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Most folks would agree that there is a fine line between humor and offense. As that gray line is relative, and could be anybody’s guess. What one person may think is hilarious, another group may think is totally off-color and offensive. How can you tell the difference?

Before humor is introduced to any audience, regardless of its size, demographics and culture, you must first research and learn about the people you’re working around. The worst thing that you can do in an office setting is tell a joke or a funny story that ends up alienating more folks than you made laugh. Humor is delicate, very delicate and must be handled as such. Here are some tips and strategies that I have used in my 20 years experience of helping offices to “lighten up”:

Me Strong!

Know who the Type A, Alpha Male/Female in the group is. Identify that strong personality and cater to them like nobody’s business! Since this is the person who generally makes final decisions, be sure to stay on their “list” to keep him/her happy. Find out what they like/dislike and their brand of humor style. Trust me – they have one. You’ve just got to find where it is. This one naturally leads to…

Take Your Queues from the Head Honchos

Basically, if the boss doesn’t laugh, neither should you. Sounds stifling? Probably is, but you want a job next week, don’t you? Yes, I know bosses can sometimes be drier than day old toast, but what are you going to do? As hard as it may be, until you find that “happy place” that has your boss hostage, you simply must go with the flow my friends. After a while, it will become easier as you learn his/her humor style, behavior and funny threshold. Just hang in there.

Don’t…Say…That

Never, ever, ever, ever under any circumstances tell off-color jokes in a large office gathering. There are times and places for certain jokes and stories, and the office setting may not be appropriate for them all. You can offend, alienate and downright make some folks mad. Save those jokes for the weekend bar-be-que when the boss is not around, k?

There are a ton of other applied methods that I’ve laid out in my workshops and in my books about workplace humor. As a humorist, I show corporate environments how to lighten things up in the workplace short of locking the boss up in the closet. OK, I’m kidding. Kind of. But what is so unique and fun is finding those strategies that work wonders for YOUR office since everyone is so different.

What workplace challenges does your office face in relation to humor? Do you have one of those “quirky” bosses who finds nothing funny or humorous? How do you work around it?

Brad Montgomery
Motivational Keynote Speaker, Humor in the Workplace Consultant, Humorist

A while back I spoke at a huge Las Vegas conference for McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants.

I had a ball…. and let me tell you why.They took the time to coach me about their corporate culture… which helps me a great deal. And then, even better, I had a chance to visit with their executive chefs and General Managers before my keynote speech.

Better yet, I ate in one of their restaurants 3 days before my keynote speech.  I met the executive chef and the general manager.  They let me tour the kitchen and take photos.   (And they treated me and my pals great…yum!)

[ Actually, there is a cool story there too.  I was there with a few pals who happen to be professional speakers themselves…so some of the funniest ideas came from my humorist pals.  Colorado speaker and humor pal Steve Spangler took the photos.  It was a fun night.) ]

But best of all, I got to hear THE founders ( Mr. McCormicK and Mr. Schmick — yeah, I know, who knew they even existed!) address the audience for about an hour before I went on.

It was like a gift. A perfect storm of great info from the right people.  Now, I have to admit it; sometimes the info I get from my clients doesn’t lead anywhere. Sometimes it isn’t funny. And occasionally it is hard for me to really tailor what I do for their group. But in this case it was the total opposite. It was as though everything I said made it’s way into the presentation.Even the little details.

For example, when I was in the restaurant I ordered salmon that was cooked on a plank of Cedar wood. It was delicious. (The fish, not the plank.)  But when I retold the story, and showed (via PowerPoint) a photo of me trying to eat that silly plank, we got the audience rolling. Then I followed with jokes about the creativity about adding secret ingredients to their dishes…. like wood. Again… more humor.

eating the wooden plank

I showed photos of me stealing their stuff…and of me doing their dishes (from my visit to the restaurant that week.)   Trust me… it was funny.  Best of all…it was humor all for and about them.

What’s my point? I have two.

First: if you are looking for motivational speakers, have some long and hard conversations about tailoring and customizing. Your group — especially in this day of instant everything ‚ will be turned off if the speaker doesn’t “Get” them. Make sure your speaker does.  Professional speakers who tailor or customize the message for your audience will make that crucial “connection” in a meaningful and solid way.

Second: From my perspective as a humorist and speaker,

the tailoring is one of the absolute joys of my job. If I HAD to give the same cookie-cutter presentation every time I might shoot myself. The real fun is in making sure it is “just for them.”  Thanks McCormick & Schmick’s! I loved it.  Learn more about my keynote speaking here.

Do  you have an event where you need to motivate and fire up your troops?

Think a funny motivational speaker who can translate humor into business wisdom makes sense?  Me too.   Contact me here for info about bringing me to your event.

Brad Montgomery
Motivational Keynote Speaker, Humorist, Fan of Las Vegas, and Lover of Fish!

