Humour is a powerful tool for communications, but like all powertools it comes with a warning label: there’s a fine line between triumph and disaster.
Ask any celebrity, politician or athlete; the joke that killed in the clubroom could easily trigger a response that destroys careers.
So how do you use humour without losing a limb?
Know thy audience. Humour connects people through shared experience; we laugh at what we’ve all been through, so it’s critical to understand what kind of people you’re talking to, what their lives are like and what kind of mood they’re in. Show them that you know them.
Don’t try and be funny. Ok, this seems counter-intuitive but the harder you work to make us laugh the less we’re likely to. By all means perfect your lines and timings beforehand but once you’re on stage try to relax. Forget the jokes, just tell us what makes you laugh; we’ll probably agree with you.
Keep it true. Humour allows us to share the ridiculous business of being human so it’s only when we recognise ourselves or our fellow humans inside a story that we laugh from the gut.
Keep it positive. You can score cheap laughs at the cost of an individual or group but (like anything cheap) the fun doesn’t last. If you must mock someone, remember a prince is a better target than a pauper; go up the hierarchy, not down. If you really want to hit the target, laugh at yourself… you can’t miss.
Humour is arguably the ultimate test of empathy; a laugh means we’re warming to you and (at some level) already share your feelings; keep this up and we might even find ourselves agreeing with your point of view.
But most importantly, a laugh is the sound of minds opening to new possibilities, the short step from HAHA to AHA.
See what I did there?