Why knowing your audience is key in humour

By Dr Vanessa Marcie

Knowing your audience is key
Knowing your audience is key. Copyright Nicholas Green Unsplash

“It is critical for leaders to know their audience, including their work backgrounds, basic personal information and their affiliations. Knowing your audience can help leaders minimise the risks associated with the use of humour, such as offending peers, appearing insensitive, and being socially distanced at the workplace. In today’s LinkedIn and Facebook age, it is quite easy to get this information.” Dr Vanessa Marcie 

Humour is a superpower that is underestimated and underused. 

Why do we need to lead with humour? Because we all lead our businesses and our lives the best way we can, but we don’t necessarily apply the healthy dose of fun and levity necessary to live a happy life. 

I truly believe that in using humour in the way you lead, you can lead better and have a blossoming business, better relationships, and a better life. So why not use humour?

In order to lead with humour, the first thing is to know your audience. 

If you are used to public speaking, you might already researching your audience before an event but, it is even more important when you try to deliver a humorous speech. In knowing your audience, you can minimise the risk of offending somebody. You want to avoid topics, such as politics or religion, to create a positive connection with your audience. As a comedian, you learn the three most important things in comedy are connection, connection, and connection. Nothing is more important than the connection you build with your audience. To create this connection, you need to know your audience. On stage, comedians don’t know who is in front of them. The master of ceremony’s (MC’s) job is to find out information comedians can use to adapt their routine to the audience. You must use the same method to adapt your speech to your audience. 

The problem is people tend to project their sense of humour on people rather than to adapt their sense of humour to the audience. We’ve all been to a conference where a Chief Executive Officer or a manager tried to deliver a humorous speech by adding a funny picture to his presentation, and the joke felt flat. Either nobody laughed, or people laughed, but it was a forced laugh. You want to induce a genuine laugh, an authentic connection with your audience. You can do that by knowing who you have in front of you. In this era of technology and social media, it is easy to find information, such as background and affiliations. Follow their social media, find information on LinkedIn or their website. With this knowledge, you can adapt your sense of humour and minimise the risk of saying something offensive or hurtful. 

You have to own your joke

It doesn’t matter if your joke doesn’t deliver the result you were expecting. What you want is to try new things and gain confidence, and become more at ease with humour.

Think about comedians, the only way for a comedian to know if a joke is good is to go on stage. As a comedian, you stand in front of your audience, it can be ten people or a hundred people, and you deliver new material without knowing if it’s going to hit the target. And to be honest, sometimes it doesn’t. 

When it fails, you have two choices. Either you refine your material, go back onstage,  and try again and again until you succeed, or you give up. I know you are not somebody who gives up. I’m not. You’re not. So, don’t let failure stand on the path of success. Own your joke even if it fails. Just say, “Okay, it was supposed to make you laugh, but it doesn’t matter.” Move on. And try again with something else another time. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes you hit the target, and sometimes you don’t. It can happen to comedians. It can happen to anybody. Keep in mind the most important thing is to create a connection in finding commonalities with another person.

In brief:

  • Research your audience
  • Own your joke
  • Avoid topics related to politics or religion
  • Gain confidence
  • Don’t give up

Do you lead a team? Do you want to improve your leadership skills? Learn how to use Humour in Leadership. We offer a curriculum of virtual classes (new dates added regularly) and 1-1 coaching programmes to help leaders to master a leadership tool for the 21st century: humour. Our curriculum is designed to provide deep self-awareness, awareness of others and a mindset shift on work and life.
Do you want to bring Leading With Humour at your workplace? Find out how.