You’ve got to be joking...

Despite my strongest protestations, most of my coworkers would say I’m not that funny. But whether you think of yourself as an undiscovered comedian or you’re more comfortable with facts and figures, the power of humor in communication is a skill we all can, and should be willing to, employ.

Humor in work communication is not about being the class clown, but making you a more memorable and effective communicator. This happens in two key ways.

Engendering memory

When was the last time you laughed at work? Do you remember?

If you have an association of laughing at work with remembering something that would otherwise have left your prefrontal cortex in mere moments, you’ve discovered something educators have known for a long time.

Laughter is one of the most effective tools for capturing attention and making something more memorable.

Classroom comedy can improve student performance by reducing anxiety, boosting participation, and increasing students' motivation to focus on the material.

In other words, if they’re laughing, they’re learning. Finding a way to weave a joke into your next presentation will make sure people remember what you say. 

Creating levity

Laughing at work isn’t all about setups and punchlines. It’s about lightening the mood.

When we make people laugh with what is otherwise expected to be a serious or dry topic, we create a moment of shared fun. This does two things. 

First, it balances the stress and sobriety of work. It encourages creative thinking, engages people, and shows it’s safe to be yourself. That equals an environment where people can perform their best.

Second, for the speaker, it shows humanity and authenticity. Studies have found witty teachers are perceived to be more competent communicators and more responsive to students' needs. Similarly, leaders with a sense of humor are more motivating and admired.

Knocking ‘em dead

If you don't consider yourself funny, you might be thinking this is a recipe for disaster. But, we know humor helps people pay attention, learn, and creates a bond with your audience. How can you make it deliver for you? 

  1. Remember, you’re not a comedian. Humor in work communication isn’t just about eliciting laughs - it’s about cultivating joy and connection. Don’t try out stand up material - instead maybe go for a company inside joke, some self-deprecation, or maybe even a Dad joke.

  2. Keep it timely and complementary. Humor should come at the right point in your talk. Beginning and endings are always a safe bet - so is just before (or after) a major point. Remember not to distract from the main thrust of your talk or presentation. We’re not going for Michael Scott, so make sure it’s relevant to the subject matter. It goes without saying that it should be appropriate for work.

  3. Read the room. Make sure that people are actually ready to laugh! Are you delivering bad news or talking about a difficult topic? Then a joke is probably not the right tactic. Similarly, if you’re talking to an audience from around the world with cultural differences or differing languages, then a joke might make people feel awkward rather than connected. Remember, the goal isn’t laughs, but putting folks at ease. 

I’ll leave you with a compilation of my favorite comedian to get your funny bone buzzing.