I was shocked, but not surprised, to read a recent CommPRO guest blog authored by Robert Geline of 144 Media entitled, 'When, if ever, is the right time to use humor in a presentation?'
The author said he thinks it's “…O.K. to go for a laugh, but the joke or story you're telling must have a direct connection to the major point you are making. Even if the material is relevant to the content of your talk, you are still taking a potentially unacceptable risk.” To which I replay, 'Balderdash!'
In fact, Geline's antiquated, stultifying POV is precisely WHY so many business presentations are as dull as dishwater.
To support his 'funny as a crutch' viewpoint, Geline cited the case study of a cardiologist who addressed a group of peers and used a highly inappropriate joke that bombed and undermined his credibility. Fair enough. It is absolutely critical to understand one's audience before injecting humor but, when properly applied, it's a game changer.
Here's a case in point: I just shared an Inc. Magazine panel with two other successful entrepreneurs. We were speaking in front of 75 or so other entrepreneurs and asked to address the subject: Creating a great workplace culture.
Not surprisingly, the other panelists cited the usual perks such as spot bonuses, extra days off and holiday parties. I spoke about similar topics, but also admitted I'd shamelessly stolen a great idea from Google called Dream Day. Not only did the audience appreciate my honesty and laugh at what Geline may call a joke, but they began listening much more intently to what I had to share.
Later on, one panelist boasted that he plied his troops with liquor each and every week. That, he said, sure seemed to improve their morale.
Because I embrace humor and use it as a strategic business weapon, I immediately escalated the conversation. I interjected, “You think that's cutting-edge? We've converted our kitchen to a crystal meth lab. You wouldn't believe the increased productivity.” After a second or two, the audience roared its approval.
So, Mr. Geline, guess which of the three panelists was besieged by audience members afterwards? The question’s rhetorical of course, but my use of humor made me seem more genuine and approachable to audience members. And, that’s a huge advantage in business.
I'm glad there are so many marketing and PR executives like Robert Geline who take themselves and their work far too seriously. It makes it that much easier for cool, casual and collegial firms such as mine to build rapport (and win business).
Geline is right about one thing, though. It is fundamental to first understand the audience and, second, to 'read' their non-verbals the way a comedian or actor trained in improvisation would. I'd never use the crystal meth line in a meeting of, say, CFOs, CMOs or even cardiologists. But, it was spot-on for the high-flying, take no prisoners mentality of the average entrepreneur. And, how did I know that, Mr. Geline? Because I understood my audience.
So, have you heard the joke about the marketer who took himself too seriously? He cried all the way to the bank.