I ran a very successful and enjoyable workshop last week but, as is often the case, one or two people commented – not in a negative way – about some of the lighter moments I’d introduced. Fortunately the general tenor was how a touch of humour had made the learning experience more effective. Nevertheless I still feel slightly anxious about these comments when I see them in black and white.

I suppose my concern is that anyone not present may not see the true context and interpret levity distracting from the learning. Not that I’m complaining of course or planning to change. Given that I personally spend much of my time working in the area of financial management, a touch of humour used wisely can generally lighten the mood, make the content more memorable and reenergize a group.

However like all delivery techniques, humour has to be used carefully to be effective and not seen as a gimic.

Regardless of how “ad-lib” my own humorous comments or interventions might appear I always try to ensure they reflect three attributes that you might find it useful to bear in mind. For me the humour should be:

  • Relevant – clearly connected to the point being made and not just a gratuitous distraction
  • Real – stories or anecdotes bring a topic to life more than abstract comments, jokes or gimics; and when talking about individuals…
  • Self-effacing – it’s too easy to offend, no matter how well intentioned, when potentially poking fun of others. I also believe that self-effacing humour will generally make you more human and thus encourage participation.

Finally, for those who find coming up with spontaneous humour more of a challenge all is not lost. Some basic online research can yield rich seams of clips, pictures, cartoons or quotes – all useful “aids” that can easily lighten the mood and make for a more engaging learning environment.

With grateful thanks to David Mitchell, Robert Webb and Andy Hamilton here are a couple of my personal favourites:

Financial management

Communication skills

Any others you would like to share?