A couple of months back, I posted some ways be funnier at work and thereby increase your influence and likability. While those are excellent strategies, here are five additional methods that work as well or even better:
1. They never signal they're about to say something funny.
The moment you say "this is a funny story...," you're telling the audience that the story isn't really all that funny.
It's like when a company claims to be "innovative" in its marketing materials; companies only do that when they're not really innovative but want to pretend they are.
More important, flagging the story as funny takes away the element of surprise, which is makes a funny story funnier.
I knew a consultant who started his presentations at software conferences with the slide "Extruded Concrete: Wonder Material of the Future" as if he were at the wrong conference.
It always got a big laugh but only because he sprang it on the crowd without signaling that he was going to do something funny.
2. They seldom laugh at their own stories and jokes.
As the great 18th century wit Casanova pointed out, the chief rule of acting is "if want people to cry, you must cry but if you want people to laugh, you must keep a straight face."
Great comedians almost never laugh at their own remarks and observations. They smile knowingly, maybe, but they don't laugh out loud because it distracts and detracts from the funniness.
To keep from laughing at your own humor, practice keeping a poker face even when you're saying completely ridiculous things. That way, when you deliver zingers, you'll get the maximum reaction, simply by adding a half-smile.
Note: Back when I worked in corporate marketing, I used to dead pan idiotic strategies to test the intelligence of the people I was working for. I once got an entire group of marketing managers to seriously discuss, as part of an ad campaign for a office automation product, the tagline "Empower Your Bureaucrats."
Even today, I don't know whether they realized that I was pulling their legs.
3. They jump from the mundane to the absurd.
While it's a pointless exercise to analyze why something is funny, a lot of humor seems to depend upon contrasts between what's expected and what's unexpected.
The simplest form of this the "rule of three," where two predictable things are followed by an unexpected third. "I go to Las Vegas to see the shows, eat at the buffets and visit my money."
While the rule of three itself is bit corny for business use, the same principle applies: start with the familiar and introduce something ridiculous.
For example, one of the biggest laughs I got as a presenter was when I apologized for being the sole presenter when the paper I was presented had been written by two people.
I added as an explanation, totally dead-pan, "we discussed the idea of having her represented on stage by a cardboard cutout but decided in the end that wouldn't look professional."
4. They frequently make themselves the butt of the humor.
Jerry Seinfeld and Louis CK are perfect examples of this. While both have wry complaints about life and other people, there's always an undertone of "I can't believe that this actually bothers me."
In my experience, CEOs often face challenges when it comes to self-deprecatory humor because they're afraid that being the butt of the joke lessens their authority.
I once worked for a guy who relentlessly belittled and bullied one employee because he made a joke about the boss's weight during a "morale-building" skit. Sad!
By contrast, one of my best friends characterizes his career as "Every boss I've ever had has been a complete jerk, especially when I've been self-employed." Incidentally, he's one of the funniest guys I know.
5. They punch upwards rather than downwards.
The worst attempt at corporate humor that I've heard was when Marissa Meyer recently announced to her employees: "There will be no layoffs... this week."
Structurally, it's a good joke because it jumps from the expected to the unexpected. However, it's a mean joke because it's at the expense of the employees.
Jokes that punch downward are never funny except to the mean-spirited. That's why people who tell racist and sexist jokes are invariably jackasses.
Punching upward, though, is much more likely to be funny. For example, if Mayer had made a joke about Larry Paige coming by to measure her office to see if his furniture would fit, that might have been funny.