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://worldofslippy.blogspot.com Slippy Lane

    Given all the facts, and taking your point of view into account, it depends on which limb falls off. Still, whether it’s an arm or a leg, you need a lumberjack refresher course.

  • http://worldofslippy.blogspot.com Slippy Lane

    Given all the facts, and taking your point of view into account, it depends on which limb falls off. Still, whether it’s an arm or a leg, you need a lumberjack refresher course.

  • http://mattb4rd.com/eloi Matt

    Great post!

    2 Rules; 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
    2. Everything is small stuff

    Everything (almost) is fodder for jokes, and even those things that aren’t appropriate to joke about often become appropriate with time.

    Regards,

    Matt

  • http://mattb4rd.com/eloi Matt

    Great post!

    2 Rules; 1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
    2. Everything is small stuff

    Everything (almost) is fodder for jokes, and even those things that aren’t appropriate to joke about often become appropriate with time.

    Regards,

    Matt

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    I think it comes down to not taking yourself or life to seriously. Obviously there are things/situations that are very serious and require serious attention, but being funny and being a person who can teach others through humor takes an ability to not take one self to serious – and that can be a challenge in the world we live in.

    Anyone have thoughts on how to develop the skills of storytelling & humor??

    They are both great skills that some are born with … while others have to develop.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    I think it comes down to not taking yourself or life to seriously. Obviously there are things/situations that are very serious and require serious attention, but being funny and being a person who can teach others through humor takes an ability to not take one self to serious – and that can be a challenge in the world we live in.

    Anyone have thoughts on how to develop the skills of storytelling & humor??

    They are both great skills that some are born with … while others have to develop.

  • http://writerdad.com Writer Dad

    Make them laugh, and you can make them breakfast.

  • http://writerdad.com Writer Dad

    Make them laugh, and you can make them breakfast.

  • http://www.camprunapup.com Katybeth

    I love a good story, and one that makes me laugh is even better. Strong well told stories from lecturer experience always drawn me in usually leave me wanting more. My son’s whole education (Waldorf education) is based on story telling and the retention level–even for subjects he find less than interesting is amazing.

  • http://www.camprunapup.com Katybeth

    I love a good story, and one that makes me laugh is even better. Strong well told stories from lecturer experience always drawn me in usually leave me wanting more. My son’s whole education (Waldorf education) is based on story telling and the retention level–even for subjects he find less than interesting is amazing.

  • Mom Brogan

    As I told you so often when you were growing up, no matter what you look like, I will always love you.

  • Dad

    Like what your mother says … ditto …

  • Mom Brogan

    As I told you so often when you were growing up, no matter what you look like, I will always love you.

  • Dad

    Like what your mother says … ditto …

  • kat

    try to fall asleep with a smile on your face
    it’s tricky!
    your audience knows that

  • kat

    try to fall asleep with a smile on your face
    it’s tricky!
    your audience knows that

  • http://www.thodla.com Dorai Thodla

    That is a nice story. Being funny is not easy, but worth every bit of effort you put into it. I agree that it is a great way to have facts stick since they are associated with humor.

    I try it a lot (mostly self deprecating) and seems to work almost all the time. It also lightens the mood a bit and you feel a bit chummy.

  • http://www.thodla.com Dorai Thodla

    That is a nice story. Being funny is not easy, but worth every bit of effort you put into it. I agree that it is a great way to have facts stick since they are associated with humor.

    I try it a lot (mostly self deprecating) and seems to work almost all the time. It also lightens the mood a bit and you feel a bit chummy.

  • http://thecyclingartist.com Tina Mammoser

    Love the photo Chris! My brother and I do a photobooth session of silly faces each time I visit the old ‘home’ (Chicago) and my mom rolls her eyes at us. So maybe it’s just mothers. (Hi Mom Brogan!)

    But as you say things like this show us a human, a real person who isn’t always in serious business mode. I had a photosession for my portfolio and the image I decided to use online is the one silly one. It brings a bit of lightheartedness to my professional listings and writing online. Perhaps it doesn’t need to always be flat-out humour, but just a little lightening of the mood.

