In Your Career, You Need To Take Funny Seriously

Guest post by Marty Wilson

When you’re presenting to a group, do their eyes sparkle or gently glaze over? If you’re giving a speech, are they nodding in agreement, or just nodding off? At the end of your new business pitch do people write you a cheque, or check their pulse?

Stand Up, Stand Out

In the age of the internet and social media, when successful businesses need leaders with a strong personal brand, you can’t afford to be forgettable. And funny makes ideas stick.

What are the ads you remember off the TV? The funny ones. How many conversations with childhood friends can you remember word for word? Probably none, but how many jokes can you remember? Plenty. Funny implants in our brains far more easily and securely than facts.

So, when you are communicating, if you can wrap your ideas up in some funny, it’s like coating your message, your brand, and your business with superglue for the brain.

We Admire Funny, We Hire Funny

A recent survey of over 700 CEO’s the US asked them what criteria they use to hire new people, and over 98% put “sense of humour” in the top 3. And yet, when I’m doing private coaching with business leaders, I’m staggered at how many of them believe that using some humour will damage their credibility. In fact, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that the complete reverse is true. The key is to take what you do seriously without taking yourself seriously.

Humour increases perceived leadership skills

Two separate studies, reported in the Harvard Business Review showed that the ability to laugh, particularly at yourself, was perceived as indicating strength and deep psychological wellbeing. Particularly in times of high stress, if you can keep your sense of humour your people will see you as strong, thoughtful and in charge of your emotions, which indicates you are more capable as a leader.

Humour builds likability and credibility in the speaker

Our brains have tens of thousands of years of tribal life buried in them, so they separate everyone we meet into ‘them’ and ‘us’. This is partly why influencing a complete stranger is so hard: their brain sees you as a ‘them’ and instantly distrusts you. However, if you can get someone laughing – particularly at a shared frustration or a common enemy – their brain relaxes, makes an emotional connection with you, and begins to see you as an ‘us’. Then they are far more open to engaging with you, and therefore being influenced by you.

Silence their inner sceptic

I speak at conferences to huge groups of businesspeople about keeping a resilient growth mindset through times of change and disruption, so – like most CEO’s – most of my keynotes start with the audience looking up thinking, ‘Who does this clown think he is to come here and tell me he knows my job better than I do?’

I have to get them laughing, and quickly.

As John Cleese says, ‘If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.’

So, if you have some difficult news to deliver, use humour to acknowledge their situation – and more importantly how they’re feeling about it – then you can instantly burst that bubble of scepticism, bond with them, and get them on your side.

More Funny, More Money

Sales guru Brian Tracy says, ‘Your ability to communicate with others will account for fully 85 per cent of your success in your business and in your life.’ This is because we buy from people we know, like and trust. And humour is the most socially acceptable and scientifically proven way to build rapport in seconds.

Psychologists say that shared laughter creates a bond that which transcends the intellect and occurs on a subliminal, emotional level. And who doesn’t want a deeper connection – and the persuasiveness it brings – with people we are trying to influence in business?

Marty Wilson is a former Australian Comic of the Year, now TED Speaker on Resilience and Growth Mindset for Business. His new book, More Funny, More Money, is out now.


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