Why Jokes Matter

The most viewed TED speakers deliver on average one joke per minute in their keynote speeches. The best deliver two jokes per minute.” Jeremy Donovan

Humour is the holy grail of communication. Those who have it are lauded, those who don’t are usually forgotten. Yet it is not easy and can go wrong. You will stand out but standing out means it’s easier to knock you down.

So why should we use it when most presentation skills books tell us to avoid it!? Why should we make them laugh when it means risking our careers?

Here are 7 reasons to add humour

  1. It’s actually quite easy and everyone’s good at it! No - surely not! Look on the creative process not as jokes but as play. And we can all play.

  2.  It’s been shown that stress and threat substantially reduce learning. We know that humour significantly reduces both stress and threat.

  3. It makes us willing to listen to each other. As Dr Robert Baron says, human beings cannot entertain two incompatible emotions - e.g. Resentment and humour  - at the same time. Given a choice we will usually choose the least unpleasant, which means if you can get your audience to laugh they will usually listen!

  4. When something is funny we can’t help being involved. For instance the Thomson Airways safety announcements https://youtu.be/MtiXQXRb7o0. Or some of the funnier drivers on the London trains.https://youtu.be/9A4Xy3OWozA

  5. Humour engages emotion. When emotions are engaged we learn and cognitive thinking is unleashed. Pharma companies know this which is some will listen to a pitch and make a deliberate effort to switch of their emotions. Unfortunately they’re also unwittingly switching off their thinking.

  6. It creates energy. We need pauses and energisers to help us learn (the Zeigernick effect)https://www.psychologistworld.com/memory/zeigarnik-effect-interruptions-memory. I work with Red Whale, who run day long sessions of medical training for GPs. Their teaching style is based around humour because it helps energise a room and so land the learning.

  7. It makes us more creative. Studies have shown that in creative brainstorming sessions, when subjects laugh they are almost always on the cusp of something brilliant. The “ah-ha! Isaac Newton apple falling on head" part of the brain (crucial for great ideas) is the same bit that helps you get a joke!

And here's a quick Isaac Newton joke to demonstrate...

Physics Teacher: “Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree when an apple fell on his head and he discovered gravity. Isn’t that wonderful?”

Student: “Yes sir, if he had been sitting in class looking at books like us, he wouldn’t have discovered anything.


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