Opinion
WHERE IC PROFESSIONALS COME TO TALK

'COMEDY BRINGS PEOPLE TOGETHER – YOU'RE SHARING SOMETHING WITH THEM'

Is internal comms ever a laughing matter? Steven Cody, comedian and founder and CEO of strategic communications agency Peppercomm, thinks it can be.

11th January 2021

You need to be mindful that your employees will have different ideas of what is funny and what isn’t… If the humour you use doesn’t land well, then it’s important to admit that you got it wrong.

STEVEN CODY


What place does humour have in the professional world?

In my opinion, the best leaders and organisational cultures are those that don’t take themselves too seriously. You should take the business, employees’ health and wellbeing seriously, but never yourself.

For humour to work, however, it needs to align with the organisation’s purpose, and lots of it should come from leadership, in the way they conduct themselves and interact with others.


Knock, Knock…

Not quite! If you want to use comedy to engage employees, don’t use silly jokes and gags. Focus on clever, humorous storytelling instead. It needs to be transparent and authentic – if you don’t have it in you, then don’t force it.

Your organisational culture will matter greatly in determining if comedy is the right route for you. You can’t be a strict, rigid company one day, then the complete opposite the next.

If you’re looking to introduce a more relaxed, humorous approach, try to inject humour as much as possible in the day-to-day by looking for little things to have fun with. This then leads to a more human organisation, allowing people to be themselves as well. If it’s embraced by your leadership team and allowed to flourish naturally, it will eventually become part of your DNA.


What should ICers consider before using comedy in comms?

Firstly, put yourself in the shoes of your audience. Before you hit send, consider what the reaction might be, and understand the nuances of your employees across the entire workforce. What cultures and religions do you have in place?

English might not be employees’ first language, so be conscious that the humour you use might land differently. If you’re translating materials, make sure the humour still shines through how you intended it to.

You should also consider the channels you use, and how your audience likes to receive information. If one platform is quite sociable, try out some humour there first and see how it is received. Or if there is a particular senior leader who connects well with employees, have them endorse it.
 

And what about the style of humour?

At Peppercomm, we’ve trained all sorts of organisations in stand-up and improvisational comedy, ranging from law firms and pharmaceutical companies to banks and even medical staff at a major hospital. The one thing they all had in common was a senior leader who had already embedded a culture that was conducive to self-deprecating humour and being open, honest and authentic in front of one’s peers.

The best kind of humour will reach all employees, despite their differences, so find something universal to make light of. I typically tend to recommend staying apolitical and nuanced. You’re much more likely to achieve this if you have a diverse group review your comms too.

It’s a give-in, but controversial and/or offensive humour is a definite no-go. And so is finger pointing. You need to have the ability to read a room – physical or virtual.
 

And if it flops?

Silence will tell you very quickly if what you’re saying is not well received. It’s the enemy of both comedians and communicators! You need to be mindful that your employees will have different ideas of what is funny and what isn’t.

You’ll have the luxury of time when putting comms together, but when people are talking live, they need to have their guardrails up. That is, of course, unless your organisation has a clear purpose/stance against certain behaviours. For example, if you work for an environmental organisation, people will know where the organisation stands on certain issues.

If the humour you use doesn’t land well, then it’s important to admit that you got it wrong, and that you’ve heard employees’ concerns.

Don’t let this put you off, however, as the rewards can be great.
 

Tell me more…

Comedy is a great way to bring people together. When you use comedy in comms, it acts as two-way communication. You’re not talking at someone, rather you’re sharing something with them.

It can also help different generations to connect, which is something that is important as companies increasingly find they have workforces spanning four or five generations. If used the right way, it also shows humanity from leadership.

Finally, it will make people want to stick with you through thick and thin, because they’ll value the organisation’s culture and encouragement to let everyone be themselves, and they’ll relate more to leaders who have opened up.
 

I’m sold! Finally, what skills can comedy teach those using it?

Comedy can actually make you better at your job. It teaches you how to listen and read the room. When you do stand-up, for example, you immediately pick up on who likes what you’re saying, who doesn’t and who is distracted.

If you can see you don’t have someone’s full attention during a presentation or meeting, you can make light of it by using comedy to address it, if you feel comfortable. It also teaches you how to fill silences as well, which is a really important skill.

On top of that, it can boost your confidence levels, and teach you how to present yourself, and your work, better.

 

You need to be mindful that your employees will have different ideas of what is funny and what isn’t… If the humour you use doesn’t land well, then it’s important to admit that you got it wrong.

STEVEN CODY

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