Victor Borge said, "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people."
There was once a young man who, in his youth, professed his desire to become a great writer. When asked to define "great," he said, "I want to write stuff the whole world will read; stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level; stuff that will make them scream, cry, howl in pain and anger!" Well, his dream finally came true. He now works for a software company writing error messages.
It’s a joke. Get it? If you’ve spent more than three seconds on a computer, of course you get it. You probably can relate to it. And chances are, you’ll probably remember it. That’s the power of using humor in business communications. It stands out and gets remembered.
Injecting a little humor into communications can make any message more noticeable, interesting and memorable.
There are several simple dos and don’ts when it comes to connecting with people through humor.
- Be able to laugh at yourself. It’s OK to have starch in your shirts, but not in your personality. You should also be able to admit that you make silly mistakes just like everyone else—and then use those mistakes as examples.
- Balance humor with the real message. Humor is a great way to grab attention, deflate pomposity and relieve tension. But once that’s accomplished, we need to get to the point ASAP. Otherwise, there’s a good chance our message will be seen as fluff and then ignored.
- Puns are suicide. Everybody hates them—even the lingerie buyer who gives his wife the slip and the electrician who follows current events. But unfortunately, they’re like pistachios: once we start, we can’t stop. Save puns for informal conversations or, better yet, the golf course, where bad jokes abound.
- It’s OK to borrow. Hear something poignantly funny on Letterman or Leno last night? Then share it in communications to capture attention or help prove a point. But always give credit to the source.
- Avoid the "Dennis Miller Syndrome." In other words, avoid obscure references and talking over people’s heads. The best humor is always simple, relevant and something the audience can relate to.
- Avoid using the same anecdote or joke repeatedly. If your audience is repeating the end of your story along with you, chances are they’ve heard it one too many times (at least).
Unfortunately, being naturally funny is like having naturally blond hair. You’ve either got it or you don’t. But everybody has a sense of humor. Well, almost everybody.
The key to creating an effective, humorous message is doing the research to find out what people’s immediate and long-term needs are—and how humor can best be used to help reach them. Combining humor with a solid, thoughtful message leads to your ultimate goal: capturing the heads and hearts of people. Even when you lighten up, communication is serious business. IBI