Learning is awkward, uncomfortable, frightening. At least that's what many adults think. Learning means admitting knowledge gaps, in a strange room, in front of strangers, to an instructor just met. Factor in prior school experiences, mandatory attendance and the dizzying pace of life and it's a wonder adults learn at all.
Fortunately, humor tackles these fears and overpowers them. When people laugh, they relax. They also share a moment of togetherness. Humor should, for these reasons, be a companion to any learning program.
But what's an unfunny trainer to do: become a comedian? Hardly. It's not necessary. Everyone is already funny. Your funniness is simply undiscovered. And trainees, for their part, are so desperate for humor that they will laugh at almost anything. Almost funny is good enough.
But even almost funny requires planning. That's where the acronym L-A-U-G-H can help. If you learn how to "laugh," your learners will too. To be funny, do the following.
The first step in discovering your natural humor is to Lighten Up. Although funny is a result of natural tension, tense presenters stifle humor. When you tense, your learners tense. The few laughs that occur will likely be at your expense. Strive to present a carefree but focused approach. Relax and let the learners feel your relaxation. You're not the warden. Learning shouldn't feel like prison. Life is too short for dramatics anyway. Relax and your learners will too.
Having adopted a lighter attitude, amuse yourself. Laugh at the absurdities of life. There is plenty to be found in corporate life, government and relationships. In the learning environment, seek out the fun. Say that aside when it occurs to you (as long as you do not demolish your training time line).In general, have a good time.
Once you've relaxed, created a humor friendly environment and begun enjoying yourself in the training room, it's time to learn the formulas that make funny funny. All jokes are based on surprise. Simply put, a joke leads you down a path of expectations. The humor arises when the listener realizes that the joke is about something different than the initial expectations. This formula is universal. The more an item surprises a listener, reflects a truth in life and provides unexpected insight, the funnier it will be.
The best way to understand humor is to watch the pros. Jay Leno and his writing staff are masters. They use the same formulas night after night to great laughs. You don't even have to stay up late.
Once you understand the basic formula, the next step is to gather material. It is not a good idea to tell jokes in the classroom. You can, however, use the formula to come up with your own humorous asides and situations. The process most comedians use is trial and error. They will insert a new line into their show. If it gets a laugh they'll keep it. If it doesn't, they change it and try it again. If it gets a small titter, they will tweak it and try it again. They will continue honing and refining it with each delivery, searching for ways to make the line funnier. They'll add words. They'll take out words. If it gets less of a laugh the next night, they'll revert to the delivery they used the night before. They'll keep tweaking until the titter becomes a belly laugh. And most importantly, if no one laughs, they'll cut it. In this way, you can hone your material. Eventually, you'll have a line you can count on every time.
Handle With Care
Humor is dangerous. Some subjects are simply not acceptable. Religion. Politics. Race. Age. Nationality. Disabilities. Your learners. A good rule of thumb is to laugh at yourself. Never insult your trainees, your bosses, your organization or your fellow trainers. One wrong comment can ruin the whole event.
If you follow the steps I've outlined, you too can be funny. Nothing but your own fear prevents you from being the natural comic you are. So, make learning accessible, not awkward. Make it irresistible, not uncomfortable. Make it fun, not frightening. Learn how to L-A-U-G-H.
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 and SHRM; a member of NSA, 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; and the president of Offbeat Training®, infusing entertainment-based techniques into learning to keep 'em awake so the learning will take!