Funny business and the way you communicate
Have you ever wanted to bring more lightness and joy to your everyday interactions?
I've been inspired by a Ted Talk by the American comedian Michael Jr. He called it More than funny - and as well as having great tips about how to loosen up and generally bring more fun into your day, it reminded me of some deeper life lessons.
1. Be the giver, not the taker
Michael talks about training to be a comedian, with all the associated pressure to get laughs from people. It wasn’t until he turned the experience around and began to think in terms of giving other people the opportunity to laugh that his career really took off.
This principle has so many applications - whether you're pitching for business, having a high-stakes conversation, presenting in front of an audience or just generally interacting with others.
If you approach it with the mindset that you're giving the others in the experience an opportunity to gain something of value rather than trying to get something from them, the shift in results can be significant.
I experienced this when I started out as a keynote speaker. In the beginning it was all about me pushing information at the audience, hoping they'd like me and want to book me again or recommend me to someone else.
Eventually, I realised I wasn’t there to teach them. I was simply a catalyst to help them consider a new idea or recall something already in their memory. They chose to switch on their own light or not, and it was up to them what they did with that information.
Ideally, they’d take what I offered and it would make a positive difference in their life. My job was to give them that opportunity.
That shift turned my speaking business around because now I was approaching audiences with a different mindset. It enabled me to loosen up on stage and have fun with the experience, rather than setting rigid expectations on myself. I was far less focused on me and much more intent on everyone else in the room; what they needed in that moment and how I might help them.
And guess what? That led to much more business because people started getting greater value from my presentations. Rather than feeling "talked-at", they were able to grab hold of the pieces that resonated with them, and apply them where they best suited.
You can use this principle in so many areas of your life. In each interaction, ask yourself; “What opportunity am I offering others here, and how can I give them even more?” Watch how that mindset adjustment changes the outcome.
2. Have a great set-up, but never forget the punchline
As Michael Jr explains, comedy is all about set up and punchline. A joke without a punchline isn’t a joke at all, it’s just a long set-up.
He also applies that idea more broadly. How many people go through life in set-up mode and never get to their own punchline! What’s the point of it all? What are they really here to do?
Michael encourages his audience to think about their life’s punchline. What's yours? Do you know, or are you trapped in one long set-up that never gets to the point?
I call this your man on the moon, borrowing it from the incredible focus shown by those in the US space program in the 1960s. Their entire reason for getting out of bed each day - whether they were the chief scientist or the guy who cleaned the building - was to put a man on the moon. That was their punchline.
Whether you think of it as your punchline or your man on the moon, having a higher purpose or end game makes all the difference to how you approach each day, week, month and year of your life.
You’ve probably heard the saying If you aim at nothing you’ll hit it every time. Working towards your punchline gives focus and energy to your set-up.
3. The power of three
Many classic jokes are set up in a structure of three. The comedian gives one line, then another, and it's the third line that cracks you up. That’s where the comedy lies. Usually the funny line is completely incongruent with the first two, and that’s what makes it humorous.
Grouping information in threes goes far beyond the realm of comedy. It’s a principle you can apply to all your communication.
Writers and storytellers throughout history have recognised the human brain seems to easily absorb information in three. Goldilocks didn’t meet six bears, she encountered three. The US Declaration of Independence talks about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It doesn’t go on with another eight points for you to remember.
Religious stories follow the same format. Consider the story of the Good Samaritan in the Bible. A traveller was robbed, beaten and left beside the road. First, a priest comes past and then a Levite, but neither of them stops to help. The third traveller - the Samaritan - is the one who stops to give assistance.
The number three has been described as the most persuasive number in communication, recognising that we humans can only hold a small amount of information in our short-term memory. Older research points to the number seven, but as the world has gathered speed and our attention spans have shrunk, we can hold three pieces of information much more easily than seven.
You'll see the rule of three in many forms of communication from marketing to safety signs and famous speeches. Steve Jobs frequently used this idea, to great effect. It will work for you as well, whether in a conversation where you need to clearly convey a message, saying your piece at a meeting to a small group, or in a large-scale presentation (notice I used three examples there?:)
The rule of three works with the written word too. Next time you write an email, try three simple messages and a call to action and see what difference that makes.
Thanks, Michael Jr, for some great wisdom wrapped in a comedy sandwich. Whether you apply these ideas to comedy, general communication or life as a whole they could be a game-changer.