(OK and maybe a little at you)
I remember the first training session I hosted. I was so focused on being serious and perfectly professional in front of an impressive group of university professors that I forgot to breathe (I’m sure if pictures were taken that day, my skin would reflect a lovely hue of blue). I wasn’t nervous about teaching the content or intimidated (maybe a little) by the participants, no, I was stressed because my focus was on suppressing my personality. You see, I think I’m funny and I tend to unleash my shtick on, well, anyone. And I laugh at my own jokes (yes, I’m one *those* people). But for that entire training session, I suppressed every urge to make a joke and it was physically painful.
I look back on that training session and cringe. Not because I didn’t do a good job – I know they left with a good grasp of the information I was relaying; I cringe because I was so uptight, the atmosphere must have been worse than being in a room with a Kardashian and a plastic surgeon who’s refusing one of them another Botox injection. That’s when I decided that I was going to have to learn to incorporate my sense of humour into these sessions, otherwise I’d eventually implode.
Here are three ways I now incorporate humour appropriately into my training sessions (note: I constantly walk a fine line, reminding myself I’m not hosting an HBO special … yet … move over Amy Schumer, but I digress):
- Step 1 – cut a hole in the box… oh sorry, never mind, I was going to launch into an inappropriate Saturday Night Life skit there. So further to my point – know your audience, know what’s appropriate and what isn’t for each of your group of learners. And remember that if you wouldn’t want your boss to hear you saying it, don’t say it.
- Go in with some tried, tested, and true anecdotes from your training annals that are universal enough and innocuous enough that virtually everyone will appreciate them and are guaranteed to elicit a grin (sometimes through gritted teeth) from even the most serious of participants.
- There will be days when no one wants to listen, when no amount of explaining gets the message across, and when you make one mistake after another (obviously, this never happens to any of us). Just laugh about it, let the tension go, and start over. This is training, it isn’t life and death (unless you’re training brain surgeons, then, by all means, I implore you not to take my advice). Laughter is acceptable in almost any situation (unless you work for lawyers or undertakers, then you may want to take it down a notch so that you don’t get sued or buried alive). Try self-deprecating humour when things go wrong during a session. I have found that sessions where I’ve mocked myself have been the most fruitful and engaging (I’ve found this to be a solid life strategy too, but I’m no Tony Robbins, so don’t quote me on that).
Learning in an environment where the trainer is relaxed, smiling, and genuinely enjoying themselves helps bring out the best in the learners (who are often mandated to be there and may be wondering about all the work they could be doing instead of being there with you – try not to take it personally). Time is limited – make it interesting for them and they’ll remember you and what you had to say! On the other hand, I should probably issue an apology to anyone who had to sit through one of my training sessions when I was testing out the mine field that is online dating – no one deserves that.