weave it in more public and work settings. It’s okay if you bomb in private, but if you do it publicly, you may never recover. Here is an example of a humorous story told by brain scientist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor on a radio program on NPR describing the exact moment when she was experiencing a stroke. She recalled, “Oh my gosh! I’m have a stroke.” The next thing she said she realized “Wow, this is so cool, how may brain scientists have the opportunity to study their own brain from the inside out?” Then immediately, a fleeting thought occurred, “But I’m a very busy woman! I don’t have time for a stroke!”
Starting a presentation with observational humor is the way to win over your audience from the beginning and it humanizes you and the message you will be delivering next. Key to retelling the story is practice and perfecting it so your timing is just right.
2. Analogies and Metaphors
Comparison of similarities between two disparate things is a rhetorical technique used to illustrate a point or explain a complex concept.
For example, the head of storage computing at Intel explained to the audience at the launch of the dual-core chip, “By 2020 the world will have 40 zetabytes of data. That’s 57 times more data than every grain of sand in the world. Where the heck are we going to store all of that information?!”
By comparing data and sand, the storage expert put the enormous statistic into perspective and delivered the message in a fun memorable way.
Whereas we cannot all be gifted comedians, we can find appropriate funny quotes by famous people or sometimes our own family members. My mother has a quirky sense of humor and I have sometimes quoted her observations on life. With age, comes a level of wisdom and outlook on life that is pithy and poignant without being critical.
Some speakers quote others and add a pithy observation to highlight the humor in the statement. For example, a TED speaker quoted Rory Brenner, “In 2006, the head of the American Mortgage Bankers Association said, ‘As we clearly see, no seismic occurrence is about to overwhelm the U.S. economy. Now there is a man on top of his job.’ said Rory Brenner. (Two years later, the subprime mortgage crisis led to the financial collapse of the financial markets, resulting in the worst economic recession in the United States since the Great Depression).”
The importance of using quotes is that you not simply pull them from categories on the web. To be effective, quotes have to be researched carefully for their appropriateness in cutting through the complexity of the topic. And you don’t have to stick to quotes from famous people. Sometimes movies with well written scripts have a wealth of memorable, humorous quotes.