This is an article written by Nick Harding in today’s i newspaper about the work of Stephanie Davies, a former stand-up comic who now advises CEOs and workteams on the importance of humour in their communications.
Have you heard the one about the CEO and the comedian? No? Well, bosses and humour don’t always mix. Their attempts to use laughter as a motivational tool, or to garner popularity, often fall somewhere between excruciating embarrassment and out-and-out inappropriateness. “Big” Nev Wilshire from BBC’s fly-on-the-wall documentary The Call Centre is a case in point.
But when harnessed properly, humour and laughter can be powerful tools in and out of the boardroom. And that’s where Stephanie Davies comes in. As a former stand-up comic, she is now a behavioural expert and founder of Laughology, a unique enterprise that uses the science of laughter and humour to develop psychology-based programmes that help people in a range of settings, several of which are the boardrooms of blue-chip companies.
Davies works with CEOs, executive teams and workforces in areas such as culture change, creating happy workplaces, staff engagement, communication and presentation skills, and executive coaching. Outside of the boardroom, she has applied her skills to a variety of groundbreaking projects. These include creating the country’s first happy-centred school, developing an initiative to encourage resilience and community spirit in a divided area of Bradford and running a rehabilitation programme for service users in a secure mental-health unit.
When it comes to teaching CEOs to be engaging, Davies’ work is serious. “Language and the way we use it has a huge bearing on how we are perceived,” she says. “Some executives use lingo, acronyms and corporate bullshit, which are all inaccessible to normal people. One of the most important aspects of leadership is connecting with people and to achieve this you need to reframe the language you use. It is archaic to be talking to people in old-style leadership speak. Look at Barack Obama, he’ll often use humour and the common touch to get a message across.”
To get business leaders to let go of their reliance on corporate speak, Davies draws on her days as a stand-up. “I get them to stand up and tell a funny story about something that happened to them, in front of their peers. Many squirm at first. But suddenly their whole method of communication changes, they become upbeat, open and, most importantly they start to use simplistic, accessible language. It’s a powerful way of getting people to realise how to deliver a message in a more human way. It’s not about turning people into David Brent, it’s about turning them into Barack Obama.”
After this the article gets a little serious and quasi-scientific but you can check it out yourself or look up her book, ‘Laughology: improve your life with the science of laughter’. But forgetting all the well-being mumbo-jumbo I think the point she makes is valid. I’ve often found that the careful use of humour, particularly self-deprecating, can be a powerful way to create a responsive atmosphere and to disarm potentially difficult audiences. At the same time it’s not the only weapon in your communications armoury; a passionately-delivered, compellingly believable statement can be utterly inspirational. Think of Martin Luther KIng’s ‘I Have a Dream’ address or Shakespeare’s Henry V speech to his troop’s before Agincourt, Churchull’s classic ‘On the Beaches’ and ‘The Few’ wartime broadcasts, and more recently the eulogy to Diana delivered by her brother and you’ll know what I mean. Laughter’s good in its place but conviction and eloquence are mightier.