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Adding Humour to Participation

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We tend to take ourselves way too seriously and associate humour at work with unprofessionalism. In this blog you are going to learn how to implement humour at your work place and to use it as a key to success.


To intend humour demands a particular mode of thought. For example, sometimes during training the greatest need is to prompt participants to move away from a past habit of thinking and here humour can help. A simple example can perhaps make the possibility clear.


One topic of training I am involved with is business writing skills. With this the need to write in an appropriate way can be seriously hampered by old, well-ingrained habits. Try as they might, and even with new principles in mind, people may find it difficult to adopt a new style. Here a humorous exercise can work well.


Given a specific task – write a sales letter about product X to a particular kind of customer – the brief also asks for it to be made funny. Forget everything else, participants are told, just write it so that you can read it out and we will all laugh. Such a task is fun, and therefore usually approached with enthusiasm. It can be done solo or maybe better using pairs of people. What happens?


Well, usually something is later read out that is funny. People have been able to stop worrying about the need to create appropriate business prose, avoid too much jargon and gobbledegook. Writing becomes less formulaic and less formal. An instinctively more creative approach is taken. At the same time, such texts are usually better in other ways: there are more adjectives, it is punchier and more descriptive, if long words are used they are used for a good reason and, above all, they are clearer. We understand – and, all being well, we laugh (I will long remember one letter, selling hang-gliding holidays to octogenarians, created during a course for a travel firm).


Having demonstrated to themselves that they can write to achieve a particular objective, indeed that some of the things that are desirable in writing actually come naturally if you let them, then people can return to other business orientated tasks and find they do better.


There is no reason why similar twists of humour cannot be used while dealing with many other topics and occasions.


Key issues

The overall point here is simple: humour can act as a catalyst to boost the effectiveness with which a message is put over. To maximise the effect:

  • Use it carefully and appropriately
  • Never overuse it
  • Avoid offence: the obvious dangers of things that might cause upset (from sex to politics)
  • Link it to the nature of the event, the participants and the topic
  • Wherever possible link to a reason or moral
  • Explain exactly how and why humour is being used in any exercises a session may include.


And finally, you need to plan to inject some humorous moments (some will occur spontaneously, of course, but others need more than this). Thus some sources are useful. Have a good anthology of quotations on your shelf, and above all keep a note in writing of things heard, read or otherwise experienced that may be useful. It’s infuriating to know that somewhere in the recesses of your memory lurks just the remark or story you need, but not be able to find it.



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Seriously Funny