I used to believe the Oprah chant that we are the creators of our selves. We decide what our identity will be. I used to believe that. Until the Penn State scandal.
The news of the scandal, and especially the shock of Joe Paterno’s ousting, were unsettling to this recent Penn State graduate. The entire escapade highlighted just how little control we sometimes may have in deciding who “we” “are”.
The Paterno news was startling, because the coach came to represent Penn State’s identity. Even more than the high quality research history, the other sports and academic programs, the creamery and the animal studies.
But I was never a football fan. The only Penn State gear I bought in my 7 year career there was a pair of blue fleece mittens with the Nittany Lion logo. I didn’t buy football jerseys, or even go to any games. My strategy had always been to get out of town when there was a game, otherwise I would be stuck in the tiny-streeted maze until after half- time.
So why did the news affect me like it did?
I felt, as one person walking on the streets of State College commented, “like I was in a daze.” This is what it feels like to not know your identity. And this is exactly what happens when we’re slapped in the face with CHANGE.
Sure we do and can decide how we will define our identity. But even more so, and even more surprising, is that we also absorb large amounts of other things that define our identity. These are the facets that we must investigate, and later integrate (or not) as we go through a transition situation.
The bad news is that we don’t realize this. We want to overcome the change, get back to normal, and feel happy again. Even more bad news: when we encounter change, our first reaction may be to grasp on to disjointed tips and advice and therefore we don’t successfully complete our change. We end up back in the vortex of feeling like we’re in a daze.
We need a systematic approach to change. A program that will help us to naviagte, incorporate, and enjoy the process of change.
The good news is that we CAN do this—but only by using our innate sense of HUMOR…
Who are you after a change? How funny is THAT?
Q: Sometimes I’ll see someone giving a medical-information presentation and they’ll add a funny slide from time to time. Some kind of medical cartoon, something the people in the audience would get. Or I’ve seen some presenters joke about themselves: “Some people tell me I have an accent…” I think it makes people seem more interesting and human, and their presentation wasn’t all solely information-heavy.
A: Yes! That goes along with being comfortable with your character or style of humor. The more familiar you are with your skill in getting laughs, the better you’ll know how far to push the envelope. When you’re giving a speech anywhere, you can read the audience. In a professional setting, you can get a sense of your co-workers and audience members—how funny they are, or how far to push the humor.
The best way to improve your sensing is by doing these three steps, continually and consciously:
1. Record the things you say that make other people laugh. You may be surprised at all the funny things you say when you weren’t even trying to be funny!
2. Accept your humor style, even if it’s not what you think of as “comedic”. Other people have validated that it works, that you ARE funny!
3. Get comfortable with transitioning seamlessly into and out of humor usage within your presentations. This will keep your laugh lines more organic and less show-biz.
Q: I’m not a comedian, but I do talks for professional people, sharing medical information. I think humor keeps people’s interest and keeps them awake. Is it appropriate to add some humor from time to time in a professional medical setting, where you’re trying to share important medical information but you also want people to pay attention?
A: I used to say yes, you should use it all the time. But then I started thinking, “Wait a second, do I want my lawyer, do I want my accountant to be funny and joking?”
I can’t answer that question fully, because I usually only work in situations where people CAN laugh, where they’ve been given permission to lighten up, and where they expect me to make them laugh. I’m not a mathematician. You are the expert on your own work environment: the personalities, the level of joking that’s acceptable in your field, the level of lightness.
Just use your judgment. For example, you probably wouldn’t use, “I had this boil on my…” But you could use
1. Humor that is: subtle, fitting, congruent, integrated to your more serious topic
2. Humor that is within your personality style
3. Humor that you sense your audience will be receptive to
How human, entertaining, interesting was YOUR last presentation? How funny was THAT?
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