  • http://thecyclingartist.com Tina Mammoser

    Love the photo Chris! My brother and I do a photobooth session of silly faces each time I visit the old ‘home’ (Chicago) and my mom rolls her eyes at us. So maybe it’s just mothers. (Hi Mom Brogan!)

    But as you say things like this show us a human, a real person who isn’t always in serious business mode. I had a photosession for my portfolio and the image I decided to use online is the one silly one. It brings a bit of lightheartedness to my professional listings and writing online. Perhaps it doesn’t need to always be flat-out humour, but just a little lightening of the mood.

  • http://plushiesinaction.com/ Jasmine Lim

    I love this post Chris. Laughter truly is the best medicine! And life gets by a lot more easier when we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

    I live by humor everyday- At work, personal life and even in my blogging. It makes me happy when others are happy too.

  • http://plushiesinaction.com/ Jasmine Lim

    I love this post Chris. Laughter truly is the best medicine! And life gets by a lot more easier when we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

    I live by humor everyday- At work, personal life and even in my blogging. It makes me happy when others are happy too.

  • http://www.annemccrossan.com Anne McCrossan

    This is a great post Chris, funny is a saving grace is a big point. Yes indeedy.

  • http://www.annemccrossan.com Anne McCrossan

    This is a great post Chris, funny is a saving grace is a big point. Yes indeedy.

  • http://buydiscountdigitalcamcorders.com/ Discount Digital Camcorders

    This is so true, I read several blogs only because of the humour of the blogger.

  • http://buydiscountdigitalcamcorders.com/ Discount Digital Camcorders

    This is so true, I read several blogs only because of the humour of the blogger.

  • http://ourpdx.net Betsy Richter

    The Cup O Noodles presenter was Jason Grigsby from Portland, Oregon. You can see his original presentation (given at Ignite Portland a few months ago) here.

  • http://ourpdx.net Betsy Richter

    The Cup O Noodles presenter was Jason Grigsby from Portland, Oregon. You can see his original presentation (given at Ignite Portland a few months ago) here.

  • http://technogenii.wordpress.com/ Kristina Schneider

    Chris, I could not agree more with you. I recently wrote a post about Humour – A Viable Strategy for Diversity Training? which unfortunately didn’t generate any discussion. But I personally find that for me, humour is one of the best ways to deal with adversity.

  • http://technogenii.wordpress.com/ Kristina Schneider

    Chris, I could not agree more with you. I recently wrote a post about Humour – A Viable Strategy for Diversity Training? which unfortunately didn’t generate any discussion. But I personally find that for me, humour is one of the best ways to deal with adversity.

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  • http://www.CenayNailor.com Cenay Nailor

    Chris, thanks for keeping things fresh, and for the great photo of you! I will have trouble seeing other photo’s of you without remembering this one!

    Cenay’

  • http://www.CenayNailor.com Cenay Nailor

    Chris, thanks for keeping things fresh, and for the great photo of you! I will have trouble seeing other photo’s of you without remembering this one!

    Cenay’

  • http://cloudfour.com Jason Grigsby

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the kind words about my Cup Noodle talk. Looks like Betsy already provided the url to one of the videos. This other video has an angle that makes it easier to see the slides.

    If anyone is interested, the book about Cup Noodle is one of the best business case studies I’ve read. It is part of a series of Japanese Manga called Project X Challenger. Each one follows a story of business innovation. I’m not normally a fan of manga, but these books are great.

    Project X Challenger: Cup Noodle is $11 and available on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

  • http://cloudfour.com Jason Grigsby

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for the kind words about my Cup Noodle talk. Looks like Betsy already provided the url to one of the videos. This other video has an angle that makes it easier to see the slides.

    If anyone is interested, the book about Cup Noodle is one of the best business case studies I’ve read. It is part of a series of Japanese Manga called Project X Challenger. Each one follows a story of business innovation. I’m not normally a fan of manga, but these books are great.

    Project X Challenger: Cup Noodle is $11 and available on Amazon. I highly recommend it.

