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I’m often asked about humour in stories. People love stories and people especially love funny stories. Humour definitely has its place in business storytelling and in business presentations and we encourage you to use it – you just need to use it purposefully and appropriately.
So let’s look at two ways to use humour in your stories and two things to avoid.
Do: Use humour to break the ice
Humour has been scientifically proven to have physical benefits. There is wisdom in the adage that laughter is the best medicine. Some of these benefits that can help your storytelling include.
• Laughter relaxes the whole body.
• Laughter decreases stress hormones.
• It triggers the release of endorphins, which are the body’s natural feel-good hormones.
Getting your audience to laugh, and for you to laugh along, sooner rather than later is related to these three physical benefits. It will relax you, which will ensure your narrate your story in your natural style.
It will decrease your stress, which is important if you are feeling a bit anxious about your story, and it will trigger those endorphins in your audience and get them feeling good towards you. The same three rules also apply to presentations.
We did some work with four young graduates who had to present at their company’s yearly conference. We brought the four grads together beforehand to do a run through of their stories. One of the group, Paul, was really nervous, even at our practise session.
About halfway through the story he had a humorous line which made us all laugh. After that, he finished his story in a more natural tone.
When everyone including Paul laughed, it relaxed him and his presentation seemed to flow better after that.
What we then did with Paul’s story was ascertain if that humorous line could be brought forward to earlier in the story, and it could. This helped Paul relax into his story significantly earlier, making for a much more engaging presentation.
Do: Use humour to bring in humility
When you are sharing stories about yourself, you probably want to avoid telling stories about how great you are. Even if the story does involve you doing great things, you can use humour to bring in humility.
This does not mean you have to belittle your achievements, but some self-depreciating humour never goes astray. For example, we heard someone share a story of when they won their club’s best and fairest award, then followed up with: “I know you may find it hard to believe, looking at me know.”
Don't: Use humour for the sake of it
Humour for the sake of it is self-indulgent and will always distract from the purpose. If you use humour without a purpose you have slipped in the Joker style of storytelling that we have explained in a previous post, What is your business storytelling intelligence?
Don't: Use humour that can be interpreted as sexist, racist or political
OK, I might be stating the bleeding obvious here but the key word in this tip is “interpreted”. We have seen many people overstep this mark without realising it. We had one client tell a story about going to buy a computer for his wife and then he proceeded to go on about how technically illiterate she was and how he had to do everything when it came to technology. So in itself it was not overly sexist as he was just talking about his wife, but it would be fair to say that he lost 50% of his audience right there.
These are some basic do's and don’ts and if you stick to them you will be well on your way to more engaging business stories.