Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: Because he wanted to get out of training.
Many employees share the sentiment of the chicken because training has a reputation for being tedious. As a result, those in learning and development have to work even harder to dispel this notion and engage their employees. One way to do so is through humor.
“People love humor,” said Malcolm Kushner, a humor consultant and author of the e-book Don’t Worry, Be Funny. “There [are] lots of studies that show that humor gets more attention and retention, and those are your two basic goals when you’re trying to teach somebody.”
Humor can transform learning and make even the most boring training content entertaining and worthwhile.
“I got a ticket, so I had to go to driver’s traffic school,” Kushner said. “That’s the ultimate dry, boring training that nobody ever wants to go to. It was taught by a retired officer, and I was telling people you’ve got to get a ticket, this guy is amazing. He was so funny; the eight hours went by in a minute. That’s the ultimate power of humor [in] training.”
Unfortunately, humor isn’t regularly integrated with learning.
“There’s a bunch of myths about humor, and that’s probably why people don’t use it in the corporate world,” Kushner said. “First, everybody thinks you have to be naturally funny. I make the distinction between being funny and communicating a sense of humor. Unless you’re a clown or a comedian, your job isn’t to be hysterically funny.”
While everyone may not be funny, everyone has a sense of humor. It’s just a matter of whether they are communicating it or not.
“It’s the executives who usually have a great sense of humor that you like; everybody wants to work with them,” Kushner said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re telling jokes or that they’re hysterically funny. They project that they have a sense of humor. That can be as much as just laughing at someone else’s joke.”
In addition to improving attention and retention in learning, humor shows others your personality and makes you more relatable.
“[It’s] the competitive advantage,” Kushner said. “Humor’s most powerful value is it creates rapport and builds up a reserve of good will. It makes people want to deal with you and look forward to working with you.”
It’s important to note, though, that if you do use humor in the classroom, it must be tied to a point.
“They might laugh, they might not laugh, but they’ll recognize you’re making a point,” Kushner said. “If you throw in jokes for no purpose, you’re wasting everyone’s time.”
One easy trick for comedy in the classroom is using personal anecdotes.
“My favorite technique is personal anecdotes because I always meet people who say: ‘I can’t tell a joke,’” Kushner said. “But they tell an amusing story that they’ve been telling for years, usually a war story from work or weird relatives. You can tell that! You’ve been telling it for years. And audiences love personal anecdotes because it’s not something you could look up in a book — it’s you. If it’s a great story and it’s tied into your point, people are going to pay more attention to it and remember your point, and there’s your goal.”