We all love to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins, lowers blood pressure and improves our overall outlook. Among a group, it can create a sense of rapport and goodwill. We value laughter so much that we actually pay professional comedians to make us laugh! What’s not to love about laughter?Let me ask you a different question: What is the appropriate use of humor in professional settings? If you are presenting information as well as leading an interactive session, there are certainly benefits to creating an enjoyable experience for everyone, but there are also huge risks involved as well. Here are some practical guidelines for the best use – or avoidance, as the situation may merit – of humor in business presentations and meetings.The overarching, cardinal rule for the use of humor? It has to be funny! The worst thing you can do is make an attempt at humor that utterly fails. This will diminish your credibility and put you in a hole that can be hard to climb out of. If you’re not sure if something you’ve planned to say will work, run it by a colleague, if possible. Otherwise, the best rule of thumb is “if in doubt, don’t.”Let’s be clear about what humor is, and perhaps more importantly, what it’s not. Jokes are not necessarily synonymous with humor. As a general rule, jokes should be avoided in a formal business presentation. Since they are pre-scripted, they can give the appearance of being used as a crutch for people who simply cannot be funny in the moment. In general, people who master the art of being humorous don’t have to rely on telling jokes. Another potential pitfall of using jokes is that you could offend someone. This violates the second cardinal rule for humor: never be offensive. Let’s cast the net even wider: never offend anyone in the room, anyone they know, or anyone they’ll ever know. Sound restrictive? It’s meant to be – and is another reason that jokes in particular can be dangerous.What kind of humor is appropriate? Humor should reflect a lively, quick wit; the best way to wield it is to weave in humorous observations in the moment. These will build the kind of goodwill and rapport that you desire. Humor should be context-specific and part of the natural ebb and flow of a discussion. This requires a keen observation of your audience, a sense of self-confidence, and extremely active listening.While some content certainly lends itself to humor more than others, a light touch of humor can catapult a dry session into an enjoyable, memorable one. Give some thought to your content ahead of time, and be prepared to elicit a smile whenever you can. And remember: enjoy yourself! If you’re having fun, your audience will too.
I know we live in a permissive society. I know this not from the lewd magazines, but from the level to which our humor particularly in comedy lounges and on TV has sunk.Take this comedian who until a few years ago was really working hard at his jokes. He made a specialty of telling jokes about first time immigrants, and those who just could not leave their culture behind, but had to foist it on other citizens and residents of the US. Originally from Canada, he now resides in California.Over the last 10 years that I have watched him, he has really become an object of pity. His jokes no longer bring laughs and in every instance, many of his earlier fans have abandoned him, because he is now truly scraping the bottom of the humor barrel. In fact, he has taken to complaining to the audience that he is being discriminated against—when the sad fact is that he has stopped being funny.So here are some tips on what type of humor deserves a good laugh..1. To be truly humorous, a comedian must draw from real life experiences, ones that occur every day. The reason for this is that everyday occurrences are usually forgotten, because no one goes out of the way to look for humor. When a comedian sees humor in a commonplace event or discussion, you are suddenly forced to look at that event from a new perspective, a more pleasant, light hearted perspective and it resonates with you.2. Humor must be elegant. I know it is kind of old fashioned, but just watch the episodes of “All in the Family” or “Wings”, or in the modern day TV, “Seinfeld” or “What’s my Line” or the British sitcoms, “Keeping up Appearances” and “As Time Flies By”and you will understand what I mean. None of these shows used vulgarity, or referred to gross bodily functions or made indecent innuendos to drive home their humor. Even racial jokes were elegant and decorous. Now watch some of the comedians. They frequently use four-letter words. This should be your first clue that they are not very smart comedians. Usually people use profanity when they run out of ideas.3. Humor should not be cruel. Making someone’s tragedy a butt of jokes is not only inhuman, it shows lack of intelligence and empathy. Why would you put up with someone who does that? I once heard a comedian make a joke about Gestapo camps. I wrote to him that he desperately needed new, intelligent material because his humor was crossing lines of decency.4. We can find humor in the most ordinary events. Just think of people waiting to buy stamps–someone is talking on the cell phone and suddenly you realize that his or her whole life is being played back for you, at no charge. Don’t you have the urge to tap that person on the shoulder and say, “thanks, you light up my life–I was being bored to death waiting for my 5 first-class stamps! I am so glad you are leaving your old boy friend, planning to screw your partner out of profits and lie on your tax return!” See, there is a joke you can safely and decently tell and get laughs.5. Humor should be subtle. Unfortunately, our comedians think they need to be in your face. Bob Hope used to deliver the best jokes because when he finished his punch line, you had to think for a couple of seconds. Take his line about city of Tuskaloosa. Here is what he said—“when my agent first called me to book me there, I said, “that sounds like an elephant with a toothache—are you sure that is a city?”If we become more discerning in our evaluation of what is truly funny, we will drive the mediocre and profane comedians out of business. And that is good for the humor industry because it will revert to hard working and thinking comedians.