The Importance of Being Funny

tongueface My mom hates photos like this one. I make it sometimes at conferences because everyone else makes a really nice, staged smile. What goes through my head as I do it is “sometimes, the whole pictures in tribes thing is absurd.” And I don’t mean absurd to equal bad. I mean that it’s sometimes funny in the abstract. And that’s what I want to talk about today: funny. And specifically, I want to talk about how it impacts storytelling.

Funny Connects Us

At Gnomedex2008, Eve Maler started her presentation on online relationships by starting with some of the nicknames people have given her. One was “Hermione Granger,” because people say she’s detail oriented and bossy. Think about this as an open. She’s given us something that at once makes us smirk because it helps us relate.

Another presentation used Japanese Manga art around the creation of Cup o’ Noodles soup (sorry, I don’t have the details on the person who gave it, but he was really well done) and how it relates to startup culture. Funny. All the way through, we laughed *and* learned. It helped us relate.

Funny is a Storytelling Technique

Many people learn best from stories. If I share a fact, the fact is just a data point. If I tell you a story around it, you’ll remember the story and that will help you remember the fact.

I once had a business teacher, Ken Hadge. Ken walked slowly into the classroom (as if he had a back injury), looked us all over, and sat slowly behind the desk. He put his feet up, on the desk, took in a deep breath, slowly, and then let it out. Slowly. Ken was in his fifties, wore a really old fashioned suit, and had an old, beaten down brown briefcase. His first words to me (and the classroom):

“Out in that parking lot, next to your beat down old Toyotas and Chevettes is a brand new Lincoln Contintental. I bought it last week. I buy a new car every few months. I know more about business than you, and I make a lot of money doing it. I’ll tell you some of what I know, because that’s why I bother coming here. It’s your job to learn.”

I remember every word he taught, because he gave us ways to remember it that came off as funny. Here’s an example. Project management. He said, “You might go on to learn some really complex things about project management. That’s all well and good, but here’s the real basics: plenty of delicious Canadian Club.”

Huh?

Planning. Organizing. Directing. Coordinating. Controlling. (PODCC = Plenty Of Delicious Canadian Club).

Ken didn’t tell us jokes. He was funny by the very nature of all that he did. He was a perfect Wes Anderson character from a movie not yet produced. But because he was funny, and because he used that as his educational storytelling, I learned. And I retained. And I related. And I remembered.

By the way, will YOU remember my story about Ken Hadge?

Takeaway Points

In presenting information to people, which includes blogging, speeches, meetings, and the like, humor is a great tool to build a relationship bridge. Not all of us are funny. Not all causes are funny, but boy, you sure can try. For instance, Can thyroid cancer be funny?

Funny can make things memorable. Memory is an important glue to our ability to recall, and then reprocess, and resynthesize information that we don’t need all the time.

And funny his human. We like humans. If you’ve not yet noticed a secret hidden underlying theme, one is that rediscovering the business importance of being human is vital to success in the coming years.

Do you agree? Am I way off on a limb here? And if a limb falls and I’m on it, will I be in the forest?

Photo credit, Randy Stewart of Stewtopia

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  • http://www.adversityuniversityblog.com Stephen Hopson

    Chris, you’re right – it’s important to be funny or at least humorous when telling stories b/c it helps people relate.

    As you already know, I’m an inspirational speaker and I have learned how to tell stories around certain points. I don’t bill myself as a comedian, just naturally humorous and I’ve found it to help bridge whatever gap there might be between myself and the audience (perceived gaps or whatnot).

    For instance, I tell the story about getting snookered by a hooker one night because of my refusal to accept my hearing disability (I let her whisper in my ear, pretending to undertand). Imagine what happened later that night. This is not a “fall down funny” kind of story but it makes the point of accepting ourselves for who we are pretty clearly.

    Thanks for sharing. You rock my friend.

  • http://kkomp.com Sharron (kkomp)

    That is a great post you’ve made there. I’ve learned something by reading this; quite possibly something very important.

    I had a sense-of-humour implant some years ago and I’m still getting used to making people laugh. It fails from time to time though: I wonder if WordPress could design a free plugin to assist?

    I like this blog. I’ll be checking in more often. :-)

  • http://kkomp.com Sharron (kkomp)

    That is a great post you’ve made there. I’ve learned something by reading this; quite possibly something very important.

    I had a sense-of-humour implant some years ago and I’m still getting used to making people laugh. It fails from time to time though: I wonder if WordPress could design a free plugin to assist?

    I like this blog. I’ll be checking in more often. :-)

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  • http://www.writewellme.com Dawn Goldberg

    One of the reasons storytelling, and humor, works is because the storyteller paints a picture. We can all see in our heads what he’s describing. Better for us to learn and remember and retain. Much better than just figures and theories. Give us color, smell, sound, taste, touch!

    Thanks for the great post!

  • http://www.writewellme.com Dawn Goldberg

    One of the reasons storytelling, and humor, works is because the storyteller paints a picture. We can all see in our heads what he’s describing. Better for us to learn and remember and retain. Much better than just figures and theories. Give us color, smell, sound, taste, touch!

    Thanks for the great post!

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  • http://www.matthewkeegan.com/federal-bailout-im-absolutely-opposed-to-it/ Matt Keegan

    Listen to the wisdom of your parents. They’re giving to you unconditional love but they’re also encouraging you to show some restraint which isn’t a bad thing.

  • http://www.matthewkeegan.com/federal-bailout-im-absolutely-opposed-to-it/ Matt Keegan

    Listen to the wisdom of your parents. They’re giving to you unconditional love but they’re also encouraging you to show some restraint which isn’t a bad thing.

  • http://www.tumblemoose.com Tumblemoose

    Chris,

    Nothing brings people together like funny. I’ve used humor with my daughter since she was born. Now at the precocious age of 5, she is constantly playing tricks on her dad.

    I was fortunate to be blessed with an exceptional sense of humor and some of the best comments I’ve received relate to posts where I’ve used humor in some form.

    I recently commented on a post where the blogger had been personally attacked over a grammar issue. I told her that “those people are insecure in their own lives, hiding behind their impenetrable flat panel monitors while eating ho-hos in their underwear, in a dingy corner of their Mommy’s basement”

    Cracked the blogger up and made her day.

    That’s what I’M talkin’ ’bout!

    George

  • http://www.tumblemoose.com Tumblemoose

    Chris,

    Nothing brings people together like funny. I’ve used humor with my daughter since she was born. Now at the precocious age of 5, she is constantly playing tricks on her dad.

    I was fortunate to be blessed with an exceptional sense of humor and some of the best comments I’ve received relate to posts where I’ve used humor in some form.

    I recently commented on a post where the blogger had been personally attacked over a grammar issue. I told her that “those people are insecure in their own lives, hiding behind their impenetrable flat panel monitors while eating ho-hos in their underwear, in a dingy corner of their Mommy’s basement”

    Cracked the blogger up and made her day.

    That’s what I’M talkin’ ’bout!

    George

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  • http://style-proekt.ru Seeniocotttak

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    Funny can make things memorable. Memory is an important glue to our ability to recall, and then reprocess, and resynthesize information that we don’t need all the time.

  • Peter Billingham

    Reading through The Impact Equation came across the Ken Hadge story and the passage on metaphors – nearly five years old the story of Planning.
    Organizing. Directing. Coordinating. Controlling. (PODCC = Plenty Of Delicious
    Canadian Club) – shows how good content is timeless. I would love to have met him, sounds like a great teacher. I had one like that, he was called John Oxley, a 6ft something imposing character, told me the story of Mary’s cat syndrome – involved kicking a cat (metaphorically) never forgot the story.