What’s So Funny? How to Use Humor In Business Communications

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Winter 2014 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.

Amazing Laughter - Humor in Business Communications

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 Winter 2014 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 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 has enjoyed more than 2 million views.

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.

But wait! Winter 2014 isn’t over yet. Stay tuned. Who knows what else may develop?

Do you have the PR Skills to succeed in 2014? Read what Allen says you need!

Image: Matthew Grapengieser  (Creative Commons)

About Allen Mireles

Allen Mireles is a strategist and wordsmith with an affinity for technology. She lives at the intersection of social media and traditional marketing and public relations and never gets enough time in the garden. Find her on Twitter @allenmireles.

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