Winter is taking a toll on all of us. From snow to ice to mudslides, potholes, and school closings, it seems that no matter where you are located—the weather has been difficult. So naturally, we’re looking for things to laugh at. We need humor.

Humor is a serious thing. I like to think of it as one of our greatest earliest natural resources, which must be preserved at all cost. – James Thurber

Humor, defined by Merriam-Webster as “the mental faculty of discovering, expressing, or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous,” can be an effective tool in business communications from public speaking to print, blogging, video, and podcast. And, while the jokes can go fabulously wrong if used judiciously, humor can:

  • Break the ice
  • Reduce hostility
  • Soften the blow
  • Set the tone
  • Improve morale
  • Engage audiences

However, it’s vital to follow these six rules as you add humor to your business communications, for your own presentations or on behalf of your clients:

  1. Know your audience
  2. Be brief
  3. Use appropriate language
  4. Tie the humorous reference to something your audience is interested in
  5. Stay positive and stay away from any references that might offend
  6. Know your audience

Humor can alter any situation and help us cope at the very instant we are laughing. – Allen Klein

Case in point: a PRSA meeting last month.

We’ve all been to those professional meetings, right? You know, where we sit at round tables and make polite, slightly strained conversation while trying not to check the time or our email too obviously.

After all, time is money and we’ve left a long to-do list behind at the office.

At this meeting, our chapter president stood up and said she wanted each of us to introduce ourselves and describe the location and condition of the worst potholes in the area. Everyone burst out laughing and the tone of the room changed utterly. People sat up and listened, agreeing with pothole assessments or calling out ones that were even worse.

In one fell swoop, she captured our attention. She broke the ice, lifted the mood and got us talking to each other at our tables and across the room. By interjecting a humorous reference to something we’re all sick of dealing with, she woke up the meeting. The subsequent round table discussions were lively and fun for everyone. People even stated they wished the sessions could have gone longer.

Humor can communicate difficult messages.

As this winter goes on and on and on, school administrators communicate daily and weekly with parents, teachers, and employees about snow days. These communications have become boring and frustrating—for the administrators to deliver and for the parents, teachers and other employees, to hear. Not, perhaps for the kids.

In answer to this, a new genre of educational communications appears to be developing: the humorous “No school tomorrow due to snow” messaging, delivered by a phone call and captured on video.

James Detwiler, an elementary school principal in Burlington, Ky., started the movement by singing his school closing announcement to the tune of “Tomorrow” from the musical “Annie.” Detweiler’s next school closing announcement sung, with school drama teacher, Chad Caddell, was to “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. The video of this performance was posted to YouTube and featured in national media. It enjoyed more than 2 million views but has since been removed by YouTube.

Other schools have joined the program. The Roxbury High School’s Classic Sounds Honors Choir sang in the background of the Superintendent Patrick Tierney’s announcement. Head of Durham Academy, Michael Ulku-Steiner, and Assistant Head of School/Upper School Director Lee Hark rapped to a modified version of “Ice, Ice, Baby”.

Apparently, Mr. Detwiler had an additional motive for his musical announcements. He was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as wanting to beef up the school’s use of technology and to teach students about using social media in a responsible way.

Bottom line?

Humor wins the day in business communications when used strategically. Remember, follow those all important guidelines listed above—especially numbers one and six.

And for great insights into using humor effectively in social media, read this post from Bob LeDrew, principal consultant at Translucid Communications in Ottawa, Canada.

But wait! Winter isn’t over yet. Stay tuned. Who knows what else may develop?

This post was first published on the blog.

Image: Matthew Grapengieser  (Creative Commons)