People do business with people they like and trust. There is no better (or faster) way to be more likeable in business than through humor. If people can laugh at the same thing together, they begin to recognize that they share things in common.

The problem is, most people don't think they're funny. That's because most people equate humor with stand-up comedy. They think they have to be comedians in order to elicit a laugh. What's more, they don't think they can do anything about it -- and that's just not true. Seven percent of the readers of this article are not ever going to be funny. Let's hope you are not part of the seven percent. 

I've had the privilege of experiencing many funny people. Whether professional comedians or just funny people, each uses proven principles of comedy that are effective and useful in social and business situations.

Here are some tips on how to be funnier even if you think you're not funny.

Humor can be learned

My friend, Andrew Tarvin, is a brilliant comedian, speaker, and business Jedi. He believes that everyone has the potential to be funny, or at least funnier. He's spent the past decade studying the science of humor.

"There's a misconception about humor that it's an innate ability, that you're either able to do it or you're not. But, humor is a skill that can be learned," he says. Tarvin should know. He is educated as an engineer. He confidently shares that his old high school friends can't believe that Drew has delivered more than one thousand comedy performances. 

As with most skills, there are techniques and tools of the trade that you can rely on for maximum effect. Timing, pacing, and structure are all important in humor. A joke poorly told will not yield the same results as one told with comedic skill.

Sequence matters

If you gave away the punchline at the start of a joke, it probably would not be funny. There's a reason why the punchline comes at the end.

Another tool is known as the comic triple. That's where you share a list of three items, and the third one is unexpected. An executive might say, "In the past year, we've grown our customer base. We've grown our profits. And, I've certainly grown my waist by celebrating the other two areas of growth." 

No matter who you are, and no matter how funny you may (or may not) think you are, you have the ability, with the right structure and understanding, to inject a bit of humor. 

Affiliative humor

When people think of funny, they tend to think of stand-up comedy. But funny isn't just being on stage with a mic in your hand poking fun at people. 

In business avoid humor at someone else's expense. 

Tarvin says, "If you use humor properly, what it tells the audience is: this person gets me, this person understands me, he or she knows what makes me tick."

Affiliative humor lets you tap into your audience's shared frustrations or pain points in a lighthearted, maybe even sarcastic, manner. It's not meant to humiliate or embarrass anyone, but it does indicate that you appreciate the issues they face.

Recently I spoke at a financial services conference called The 401k Summit. In surveying the audience in advance, attendees shared that they were concerned about something they called, "Fee compression." I did some research on the term.

Early in my talk, I said, "One of the things that I know is important to you is overcoming fee compression, which sounds to me a lot like getting paid less money today for doing the same job you've always performed for your clients." The audience laughed because that's exactly what fee compression is -- and it's one of the biggest frustrations they share. They could see I understood their world. 

Tools of the trade

There are many tools and techniques people can use to be funnier. You don't need to know how to use all of them, but if you can master a few of the tools (story structure, timing, and alliteration to name a few), you'll be well on your way to becoming a bit funnier.

I gave a talk recently and realized that I said something that caused big laughter from the audience. However, I didn't pause to let the laughter spread. Instead, I made the mistake of speaking through the laughter, which cut it off. 

In comedy circles, this is referred to as "stepping on a laugh." That means that if you say something funny that gets laughter, pause to allow the audience to enjoy the moment. If you keep talking the audience might hold back their laughter because they don't want to miss what you say next. 


Humor is iterative. What works with one audience might not work with another so it's important you experiment and tweak as you go until you find what works best for you. Like any skills, the more you practice the better you get. Humor is a skill that can be learned, and with practice you too can become funny(er).


Published on: Sep 14, 2018