Sep 04, 2016

Humour as a Part of Pedagogy

Vanita Bhoola

Everyone works hard to engage audiences, drive learning and leave a lasting impression. There are several pedagogical approaches to holding attention, particularly over a longer stretch of time. How do you strike the right chord?

My experience over 20 years of engaging with audiences is to be authentic, passionate and witty. Fun and wit need to come spontaneously given a set of people and situations. I seem to be gifted with this spontaneity of humour and so far it has worked well for me.

Appreciate humour in you

Teaching is hard work, both for the trainer as well as the student; even if we are acclaimed experts in our field, our delivery may make it difficult for the student to grasp the concept. The student may also find the method absolutely boring. The engagement and connect might be missing.

What could be good technique to build this rapport and get the ‘connect’ ?

In my eagerness to build a bond, I found that some conventional means, including being high on volume and energy, only further reduced the connect.

It was then that I started exploring different ways to make this elusive ‘connect’. Would a good sense of humour work? I realised that reducing stress was an important part of winning audience connect and what could be better than a generous dose of humour to keep students not only engaged but also awake!

A good sense of humour creates an improved level of learning and wins attention of the audience, at least in anticipation of more! There is also a realisation that if they do not pay attention, perhaps the next laugh could be on them.

Some of the techniques or ways in which I introduce contextual humour are through videos, movie clips, situational-based (most preferred), current events and news, behaviour of the audience as a whole, their profession, background, seniority, age group etc.

Recently, I had to present to a group of 200 on the topic of innovation and project management. Apart from my usual preparation on various real time examples, having the fun factor and humour played an important role in holding attention. Everyone likes to have fun, we become so serious because of our work or our supposed background or seniority that we forget to live. Also, a joke or situational humour coupled with learning is retained whereas a dull speech would be forgotten that instant. The human mind has this tendency for our neurons which fire together to wire together. I believe humour and learning really fire and wire well in our grey cells.

I remember the year when I joined this Institute. Students would fear talking to the professor but they could engage with me easily because of the fun and the air of informality I would bring in the class.

Avoid “bad” Humor

There is such a thing as “bad” humour. Anything that mocks, is unwarranted or gets too personal is to be avoided. It may be counterproductive at times as well. Using the right amount and contextually controlled humour at the right time effectively can ease a lot of tension in the class. In fact, I remember once mimicking a noted personality to communicate a point and got the participants to focus, and found it to be very effective.

Humour has the power to engage, help people learn and stay focussed and develop their creative ability. So bring out your sense of humour for effective engagement and every once in a while, let go — do not hesitate to tickle the funny bone.

I would go the extent of saying ‘tickle the funny bone’ can be a part of your pedagogy.

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