THE BLOG
10/08/2013 07:08 pm ET Updated Dec 08, 2013

The Art of Using Humor in Business Language

Ask Randy Schoch if he's ever secured a business deal because he was funny, and the CEO of Desert Island Restaurants widens his eyes and folds his arms. It's a question he's never been asked, but one that he can surely answer. "I flew to Dallas for a boardroom meeting. There were only two of us and we were meeting with a team of 50 people. I walked over and sat with the larger group. I pointed to my partner and said 'How about we all just team up against this guy instead.' Everyone laughed. I knew within ten minutes that I had the deal." Most people cringe when their bosses attempt to pepper a meeting with comedy, but Schoch knows that a well-timed joke can really engage clients.

I first heard about the veteran restaurateur at a Merril Lynch sponsored forum at the University of Hawaii where his speech, given with suave aplomb, bred the most motivation and insight about starting a business in Oahu. As he talked about transitioning from a $1.35 an hour busboy to owner of five Ruth's Chris Steak House restaurants throughout the Hawaiian Islands, his almost-muted comedic interjections added a new dimension to the very professorial lectures of the day. As a respected entrepreneur, Schoch is well-positioned to talk about the relationship between language and leadership. "Comedy absolutely belongs in business. Language is really the essence of communication and how you develop a relationship with coworkers and staff. You shouldn't take yourself too seriously."

The tendency to celebrate failure is a big part of humor and Schoch admits that most of his humor is self-deprecating. However, he knows when to make his jokes understated. "It has to be well-placed. If you say goofy lines that don't work, you'll lose your credibility quickly. It's like salt -- too much ruins the dish."

This could be a trend. The main speaker at the Hawaii Council on Economic Education Annual dinner in Honolulu on October 25 will be comedian Yoram Bauman (standupeconomist.com) who is listed as "the world's first and only stand-up economist". When people laugh at Yoram's jokes, it signals to him that they understand the economic theory in the joke. Yoram, who describes himself as a fairly mainstream neoclassical economist says, "You can make fun of just about everything."

Bauman isn't a restauranteur like Schoch, but he compared prepping his routine to boiling down a soup stock. "You have to take the same three minutes and turn it over and over again, and condense it until it has the same laughs in one minute. There's lots of practice and tweaking to things that no one else notices." He's always looking for new ways to communicate ideas using analogies and metaphors, and he believes that there is a lot of comedy that comes out of honesty and making yourself vulnerable. While there seems to be an emotional symmetry of suffering with many famous comedians, Yoram says he doesn't use humor as any sort of coping mechanism or tactic to gain social acceptance. He wants people who don't know much about economics to learn about it during his comedy session and people who understand economics to enjoy the joke on a deeper level. He wants his words to be accepted by everyone.

Randy Schoch would agree -- "Speak to the entire room. If there is laughter, you want the whole room to laugh, not only a third of the room. A scattering of laughter will destroy the energy."

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