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Laughter is the best medicine

Updated: March 23, 2012 - 2:30 pm

Posted: March 23, 2012

Historians have traced forms of comedy back to the days of ancient Greece. Of course, comedy was not offered in ancient times the same way as it is delivered today.

Demosthenes, considered by many as the greatest orator of ancient Greece, did not rely solely on eloquence or logic; he unabashedly used ridicule and ethnic humor. Historians believe that these techniques enhanced his speaking effectiveness.

Like Demosthenes, modern presenters have found that humor can be a valuable presentation tool. Experienced presenters have learned to use humor to reach out to audiences to include them in a joke or in humorous situations. Humor has many positive presenter benefits.

It generally relaxes people. Further, humor may make presenters more interesting to listen to. It also can open the minds of listeners to view things in a different way. Humor can give presenters significant power to connect, enlighten, provoke and charm.

An old adage says that laughter is the best medicine. There may be some truth to this.

According to some researchers, those who have a sense of humor get sick less often and may recover more quickly from illnesses. Whether or not this is true, there is little argument that most people like to laugh and enjoy hearing something funny.

Laughter does make us feel good, but not all humor is appropriate. Yes, many self-help books do suggest that speeches need to be started with a joke.

This is risky, however. The audience may have heard the joke before. The audience may not think the joke was funny. Or the joke may have been offensive or irrelevant to the speech.

Presenters who have experienced deadly silence after they have told an inappropriate joke will vouch for the riskiness of using inappropriate humor. That is why most speech consultants advise novice humorists to be careful

There is one general rule in using humor: Use inclusive humor and always practice safe humor. Humor that is not inclusive separates people. Inclusive humor allows people to share common concerns and laugh together. It can be mutually beneficial and is generally well- received. Safe humor is squeaky clean and is nonoffensive.

Unsafe humor includes any humor that ridicules others or is intended to damage self-esteem. Humor based on race, disability, physical appearance, gender or sex should never be used.

Presenters want to get their audiences to pay attention, not roll in the aisles. Presenters are not comedians and should not attempt to change professions and take on the role of a comedian. As such, presenters need to use humor effectively to have their thoughts accepted credibly. They need to use humor as a tool for successful information transfer.

Experienced presenters universally believe that there is nothing better than humor used appropriately. Judging what humor needs to be injected into a presentation is important and is also delicate.

In fact, humor may be one of the most serious topics that presenters need to consider when preparing their remarks.

Bob Stowers is a clinical professor of management and leadership communications at the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary. Visit http://mason.wm.edu/faculty /directory/stowers_r.php.

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