Why Laughter Might Win the Proposal

Quick: in your sales and internal presentations, do you use too much humor? Or not enough?

Your first reaction may be, “probably not enough. Then again,” you might think, “ I’m not too great at jokes—and the last thing I want is to have some lame attempt at humor fall flat. My clients are serious about their business, and I wouldn’t want them thinking I was being cavalier about it.”

That reaction puts you square in the middle of most presenters I’ve seen. The claim that “business is serious” masks a deeper truth—what if I fail? And heaven forbid we fail.

So we take the low-risk route.

Result: pandemic boredom.

Enter author Adrian Gostick and humorist Scott Christopher, in their new book The Levity Effect  They argue that:

Some salespeople mistakenly worry…that humor dilutes their message, makes it less urgent and torpedoes credibility. Nothing could be further than the truth. Sending a message with levity demonstrates a clear understanding of the principles of effective communication. It also shows the audience you value their time enough to want to entertain and connect with them and make it worth their while.

They give the delightful counter-example of Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO Kaplan Thaler agency, who was pitching Panasonic about a shaving product.

As the business meeting began, Kaplan Thaler and her team sat around a conference table with the executives… The Panasonic brass was expecting a formal presentation, but instead Kaplan Thaler smiled and said, “Pretend I’m one of the guys.” Then she proceeded to sing, “Shaving sucks, shaving sucks, like a Band-Aid getting stuck, why does half the human race tear the hair out of their face …”

After sitting through days of drab pitches, the executives were very quickly snorting and hooting in appreciation of the zany song.

“They loved it, and we got the business. They said, ‘You didn’t have the best strategy, but you had the most entertaining way to do it. So we figured you guys are going to be a lot of fun and more entertaining to work with.’”

Next time your firm does a win-loss analysis, include three variables on the survey:

a. Did the winner, whomever it was, have the lowest bid?
b. Did the winners rate higher on relationship, or on value?
c. Did the winner seem more fun to work with?

(Probable answers:  a. no;  b. relationship;   c. yes)

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