Some trainers, teachers and other communicators wish they could add humor to their presentations, but they think, "I'm like the Muppets Fozzy Bear: I'm not funny."
The truth everyone is funny; including Fozzy; including you. More importantly, YOU are funny, not in the same way that other people are, but in your own unique fashion. After all, one of the keys to relationships (romantic, plutonic or professional) is the ability to laugh together. You already do that in your daily life. All you need to do now is to take those pre-existing skills and develop them in a focused way. Here's how legendary funny man Steve Allen explained it.
"The popular conception of a humorist or comedian is of someone who writes, does or says funny things. But a funny person is also someone to whom funny things happen. The comedian's experiences are probably no more amusing than others; he or she simply has a certain sensitivity to the environment and circumstances and so perceives humor that a more serious person might miss."
Below I offer eight tips that can help you perceive, absorb and harness the humor around you.
Tip 1. Surround yourself with humor.
Start your day by looking at a humorous daily calendar, listen to humor on your way to work, display silly signs at your work location and prop up your office. Items like daily quote calendars; silly hats and wind up toys have a positive effect on your emotions and those of the people you come in contact with. Some of the items I have collected and currently display in my office include a plastic shovel attached to a neck lanyard (for boring meetings), a skeleton and a crown (my emergency Hamlet kit for pontificating), various hats (Mounty for finding someone, Viking for going on adventures and Outback for taking walk-abouts) and a Far Side daily cartoon calendar. I do it because they help me think funny. Surrounding yourself with these kinds of items will place you in a humorous mood and create an aura of funny about you that makes it easier for other people to accept you as humorous.
Tip 2. Look for the absurdity in daily life.
Fortunately for funny people, the business and academic worlds abound with endless absurdity. There are the inane policies, bureaucracies and inarticulate memos to enjoy. There's also the unintentional statements of life: you have to hit "delete" to start Windows; you land at a "terminal" when flying; and you park on "driveways" and drive on "parkways." It's everywhere, if you look for it. If you cannot find it yourself, read Dilbert. If you can laugh at the daily absurdities, you will be less stressed when the bizarre happens and more in touch with the grand adventure that life is.
Tip 3. Listen to comedians.
The late night comedians provide a daily lesson in being funny. Pay attention to them, not as an audience member, but as a technician. Focus on the structure of the jokes they tell. In this way, you can analyze the joke formulas without being distracted by the delivery. Once you know the basic structures they use, focus on their delivery techniques. Soon you will begin to notice the cadences they use, the pauses they take and the little ticks and quirks they have that bring their humor to life.
Tip 4. Read books about being funny.
Many comedians are more than willing to share their secrets. By simply searching through a book store web site, you can discover that being comedic is a simple combination of state of mind and solid technique.
Tip 5. Join "Joke-of-the-Day" lists.
Joke-of-the-day lists are a part of my strategy for finding funny stuff. Although I switch lists from time to time, I'm currently on two. I am not suggesting that you "lift" the jokes you read there. That would be, well, stealing. I am however suggesting that you can use those jokes to learn how jokes are constructed and to place yourself in a humorous frame of mind. Once you become adept at spotting the joke telling formulas, you can use the jokes you read at these sites to write your own jokes.
Tip 6. Build a collection of all-purpose funnies.
Start a funny file and whenever you read, hear or see something you consider funny, print it out or write it down and file it. Soon, you will have built a collection of jokes and cartoons you can refer to whenever you need to create a line. The material you have collected will help you brainstorm creating your own.
Tip 7. Develop some standard lines you can use over and over.
Steve Allen once commented as follows.
"Comics with this ability (to ad-lib) are extremely rare. There may be fewer than fifty professional comedians on the planet that are skilled at doing it. (Most) comedians are indeed working without a script, but there is the crucial distinction that what they are doing is recalling jokes that already exist, which they apply to the situation of the moment. This is no small feat either, since one has to think rapidly and also have a remarkable memory -- a memory car file through which the comic's brain can riffle at lightning speed. But again, as impressive as this feat is, it is more a matter of craftsmanship and professionalism than art."
You can reach a degree of this professionalism by learning the craft. When you notice that learners have laughed at a comment you made, make a mental note of what happened and try to replicate it with another audience. If your get the same laugh in front of three audiences, keep it; play with it; expand it. If it stops working, revert to the original line and lock it in. Then begin searching for another line. Continue in this manner over a period of time and you will develop your own comedic library of "ad-libs" to draw upon as the situation warrants.
Tip 8. Have fun.
This is perhaps the biggest secret of being funny. The audience will not laugh if you are not having fun. Your demeanor sets the expectation. If you exude enjoyment of the world around you, and of the events and learnings that occurs within your classroom, your trainees will join you. They will also join you if you choose to regard what you are doing as drudgery. The banana is in your hands. Having fun and you will be instantly likeable, and thus more likely to gain laughs.
Joke Killers to watch out for
There are some additional factors that will prevent you from being funny. As you put on your new humor hat, make sure you do the following.
Caution 1. Make your humor self-deprecating
The best humor is self-directed. I find it preferable to point out my faults before others do. In that way, I admit my fallibility while indicating that I can take a joke. It sets a benchmark for the training environment. In addition, humor that is self- deprecating is less likely to offend others.
Caution 2. Be yourself.
Humor will not work if it is forced. When people laugh with you during your everyday life, it is not because you have taken on a persona, it is because they enjoy who you are and the humor that naturally emanates from your humanity. Be who you are. Allow that naturalness to create your humor for you. I can offer an example by picking on myself. It has been said that I look stiff and formal. I cannot help it: it just is. That continence could have prevented me from being funny. Instead, I have learned to use it. Because of my look, I dress and act slightly pompous. That pomposity allows me to say and do fairly absurd things. The disconnect between how I look and the craziness of what I say or do creates surprise and allows natural humor emerges.
Caution 3. Avoid offensive material.
Political, religious or ethnic jokes are all not worth the telling. Even if some members of your audience respond with laughter, other members will become so offended that they will shut down (or shut your training down) and make learning difficult if not impossible. In addition, blue material should be avoided at all costs. Risqué lines often obtain their laughs from the unease and discomfort of the audience. In a nightclub setting, that may be appropriate. But in a learning environment, where comfort is directly tied to positive results, creating discomfort for a cheap laugh is worse than insulting, it's stupid.
Caution 4. Never say you are going to tell a joke.
The best way to insure that your joke won't work is to telegraph it in advance. Remember, in previous months we discovered that much of the laughter results from learner surprise that you have told a joke. The very act of announcing your intentions in advance almost guarantees a failure of the joke.
So, you are funny. You just didn't know it. Take the actions steps listed above and you too can find your funny.
Visit Lenn on line at www.www.offbeattraining.com
Lenn Millbower, BM, MA, the Learnertainment® Trainer is an expert in applying show biz techniques to learning. He is the author of the ASTD Info-Line, Music as a Training Tool, focused on the practical application of music to learning; Show Biz Training, the definitive book on the application of entertainment industry techniques to training; Cartoons for Trainers, a popular collection of 75 cartoons for learning; Game Show Themes for Trainers, a best-selling CD of original learning game music; and Training with a Beat: The Teaching Power of Music, the foremost book on the application of music to learning. Lenn is an in-demand speaker, with successful presentations at ASTD 1999-2005 and SHRM 2006; a creative and dynamic instructional designer and facilitator formally with the Disney University and Disney Institute; an accomplished arranger-composer skilled in the psychological application of music to learning; a popular comedian, magician and musician; and the president of Offbeat Training®, infusing entertainment-based techniques into learning to keep 'em awake!