Sunday, July 19, 2009

Good laughs and bad

Good Laughs and Bad, reproduced from our news letter.
Wise communicators realize there are good laughs and bad laughs. A "good laugh" for top communicators is when they are laughing at themselves and using self-effacing humor.

Top salespeople, managers and executives spend considerable time teaching people an abundance of new information. Laughing at yourself fills our need for laughter and diminishes the probability of coming across as too preachy. When you laugh at yourself, people like you that much more and, all things being equal, are more likely to buy from you.

A simple example: Let's say you are struggling to add up a customer's order. You say, "Allow me a moment to double-check my numbers. Being a math major fortunately was not part of the job requirements."

Many managers may worry that using self-effacing humor will reduce their credibility. This couldn't be further from the truth. Humility is truly a virtue.

Laughing at yourself has many benefits. Besides physically and emotionally making you feel better, sharing funny foibles on your road to success only humanizes you.


  1. Your comment that self-effacing humility plays well with an audience is in my view counterproductive. Not because your example is bad, but because I have watched so many speakers ruin their audience with an overly modest opening. I believe it was you who first pointed out to me that a strong opening is the most important moment of a talk. To get up and express humility at one's ability to present a message is to denigrate the message and the messenger at the same time. I would be a rich man if I had a nickel for every speaker I have heard start out his talk by stating that he won't be as good as the last speaker, or that he just has a few modest comments, or something like, "hang in there, because in a few minutes I'll be done and we can all go out and have a drink!" To the contrary, a good speaker starts right out by saying that the next few minutes are going to be very important to the listener. Or that he's glad to be in front of the audience because he has something important to say. Personal humility has to be explicitly separated from the nature of the message, and this is not easy to do -- certainly it should not be done casually except by the most practiced speaker.
    If you can't deliver on a promise to say something important, then you shouldn't have agreed to speak. If you can't deliver on a promise to say something clearly, then you shouldn't have held yourself out as a speaker.

    Robert C. Kahrl

  2. Dear Bob

    As ever you make good points. I totally agree that grovelling humilty is not good.

    What is important is to appear confident at all times and start with confidence as you and I agree upon. But things can go wrong. You may forget something or say something which you suddenly realise is wrong (and needs to be corrected). Or perhaps the equipment breaks down; ie: something beyond your control.

    A lot of people regard these events with horror and are thrown off balance, because they feel they should be faultless (smooth and polished). My point is that when something goes wrong use it as an opportunity to show even more confidence. Make a joke out of it and the audience will see how little niggles and problems are not a worry to you. They will enjoy your positive reaction.

    Hope that is clearer.