PS. Here is a bootleg video of me as speaking for them in Las Vegas, Nevada. Check out the customized jokes…they might not make sense to you, but to THEM they were fun. (And I had a blast.)

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I just sent this postcard out to some of my top clients.  I think it is funny…. after all, if these guys don’t need a motivational speaker, who does?  Sheesh, I’ve had some fun watching the campaign, and tons of fun mocking it.  But now I’m ready for it to be over.
 

Quiz:  Can you tell by these photos who I really support?  Obama?  McCain? Let me know (by commenting below) who I support and how you can tell) and the winner will FREE receive a subscription to Hooked On Humor.

Thanks Kids. Either way, we’re nearly done. The polls will tell us who will win the election. Now….who’s gonna win the quiz? Take a chance and comment below.

Brad Montgomery
Motivational Keynote Speaker, Quiz Giver, Political Hack

The Washington Post reported that AIG went through with a convention for their top earners.

Lawmakers fumed last week when they learned that the company paid $440,000 for a week-long resort retreat in California for top-performing insurance agents. The expenditure occurred just days after Sept. 16, when the government announced its $85 billion loan. This month, as AIG asked for an additional $38 billion in taxpayer financing, top AIG executives spent thousands on a hunting trip in England.

I cannot help to think that they must have had one speaker for that event.  Reward trips often hire motivational speakers and humorists…so it certainly is possible that one was hired for this event.

So the big ethics question for you is:

Imagine YOU were hired by AIG.  You see them go out of business…and be rescued with $85 Billion taxpayer dollars.  You know now that you are no longer being paid by AIG, but the taxpayers via AIG.   Would you take the job?

Theoretically you’ve had this keynote on the books for some time, you have turned down other clients who wanted to hire you as a motivational speaker, and because you’ve done everything you have been asked to do, you deserve the fee for you speakers services.

But now that it’s a taxpayer nightmare and Wall Street scandal, would you take the job?

Would ya?

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I was recently speaking in Seattle, Washington and had a chance to finally see the Pikes Place Fish Market in action.  (In case you don’t know it, Humor in the Workplace speakers have turned the Fish Philosophy into a near cliché.)

As you know (unless you’ve lived in a cave) the Fish Market is famous for a fun atmosphere  — and for turning that fun atmosphere into a healthy profit.  Tourists and customers gather to watch the fun as the fish mongers literally throw fish, laugh and joke with customers, and generally enjoy their work. The result for the fish market is more than fun and smiles:  it’s a thriving business.  A world-famous thriving business.   It’s a totally cool place with a totally cool concept.  (Hey Mom!  I used “totally cool” twice!)    It’s also been beaten like a dead horse.  Ok already!  Throwing fish is fun.

It’s been the inspiration for many a motivational speaker, a series of motivational videos, courses and other products.  If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked, “Brad, have you heard about the Fish Philosophy?” … I’d have…. well, a couple of bucks at least.  

If the thought of reading a blog post about the fish market makes you want to hurl, stick with me….I’m headed somewhere.

Watching the “show” at the market reminded me that a fun workplace doesn’t require funny people.  You don’t have to be a funny, joke telling manager or leader to create a pleasant work environment.  At the Market, I didn’t see a single comedian.  I didn’t hear a single joke.  

What I did see was a staff that had been empowered to be (and have) fun at work. 

Fun without funny?

Tossing a fish is not funny.  Can you imagine tossing an albacore in your workplace and getting a laugh?  (My guess is that you’d get a quick visit from HR.    “Hey everybody, Janeen is just threw a grouper at me!”)

So what was so fun about the fish market if it wasn’t flying fish? In a word, the fun was in the work culture.  They are having so much fun it is infectious. 

My point?  This fish market encourages it’s employees to have fun.  It makes it safe for them to have fun.  And it rewards them for having fun.  

Nobody is required to be funny…yet the laughter and smiles are ever present.  (It’s important to mention that in addition to laughs and smiles, the Market is well known for customer service, quality product and a staff that is willing to make every shopping experience a positive experience.) 

If you want your work culture to be more fun and funny, remember that you don’t have to be funny yourself.  You just have to do your part to encourage others to be fun. 

Throwing fish not required.

Cheers,

Brad Montgomery
Washington Motivational Speaker, Fish Thrower*

* Ok, not really.  I’ve honestly never  thown a fish.  A small rabbit** perhaps, but never a fish.

**Yes, I’m kidding.  (Rabbits wiggle too much to really get a good spiral.***)

***I’m joking again.  It’s a bad habit.  But hey, it’s my job.

****Are you looking for the site above where there was “****” There isn’t one. This footnote is just a little added bonus joke. Ha ha. Get it? Ok, me neither.

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If you think levity and lightheartedness are important to corporate America, join the crowd.  In particular, join the folks at Microsoft Finance North America. 

