What’s So Funny About Business Communications?

We’ve never had a client come to us with a funny communications project. And we can count on one hand the number of times a client has asked us to use humor at all. Why is it, then, that most of our visual communications are (if we do say so ourselves) pretty darn funny? theDifference artists talk about why we use humor in our communications—and why you should, too.

Why use humor?

JOHN: Humor is great for business communications because it creates a connection with your audience. That’s something a typical PowerPoint presentation or talking-head video does not do.

COLTER: We often need to communicate things that are difficult, complicated or dry. If we can make the audience smile and even laugh, they are engaged and will remember the messages more easily. Consider the Delta safety video. It’s hilarious and people really watch it—and not just once. I don’t think that’s happening on other airlines.

CHRIS: Well-placed, clever and respectful humor invites the audience to let their guard down. When that happens they will be more open to hearing your message.

STEVE: The key is that, if you laugh at something, you are engaging with it on an emotional level. You are associating positive feelings to something that you previously may have felt apathetic or even negative towards.

What kind of humor works for business communications?

STEVE: We adjust our humor to fit our clients’ culture and the content being communicated. Some clients have a laid-back culture, while others are more conservative. Some topics are light, while others are very serious and touch on people’s jobs or personal safety. So there are times that humor doesn’t fit. But most of the time, we find the right level of fun to fit the client and content.

JOHN: I see two ways to go wrong with humor in business communications. The first is to use humor that alienates or belittles people or cultures. The point is to use humor as a connector, not a divider. Another way you can go wrong is to use too much humor. The humor must serve the content you are communicating, rather than hijack it.

CHRIS: Adding something silly or unexpected in a business context can grab people’s attention and make them laugh. Recognizable pop cultural allusions work well.  We’ve had Freddie Mercury, Bob Ross, a soap opera star, Neo, Morpheus, super heroes and super villains all make appearances in our communications.

How do you know where to put the humor?

STEVE: We first make sure we’ve effectively communicated the main story, emphasized the right key points and delivered the message. Then we find opportunities for humor with minor moments and characters. The goal is to have some fun without distracting from the message.

JOHN: In our Motion Stories, we try to establish good pacing for our humor. The best place for it is right after a section with dryer content. Each funny moment re-engages the audience and revitalizes the experience.

COLTER: Even the best video can fail if we don’t grab people’s attention in the beginning. The introduction is often a great place to have a little fun.

Tips for using humor in your own presentations and communications

CHRIS: If you don’t think your topic lends itself to humor, consider that Shakespeare put comic relief in his tragedies—and for good reason. Humor can help keep people in their seats, listening to what you have to say.

STEVE: If you worry too much about whether your audience will think something’s funny, you’re in trouble. If it’s respectful, supports your content and you find it funny, go with it.

JOHN: Put yourself in the minds of your audience and identify where in your communication your attention span is strained. That’s where you want to add something funny, even if it’s just in the visual, to keep people tuned-in. Also, keep in mind that jargon has the opposite effect. It comes across as insincere and makes people tune you out.

COLTER: Remember that you are not communicating to your “company,” your “team” or your “clients.” You are always communicating with individuals. Also, consider your timing. Sometimes just the right pause can make all the difference.