The serious business of having a laugh

8 Nov 2012 @ 9.47 am
| Business

Serial entrepreneur Peter Harrington explains why putting a smile on your customers’ faces will have you chortling all the way to the bank

As our plane readied for take off to Cape Town, the stewardess commenced the well rehearsed health and safety briefing. Except the ordinary was about to become extraordinary.

“In the event of the cabin losing air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from above your heads.” Her words were calm. She paused and looked to see who was paying attention.

“And when you’ve stopped screaming,” she continued without so much as a smirk, “put on your masks. And if you are travelling with a child, put on your own mask first. If you have children, pick a favourite!”

We all looked at each other. Strangers, once remote and silent, shared smiles and laughed. Several started to chat. More followed from the hostess.

“…And this is a non smoking flight. All toilets are fitted with smoke detectors as well as cameras for the captain’s personal pleasure. If we catch you smoking we’ll assume you’re on fire and extinguish you.”

Whilst passenger bellies pushed belts to their limits, the crew remained dead-pan, which only added to the hilarity. Meanwhile the plane left the ground and we were on our way.

Why humour connects

It’s an accepted fact that humour is good for us. “When laughter is shared it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy,” says the on-line health resource Helpguide.

All research shows that emotions drive behaviour. Critically, “happiness” and “surprise” are two of the six primary emotions. In other words, used well, humour reaches right through to the core of our mind and typically receives an immediate and positive reaction.

Books about emotional intelligence appeared on bookshelves in the nineties (most notably the work from Daniel Goleman). And Goleman’s thinking was undoubtedly a catalyst for scientists and researchers to investigate more fully how the brain manages feelings.

Stanford University psychology expert, Dr Phillipe Goldin, specialises in the complex issue of emotional neuroscience. In this presentation he demonstrates the various functions emotions perform and how and why they help bring richness to our experience of life (and thus explains the theory underpinning the value of the humour used on the plane).

Goldin’s detailed presentation also explains why unlike rationale thought, we are not in charge of our emotions; if you want a succinct explanation, watch Sandy Newbigging’s short film which uses an iceberg analogy to explain the principle.

Conscious behaviour, Newbigging says, is what we think about, know and control. But a much larger element (unconscious) sits beneath the surface. This part is very powerful and drives emotional behaviour and responses such as laughter. People and situations that trigger laughter link with our emotional unconscious mind and thus make deeper connections.

Stand up means stand out

Using this knowledge it’s easy to see why good stand up comedians connect so well with people. And like hitchhikers and entrepreneurs, they’re part of a high-wire society that’s prepared to go it alone and risk getting it wrong publicly.

But by doing their own thing they also stand out, learn quickly and allow themselves the opportunity to achieve much more.

Great comedians like Eddie Izzard and, pictured right, Stewart Francis (“I’ll tell you who gives kids a bad name – Posh & Becks”) can also teach entrepreneurs much about innovation, lateral thinking and great presentation skills. On this note, I highly recommend the article What Comedians Can Teach About Public Speaking by the famous “toilet paper entrepreneur” Mike Michalowicz.

Using humour with business

If you’re looking to make better connections in business, there is a strong argument for the use of comedy. However, be aware that humour is much more than just the delivery of a punchline as the UK’s Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Liberal Democrat MP, Danny Alexander proved at his recent party conference. Unlike London Mayor Boris Johnson, who had delegates at the Conservative Conference laughing uncontrollably about chocolate Hobnobs and more, the eternal straight man Danny got little more than a mild titter when trying to tell a joke.

Good humour has to be thought through and delivered appropriately so that it cuts right through to the audience’s unconscious mind. Planning, preparation as well as talent is required and this brilliant short promotional film aimed at budding entrepreneurs, shows how an original idea mixed with great scripting, powerful imagery and timing hits the spot.

The power of being different

As the film demonstrates so well, crafted humour creates difference and allows a distinctive and well positioned message to be remembered. It stands to reason that effective viral marketing campaigns such as Trunk Monkey are often driven by humour.

The South African airline that flew me to Cape Town used humour consistently to be distinctly different. For example, unlike all their competitors their planes didn’t carry the airline name on the fuselage.

Instead, one had two big green arrows pointing upwards alongside the words “This Way Up”. Another had all sorts of words all over the fuselage including the phrase “The Go Go Juice” with an arrow pointing towards the fuel cap.

Long before the plane landed at Cape Town I had made my mind up to fly with the airline again. I’ve since reviewed the company’s website and watched a stack of amateur films produced by fellow passengers keen to capture the unique health and safety briefing and more.

This flood of free promotion is good business and if you want to support the entrepreneurial aviation spirit and have some fun flying too, I recommend you try Kulula.