The ONE thing you MUST do to make dry material interesting

Last week, I flew from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco on Alaska Airlines. I sat down and started reading when I heard people laughing. I looked up and realized that everyone was laughing at the flight attendant’s safety briefing. I don’t typically pay attention to these, as I’m familiar with the workings of seatbelts and feel that I could inflate a life vest if I had to.

But this guy was hilarious. Clearly from UCLA, he quipped, “Even a USC or Cal grad can figure out these seatbelts.” When he got to the air masks he said, “Once you put on your air mask, ladies fix your hair, then focus on your family. If you are traveling with children, put your mask on first, then start with the child you think will make the most money.”

On he went with a funny line for everything he said. When he finished, the plane erupted in applause. For a safety briefing! It reminds me of how we are just like kids. So easily distracted, AND so easily engaged and amused.

1kids laughing

The reason I was flying to San Francisco was to work with a private equity client for their annual investor meeting. I spent three days coaching the speakers and CEOs who were to present to 200 investors from around the world. And the same thing happened as happened on the Alaska flight. The audience listened to the speakers who used humor and stories.

In our presentation skills workshops, we talk all the time about Pattern Disruptors and how essential it is to use them any time you present. Especially when your content is dry (like a safety briefing or the 2014 EBITDA of the Industrials Sector portfolio companies).

Attention spans today are at an all-time low. What researchers call “Focused Attention,” where your mind stays on one topic without wavering, averages 60-90 seconds! A Pattern Disruptor is anything that breaks the pattern of your talk to grab people’s attention. The best ones are humor, stories and interaction. We will talk about the other two in a future newsletter, but today we focus on funny.

“But Robert,” you say, “I’m not good at telling jokes. I saw my manager try to use humor once and it bombed.”

First of all, don’t tell jokes. But consider this:
– Research shows that if you think someone is funny, you like them.
– Things said before or after something funny are remembered better.
– Even if all you get is a chuckle or a smile, as long as you haven’t offended anyone, you have succeeded because you got their attention.

Here are some guidelines to using humor in your presentations:
– Use something interesting or funny every minute or two.
– Plan your humor and stories in advance and test them out on people ahead of time.
– Just because you don’t think you’re funny doesn’t mean you can’t use humor in your talks.

Look for humor in the following places:
Your life. There is humor everywhere. The speaker who had been working closely with the Red Lobster CEO pulled up his navy suit pant leg to reveal screaming red socks with lobsters, a gift from the CEO. People loved it.
Callbacks. If someone before you says something funny, build on it. This is low hanging funny-fruit.
Self-effacing humor. You will never offend anyone this way, and it endears you to them.
Visuals and videos. These are quick and easy, and you don’t have to say anything funny to use them well.
Interactions. The CEO from a medical product manufacturer asked the audience to raise their hands if they have recently had a colonoscopy. Nobody did, but everyone laughed. Then he asked how many people know someone who has recently had one, and all the hands went up. Funny.

The take-away for you is this: If you want people to pay attention to you, especially with dry content, make it funny and entertaining.

Take some risks next time you speak. You might be surprised at how many people are still with you when you finish.

So go ahead and try out some humor, and stay in touch!