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Use humour to ride out the recession





Media release                                                                                                              12 August 2008

Use humour to ride out the recession

Businesses need to use humour and develop the skills of comedians to ride out the economic downturn says business coach and facilitator - and stand-up comedian - Terry Williams.

Williams, who will speak at the TIME business convention in Auckland in October, says managers must take communication and humour seriously if they want to connect with customers and motivate staff to be productive.

"There's a lot of gloom and doom out there at present - high interest rates, increasing inflation, falling house prices, and increasing redundancies. All that bad news is demotivating - it lowers productivity and makes customers more cautious."

But studies show that laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, raises levels of infection-fighting T-cells and disease-fighting proteins. It also triggers the release of endorphins, lessening pain and increasing a sense of wellbeing.

"If your workplace is a fun place to be, your staff will take less sick leave, have increased energy and be more able to deal with adversity and challenges," says Williams.

Williams says he is not talking about managers walking around in silly hats or acting the fool to raise laughs, but they should encourage fun and laughter in the workplace, rather than thinking people must always be serious about work.

"Let people use office equipment to make copies of Dilbert cartoons to put on the staff notice board, let them circulate harmless jokes and humorous, but inoffensive, emails - they'll be more productive as a result."

Employers who allow fun and laughter in the workplace will also find it easier to attract and retain staff, says Williams.

"A 2006 survey by Seek showed that 42 percent of employees were 'actively seeking other employment.' That's almost half.  You might be an all right employer but 'all right' doesn't cut it anymore.  You need to be an employer of choice and providing a fun workplace is one way of achieving that."

Williams says when comedians win over challenging audiences, they are using another one of the skills that can make the difference between success and failure in business.

"Comedians are extremely good at quickly building rapport," says Williams. "They have just a few minutes to get the audience on side, or they're doomed."

Managers, salespeople, customer service staff and all those who deal with other people in their work have to acquire the same skill - especially during gloomy times.

"Take the task of interviewing job candidates or conducting performance reviews," says Williams. "They're inherently stressful for the other person, and when people are stressed, they don't communicate well.

"When comedians are building audience rapport, they'll start with a few seemingly harmless questions to get the audience on side."

Managers conducting interviews or salespeople pitching to customers can use the same technique, starting with non-threatening questions about the weather or sports teams to put people at ease, before progressing to business matters.

"One of America's longest-running comedian talk show hosts was asked what the secret to being a great comedian was.  He said, 'Before anything else, they really gotta like ya.' In real life, 'liking' somebody generally takes time, but a comedian has to accelerate that.  It's not rocket science: smiles, eye contact and the use of questions. 

"The questions are often a generic lead-in to some prepared comedy material but they create the illusion of spontaneous, genuine dialogue. And that's no different to having the same sales conversation or performance review process with a dozen different people every day."

Comedians also have to know how to deal with hecklers, who can otherwise sabotage their show. And business managers have to deal with negative comments from disgruntled staff, and sometimes from clients and customers, that could sabotage their business goals.

"In comedy, the first thing you do with hecklers is ignore them. If that doesn't work, you ask them 'What was that you said, would you like to repeat it?' But you never actually give them the microphone.

"Ninety percent of the time, when you give them the opportunity to speak, their comments don't get a laugh or a positive reaction from the rest of the audience and they stop heckling.

"And it's the same in business - give people a chance to be heard, without making them the star, and they'll stop their passive-aggressive sabotaging."

While business is a serious activity - and success and failure have serious consequences - that doesn't mean it can't be fun, says Williams.

"By making business and work fun, and by using the communication skills of comedians, business managers and leaders will be much more successful, even in tough times such as these."

Terry Williams is a business coach and facilitator - and a stand-up comedian. He will be speaking at the at the TIME Convention, Auckland Convention Centre, THE EDGE, on Friday October 3, see




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