I worked with this group recently in Seattle, Washington and, like most of my favorite clients, I learned at least as much from them as they learned from me.

(Read the related blog entry about my trip to Microsoft)

I was totally impressed with this organization. (If you read my blog you know that I rarely say that.)

Why?

•  I was impressed with the transparency of the organization.  I was impressed how everything was “on the table” …. I heard candid discussions on the recent (and odd) TV commercials, the aborted attempt to buy Yahoo, the fact that Vista’s popularity is lower than they’d like.   Contrast this openness with many of my other (unnamed!) clients who spend more time instructing me about what I cannot talk about than what their folks need to hear.   [For example, I once worked for a client who had JUST gone through a huge set of layoffs.  They forbade me to discuss the layoffs … as though their folks might forget that 50% of their friends were no longer there and they themselves were worried about their job security.  Oye!]

• I was impressed by the people.  They are good people who love their families, work exceptionally hard, and are very loyal to each other and their company.

• This group was fun loving.   They like each other, and it showed.  They were easy to make laugh.  Ready with fun anecdotes and conversation.  They were a far cry from what any of us might expect from folks who work in the high tech industry for a finance department.   Many times I’ve worked at corporate meetings where people are forced to socialize with each other. It’s clear that they don’t want to be socializing… but they have to be there so they are.  Not so at Microsoft.  Their obvious enjoyment in each other was fun to watch.

• They were eager to ramp up the fun.  They were ready to share best humor practices with each other and with me. I often have to work hard to break the ice with a new corporate group.  Not this one:  MFNA was ready to laugh from minute one.

• During my program, I joked about clown noses, and taught a few funny ways to use them at work to handle stress.  We arranged to make sure everybody had a nose to take with them.  As you can see from these photos, they didn’t go to waste.

Near the end of our time together we split into groups and brainstormed ideas about safeways to create more levity and humor at Microsoft.  [We spend so much of our time at work, it makes sense to create fun. How can we do it?]  We heard a bunch of great ideas…but check out one group’s very specific ideas about how to increase the levity at the office.

1.       Friday Jokes

2.       Laugh at every meeting

3.       Happy Button

4.       Monday stories of weekend adventures

5.       Share embarrassing stories

6.       Dance in the focus rooms

7.       Dance every time you hear or see a “GO DO”

8.       Baby picture ID badges

9.       Word Bingo _  Drowning the puppies – (who ever imagined  we would here these words together!)

10.   Hawaiian shirt day

11.   Match the story to the person

12.   e-flowers/emoticons

But what was my favorite part?  It came 10 days after I left Seattle when I heard that CFO John Rex bought a Nerf Gun to attack his team.  (And, as a follow up, his awesome assistant, Amelia, bought guns for the rest of the team so they could create a defensive strategy.)    ”Hey everybody!  Let’s buy Nerf Guns!

Humor, levity and lightheartedness help us with morale, creativity, energy, communication, and — in the end — productivity.  It was unbelievably cool to share this message with Microsoft Finance.  But it was even cooler to see that they “got it.”

Thanks So Much, MFNA!

Brad Montgomery
Microsoft Fan, Washington Motivational Speaker, Nerf Enthusiast

PS.  Microsoft gets so much bad press.  I suppose it is impossible not to have some detractors if you’re that big, and that omni-present.  [After all, how many companies have actually changed the entire world besides Microsoft?]  It’s impressive.   When you’re there in person, working with the individuals who make up a part of this massive organization, it’s hard not to leave impressed.

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I was speaking to a potential client on the phone today and I was impressed with some of the questions she asked me. I was amazed at the quality of her questions. It was clear that this woman had a clear plan in mind when she started to choose and select her motivational speaker.

Most of her questions were centered around my experience; basically she wanted to make sure I had lots of it. Tons of experience. And I was impressed with her questions. And it struck me that she — perhaps without knowing it — should teach a short class in how to Make Sure Your Speaker Has a Proven Track Record. She wanted to make sure I:

•Am a motivation speaker with a long list of happy clients.
•Consider booking only speakers who have earned thier CSP (Certified Speaking Professional… this is a pretty big deal.)
•That I am a speaker who can provide RECENT references. And that ALL of my recent clients are happy clients.
•That I am a speaker who’s clients are not only numerous, but go back a LONG way. (She wanted to make sure that I had experience over time.)

What a great idea. It reminded me of how my wife and I engaged a construction firm to re-do our kitchen. We did check references, but we did not ask for the firm’s Six Most Recent clients. We should have done just that. That contractor was a nightmare.

He had references, but heck… anybody who has been in any business a few years can find happy clients. What I should have checked was this: are ALL of his clients happy? At least the ones in the last year?

So when this perspective client wanted more than clients… she wanted recent clients … I was impressed. And totally thrilled to give them to her.

Bottom line: book a speaker with a LONG and PROVEN track record. (Of course.. I’d love it if you book me. : )

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