“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
– Dwight D. Eisenhower
According to a study by the Bell Leadership Institute, the two most desirable traits in leaders are a strong work ethic and a good sense of humor. If you are a stone-faced leader, and your communication style lacks any hint of humor, you will likely struggle to maximize your potential as a professional and a public speaker. To be a successful speaker and leader, you need to learn to balance seriousness with levity.
To motivate you to lead through laughter, here are 3 ways humor can enhance your leadership style.
Studies prove humor can improve your ability to persuade others. Take for example the results of a negotiation study featured in Fortune.com: For half the participants, when setting a final price for a piece of art, the seller smiled and added, “I will throw in my pet frog.” The benefits of the quip were clear: Buyers who heard the joke made greater price concessions than those who didn’t.
When trying to leverage the persuasive power of humor, you can use a witty remark or joke like the one mentioned in the study above, or you can poke fun at yourself. In the research paper, Putting the Ha! In Aha!: Humor as a Tool for Effective Communication, author Brandy Reece explains that the use of self-deprecating humor can increase a communicator’s likeability, and therefore, their ability to inform and persuade audiences. Self-deprecating humor, the type of humor that good naturedly pokes fun at one’s self, is the most effective style of humor when it comes to persuading people.
Humor eases the process of persuasion and motivation by facilitating trust and easing tension. Research proves humor provides a sense of “psychological safety” that helps manage emotions and makes group members more willing to accept challenging goals.
Additional Resource: The Ace Up Your Sleeve: 6 Proven Methods of Persuasion
Most public speakers aim to exude charisma, the seemingly magical ability to charm an audience. However charisma is elusive; it is a challenge to describe, let alone attain. Some people might even say that you either have charisma or you don’t. Reece however argues that you can indeed increase your charisma by sharing some self-depreciating humor with your audience.
If you are chasing the charisma factor as means of captivating your audience and holding their attention, Reese explains that comedy can also help you focus people’s attention because humor activates complex cognitive processes that make people feel engaged.
Additional Resource: The Science of Influence – And What It Means For Your Presentations
As a speaker, one of your main goals should be to make an unforgettable impact on your audience. A dose of humor can help you achieve that goal. According to Fortune.com, researchers concluded that viewers of Colbert Report knew more about campaign finance and super PACS than cable news viewers – perhaps because comedy gets people to pay attention to unpleasant but valuable information.
According to Michelle Gielan, an expert in positive psychology and cofounder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research, laughter stimulates the release of the feel-good chemical dopamine which activates the learning centers in the brain. When the brain is actively engaged in learning, new concepts and ideas are easier to retain.
Additional Resource: The Science of Memorable Presentations
Humor is one of the top two traits of successful leaders therefore you need to embrace laughter and levity as part of your professional communication strategy, whether you are on stage in front of a crowded auditorium, or casually chatting with your team in the hallway of your office.
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