No. 663



Sometime back I heard a story about this 87-year-old widow who went out with a 92-year-old man. When she got home her daughter asked her if she had a good time. This 87-year-old widow said, “I had to slap his face three times.” The daughter said, “Did he get fresh with you?” She said, “No, I thought he was dead.”
I hope this story brought a smile to your face. It sure did mine when I heard it. Of course, I am probably a lot closer to 92 years of age than you are. If used in the proper way, good clean humor can be a powerful ally when it comes to opening up real dialogue on any important topic. However, many people do not know how to use humor and it results in having one less tool in being able to communicate effectively.
In the hope that I can encourage a few more people who are reluctant to use humor to give it a try, I would like to offer the following tips and insights. One of the most effective forms of humor is called self-deprecating humor. This is when you poke fun at yourself or make yourself the butt end of a joke. A good example is the public speaker who said, “A lawyer is kind of like a cockroach. It’s not what they eat and tote off, it’s what they fall into and mess up.” While I have told this story a number of times, it is not nearly as effective or funny as when a lawyer tells it on himself.
While we are on the subject of lawyers, here is another story that makes a good point. I’m grateful to my good friend Phyliss Fry for sharing this with me. A woman had gone to a lawyer seeking a divorce. The lawyer asked the wife if she had any grounds. She said, “Yes, we have about three acres just outside of town.” Next, he asked her if she had a grudge. She said, “No, but we have a carport built on the side of the house.” Finally, in desperation the lawyer asked her if her husband beat her up. She said, “Yes, about two times each week he gets up before I do.” The lawyer then asked her the real reason why she wanted to get a divorce. She said, “To be honest, I just don’t think we communicate.” Enough said here, if you know what I mean.
A story like this is most effective when it’s used to set the stage for an important topic that must be clearly understood by every person in the audience. Many speakers and others who present ideas have an easy-going personality, and using humor just comes naturally. Good, clean humor, used properly, has a way of relaxing those in the audience as well as the person who is speaking. The most important factor in using humor is timing, along with delivering the punch line. It is best to pause a moment, raise your voice just a little and say the punch line very clearly so that all can hear. Again, make sure your stories are clean and do not hurt anyone, because that is a no-win situation.
From the time I started speaking more than 35 years ago, I have used humor for two important reasons. First, most people want to be entertained, and if you can tell some really funny stories where people almost fall out of their chairs laughing, you are going to be a hit. And next, humor relaxes everyone in the audience, and this helps to create a bond, where the more serious part of the presentation will be received with enthusiasm and understanding rather than if the speaker just launches out into the deep with all meat -- no coffee and dessert. While most people enjoy hearing some good stories, they do not want you to waste their time.
Using good humor is not only welcome and effective in a formal speech or presentation, it is also a good thing in the workplace. Several days ago I received a press release from the University of Missouri. The release reported that “Chris Robert, assistant professor of management in MU’s Robert J. Trulaske Sr. College of Business, said that humor -- particularly joking around about things associated with the job -- actually has a positive impact in the workplace.” Occasional humor among colleagues, he said, enhances creativity, department cohesiveness and overall performance. The conclusion was made by examining theories on humor and integrating literature from a wide variety of disciplines that touch on the subject.
According to Robert, humor is pretty important. It’s not just clowning around and having fun; it has meaningful impact on cohesiveness in the workplace and communication quality among workers. The ability to appreciate humor, the ability to laugh and make other people laugh actually has physiological effects on the body that causes people to become more bonded.
This is what I have been saying all along. Anyway, good, clean humor is a great thing if used in the right way and people can relieve the stress that confronts them on a day-by-day basis.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Jim Davidson is a public speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034. To support literacy, buy his book: “Learning, Earning & Giving Back.”)