Hey Newman, all you have to do is pick up a newspaper to see that we’re in a VERY serious climate right now. I know as a trade show presenter, your approach is to balance content and comedy. Are you still finding it appropriate to be funny, or are companies so sensitive about everything that they want strictly informational presentations? —Karen from P.A.
Karen, you’re right. A lot of companies are in a serious mood right now and are concerned whether laughter in presentations is appropriate. Generally speaking, companies have the tendency to hide behind, “We have a serious message.” The fact is, every organization has a serious message. Business is serious stuff. But there are a million ways to communicate that message.
Haven’t we all gone to the movies where we’ve seen a “serious” film, and found ourselves laughing? You might be laughing through your tears. Or crying through the laughter. But the power of the film, its message still comes through.
If you’re going to impart information — especially if it’s difficult-to-grasp, complicated information — people are more likely to remember it if they’re laughing about it.
I had a Chemistry teacher in high school who made the dullest material come to life through story-telling, crazy props and even costumes. His classes were like 45 minutes of stand-up punctuated by the occasional explosion. I’m sure you have your own version of that science teacher, and I’m sure you remember a lot of what they taught you.
To appreciate the lasting power of humor, all you have to do is walk up to someone on the street (preferably 30 and up) and say, “Remember ‘The Puffy Shirt’ episode of Seinfeld?” Instantly, that person’s face will brighten and they’ll start quoting lines from it … despite how many years it has been since that person saw it on TV. For my generation, you can do the same experiment reminiscing about the campfire scene in “Blazing Saddles,” or your favorite Monty Python sketch.
There’s plenty of evidence to support laughter as a highly effective memory device. When you have a booth of people laughing about something, you can ask them two hours later “what was so funny?” and they’ll be able to tell you not only what was funny, but the substance behind the joke. They remember. And in the same way, they will remember your company and your featured product or service.
I have watched scores of trade show presentations over the past few months, and the vast majority of them are horrible. About as riveting as watching paint dry.* No laughter. No smiles. Just a lot of vacant stares. The presentations are little more than a staged reading of a product white paper, followed by, “Thank you very much” and “Here’s your free shirt.”
Ask someone what they remember two hours after a presentation like THAT, and they’ll say, “Um … well I did get the free shirt.”
(By the way, I actually did find a video of paint drying on YouTube. Watch it and judge for yourself.)
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