Pandemic. It’s the word of the year according to Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.com, with both organisations recently making the same announcement. It’s a good choice, too, as, of course, 2020 will forever be remembered for the global outbreak of Covid-19. Without it, none of the other many once unfamiliar and now all-too-common words in our collective lexicon would have been spawned. Words and phrases that I hear all the time. Pick your personal favourite among “remote-working”, “social distancing”, “face mask or face covering”, “front-line health-care workers”, “Zoom calls”, “You’re on mute”, “virtual everything and anything”, and, well, I’m sure there are plenty more.
But one word that does not spring to mind as an obvious contender for the word of this unprecedented year, is the very one I’m going to focus on as we stretch into December. That word is, “humour.” Yes, you read me correctly. The tonic, if not the vaccine, for many of life’s ills is humour.
That said, in the land where “the craic is mighty” serves almost as a national pledge to good humour, you’re certainly not going to see this American transplant to Ireland try to roll out her amusing recommendations for alleviating the strain of remote working or Zoom fatigue. Instead, I’m turning to funny-man Colm O’Regan for his insights on the power of communicating – through humour.
Not only is Colm a professional stand-up comedian, best-selling author, and broadcaster, but he also served as my co-host for this year’s (virtual) inspired leadership programme, The Pendulum Summit. As we stood socially distanced together before the green screen during the event, I was fortunate to learn how he adapted to online and how anyone can tap into humour to keep themselves going.
“Of course, my in-person shows were cancelled,” Colm told me, “but I was able to transform a live night we’d been doing known as The Dublin Story Slam (TheDublinStorySlam.com) into a virtual event. We’re using it now for companies to help them connect with their employees. Storytelling is always an intimate experience either live or on screen.”
In addition to connecting with employees, you can use humour to re-connect with yourself.
1) Go easy on yourself
“This is the first thing everyone needs to do,” Colm says. “The enemy of humour is to put pressure on yourself. Make light of your situation. For example, one thing I have found through doing online gigs, is yes, there is less human contact, but at the same time there can be personality that comes through that wouldn’t occur if you were in the boss’s conference room.
For instance, I did an online gig for a law firm and in one screen there was a pair of shoes next to the stove behind the man on screen. I said, ‘Oh, I see you’re relaxed because your shoes are off’ and the man said back to me, ‘No, my shoes are on.’ ‘Okay….'” he trails off.
2) Find the human connection
“Some people have bigger houses. Some people are Zooming from cramped closets. Some people are trying to ‘workify’ their rooms by putting little bits of themselves around and there can be humorous shared experience in making observations about these situations,” says Colm. “Once you have a connection, you can have humour.”
“Small talk has kind of evaporated but people will certainly say, ‘Oh, That’s a lovely painting on your backwall behind you.”
So use that painting to spark a rapport-building conversation starter.
3) Turn your camera on
When we’re talking humour, it’s especially important to be able to see your audience.
“I encourage people put their cameras on,” shares Colm, “and I’ve done online gigs where there are 6,000 people. When there is even a small number of them with a camera and I can see them laughing, I take great pleasure in assuming the others are all doing the same.”
4) Explore your sense of humour
“Some people say, ‘I’m not good at telling jokes,’ but telling a one-liner joke is to humour what algebra is to maths. It’s only one part of it,” Colm says.
“Humour is all sorts of things. It’s visual. It’s stories. It’s facial expressions. I find it very hard to find a person who is not funny in some shape or form. Everyone has some innate ability to make people laugh. Anyone can turn a phrase or tell of a funny situation.
“Storytelling brings people breathing space to be funny. It gives you three or four minutes. So, rather than trying to teach people to be funny, I encourage you to teach people to tell a story with a humorous outcome and they’re far more likely to be funny,” he says.
Good natured humour means you care about connecting people and you’re taking effort to make that connection. During this pandemic, human connections are our most curative medicine.
Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon