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October 18, 2004
Humor in Training—Fighting 'Ho-Hums' with 'Ha-Has'
Humor can actually help make serious points about safety. Training experts agree that using humor in a presentation can make an audience more relaxed, attentive, open to new ideas, and willing to participate. If this is how you want your audience to be, then don't be afraid to use appropriate jokes, cartoons, or ad-libs as part of your presentation. The key word here is "appropriate." If you run across a funny idea, saying, or picture that makes you smile and think, "That would be good to use in a safety talk," chances are you're right. So go for it!


Humor can be planned—but it can't be forced. Humor has to be natural, or as one training expert puts it, "Don't try to be funny—try to have fun." Keep in mind some important things to avoid if you plan to add humor to your presentation:

  • Don't feel obligated to start the session with a joke. Lots of speakers do it, but few do it well. It can make your audience immediately roll their eyes and tune you out.
  • Don't use humor that you yourself don't find especially funny.
  • Don't use humor for its own sake—use it to grab attention or emphasize your points.
  • Never use humor that could be interpreted as ridiculing specific persons or groups of people.
Why It Matters...
  • Studies show that laughter reduces stress and can actually improve physical and mental well-being.
  • Public speakers know that a well-placed joke or a humorous graphic can wake up a tired, bored, or inattentive audience.
  • There are no OSHA regulations that prohibit smiling or laughing.

Look for opportunities to inject humor into your talks. In addition to using humorous stories, thoughts, and graphics, here are some other ways to employ humor:

  • Self-deprecating humor—If you're illustrating a safety point with a story about a hypothetical employee who is acting carelessly, give the employee your own name. Or if you make a mistake during your presentation, acknowledge it with a joke. Making fun of yourself "humanizes" you and helps build trust.
  • Exaggeration and zaniness—Ask your audience to answer a multiple-choice question, with one of the choices being obviously silly or bizarre.
  • Gimmicks-Give cheap prizes (such as lollipops) or made-up "awards" to people who participate actively in your training sessions. Examples might include the "Best Question Award" or a prize for "giving the best answer that isn't actually correct."

Note: If you haven't been using humor in your presentations and now decide to do so, your audience may not react the way you want them to the first time you use it. They may not have seen your "lighter side" before, so give them some time to adjust to it.

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