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  • http://www.hooversbiz.com/ Anonymous

    Amen, Chris. There are a few people who genuinely can’t pull off funny on stage, and if they have any experience, they don’t try. (I’m thinking of Paul Collier at TED, who admits to feeling awkward onstage. But even he manages a wry take on himself in conveying this.)

    For the rest of us, though, it’s vital that we get something of our personality, our humanity, across through our interactions. My office is such a fun place to work in no small part because there’s a smart, smart-ass sense of humor that runs all through the place. It keeps us from the faux-seriousness that poisons so many business interactions.

    We all critique politicians who aren’t “real” — but then we get in front of people and go into drone-mode. We need to abandon the corporatespeak (“at this point in time…”) and get on with *living* our working lives as real people. And sticking our tongues out at (in)opportune moments. ;)

  • http://hooversbiz.com Tim Walker

    Amen, Chris. There are a few people who genuinely can’t pull off funny on stage, and if they have any experience, they don’t try. (I’m thinking of Paul Collier at TED, who admits to feeling awkward onstage. But even he manages a wry take on himself in conveying this.)

    For the rest of us, though, it’s vital that we get something of our personality, our humanity, across through our interactions. My office is such a fun place to work in no small part because there’s a smart, smart-ass sense of humor that runs all through the place. It keeps us from the faux-seriousness that poisons so many business interactions.

    We all critique politicians who aren’t “real” — but then we get in front of people and go into drone-mode. We need to abandon the corporatespeak (“at this point in time…”) and get on with *living* our working lives as real people. And sticking our tongues out at (in)opportune moments. ;)

  • http://stephenbaugh.com/ Stephen Baugh

    LOL Reminds me of dating … Oh that was long ago.

    I used to think think the girls just went for the “Bad Boys”

    I think in truth, they were just attracted to the ones that were prepared to be a little “out there” and more importantly … Themselves.

    Humor is very attractive quality … Thank you

  • http://www.stephenbaugh.com/blog/ Stephen Baugh

    LOL Reminds me of dating … Oh that was long ago.

    I used to think think the girls just went for the “Bad Boys”

    I think in truth, they were just attracted to the ones that were prepared to be a little “out there” and more importantly … Themselves.

    Humor is very attractive quality … Thank you

  • http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com BethP

    The importance of being earnestly funny–it’s true! I had a college professor with a similar approach to Ken Hadge’s.

    http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com/2008/07/good-for-a-laugh/

  • http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com BethP

    The importance of being earnestly funny–it’s true! I had a college professor with a similar approach to Ken Hadge’s.

    http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com/2008/07/good-for-a-laugh/

  • http://www.larissagaston.com Larissa Gaston

    I agree, humor resonates. At least it does for me. I had a high school physics teacher named Ken that was Wes Anderson-like. I remember once when he gave us a test he sat in the front of the class on a stool with his sunglasses on the whole time looking out at us, without speaking a word. I can’t say his style helped me understand physics any better, science just wasn’t my thing – but I remember him. And I didn’t cheat on my test.

  • http://www.larissagaston.com Larissa Gaston

    I agree, humor resonates. At least it does for me. I had a high school physics teacher named Ken that was Wes Anderson-like. I remember once when he gave us a test he sat in the front of the class on a stool with his sunglasses on the whole time looking out at us, without speaking a word. I can’t say his style helped me understand physics any better, science just wasn’t my thing – but I remember him. And I didn’t cheat on my test.

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  • http://blog.stewtopia.com Randy Stewart

    Tell your mom I’m sorry for the pic :-). That said, I couldn’t agree with your sentiment more.

    Humor and wit come across in both writing and photos and in general, it’s always easier to learn a hard lesson with a spoonful of sugar.

    Thanks for making taking pictures at Gnomedex easy and fun.

    Cheers,
    Randy Stewart

  • http://blog.stewtopia.com Randy Stewart

    Tell your mom I’m sorry for the pic :-). That said, I couldn’t agree with your sentiment more.

    Humor and wit come across in both writing and photos and in general, it’s always easier to learn a hard lesson with a spoonful of sugar.

    Thanks for making taking pictures at Gnomedex easy and fun.

    Cheers,
    Randy Stewart

  • 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.