SBM 097: How Humour Can Help You Sell with David Nihill

Today’s Guest

In this episode you will learn about the role humour plays in business .

David Nihill is an expert in creating engaging content and becoming a better public speaker using techniques from the world of standup comedy.

This is the 97th session of Smart Brand Marketing.


The best Tedx talks are funny. You don’t have to be, but if you want to get paid for talking you do.

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  • When comedy meets business
  • How to train being funny?
  • Delivery
  • Personal stories
  • Corporate coaches
  • Current trends
  • Funny Bizz
  • Political speakers
  • Ghostwriting for CEOs
  • The funny filter

Humor and Sales: How to Make them Work Together

Any person with an experience in sales will tell you that the process of convincing a person to buy something or subscribe to a program is no laughing matter. It takes quite a lot of maneuvering to make a person shift his perspective to something more favorable to you, even if this means being blatant about the fact that you have your own agenda in why you want them to do something for you.

But here’s the thing: sales is also a process that relies much on you establishing a connection with another person. This won’t happen if you can’t break down several barriers that prevent them from responding well to you. And how are you supposed to this? The easiest option right now is to make them laugh.

The Science of Humor

So what exactly makes humor an effective tool in sales or anything else that involves human interaction? It’s easy to say that it helps you lighten up regardless of whatever situation you are facing. But what exactly does it mean to “lighten up”? Biology has an explanation.

When the brain detects some stimulus that is humorous, it sends signals to the body to release endorphins all throughout the system. Now, endorphins are pheromones that do a lot of things for the body but, for the sake of this topic, one of its chief functions is to help make the body relax and feel good. Of course, making the mind enter a state of relaxation means that that person is all the more susceptible to any suggestion or proposition that you might offer.

So, here’s how it works: A client that you might be facing might just had a bad day. Their car’s been towed, the neighbor’s dog dropped a nasty surprise at their door before they go to work, or they botched up their planned eggs and bacon breakfast and now have to settle with cereals. And here comes you, coming in straight for the kill and about to present to them another burden or another thing to worry about. Chances are, you’d be shot down way before you can even make an offer.

However, if you do approach them in a way that can make them lighten up, they’d be in a position that will be more favourable to you at best or more open to negotiations at best. Think about it, how many instances have you seen where a rather tense situation was diffused by just one joke? Then President Ronal Reagan did it with his first meeting with then Premier Michael Gorbachev. The same goes for selling something to a person.

After all, if Hunter “Patch” Adams can inject humor in a rather humorless profession, what’s stopping a business owner or salesperson from doing the same to theirs?

Humor as a Selling Point

A major trend that you can also use to your advantage right now is the fact that humor itself sells. For further convincing, look no further than the comic book genre.

Two of the chief players here, Marvel and DC, have very different approaches to their cinematic universe. On DC’s side, you’ve got this overly serious look at superheroes where everything is bleak and grim and every hero is just as brooding as Batman.

On the flip side, you’ve got Marvel whose characters are cracking jokes at each other and even when facing world-ending threats. You’ve got Star-Lord challenging Ronan to a dance off, Black Panther’s sister mocking him for his footwear, and Captain America writing down every pop culture thing he missed being frozen in ice for 50+ years. It goes without saying that Marvel right now is killing it with movie after movie while DC’s universe has yet to follow up on Wonder Woman’s success.

This is something that’s not limited to movies, mind you. Marketers have often relied on humor, directly or indirectly, to sell anything. From double-entendres, puns, sight gags, and references, the way that a marketer can make use of humor as their tool is limited to their creativity. The good thing about humor in sales is that you don’t have to be exactly that funny in order to use it effectively.

What to Do

So what kind of humor works best in sales? After all, there are many types of humor out there and not all of them, well, are really applicable with selling. As of now, there are two types of humor that any salesperson should really consider mastering.

  • 1. Self-DeprecationThe best way to make a person relax is to help them realize that you are only taking this situation slightly seriously. Comedians like Conan O’brien and Colin Mochrie often use self-deprecating humor to ease their audiences in before getting on to the juicier bits in their monologues. You’ll often hear Conan remind people how he’s a pasty, nerdy, loser before he moves on to rip other people or how Colin is old, balding, and has a propensity for wearing tacky shirts.

    Of course, there is a fine line between taking pot shots at yourself and looking like an idiot before a client. It’s best that you don’t poke yourself too much or you risk derailing your main goal. Always use self-deprecating humor as a way to make the person relax or, better yet, as a segue to the pitch.

  • 2. The StoryAnother great tool for helping people ease in to the pitch is a funny story. Stand up comedians have this skill down pat as most stand up routines are comprised of personal stories exaggerated for comedic effect. For instance, Gabriel Iglesias is quite known for his story about a personal experience with a rather sassy hotel clerk or how a group of Latino gang members mocked him for driving a car too small for his size.

    It’s stories like these that can help you build rapport with your client by giving them a glimpse into your personal life. Of course, you have to keep the story relevant to the pitch. Otherwise, you’d just be confusing the client as to why you were talking about that incident in the first place.

What NOT to DO

Of course, if a good joke can help you establish a connection with a client, a bad joke can turn them off. Keep in mind that humor is subjective so what is funny for one is not exactly so for another. Just for the sake of safety, you’d best avoid certain jokes like the following:

  • 1. RoastsInsult comedy is perhaps one of those kinds of humor that takes getting used to. With that in mind, you should never use it on someone on your first encounter. Joking at somebody’s expense just makes you come off as mean spirited even if that someone you’re insulting is not a part of the conversation. After all, if you’re willing to use somebody as a punch line for a client, what’s stopping you from using that client as the subject of a joke for another?
  • 2. Dark ComedyThey always say that humor, like the Force in Star Wars, is split into two sides, the ones that are socially acceptable and the ones that should be uttered only between close friends or in late night comedy clubs. As a general rule, never go beyond what is socially acceptable when in the sales process. Keep your jokes clean and, if possible, avoid foul language. The less people think of you as a crass provocateur, the easier the sales process will be for you.
  • 3. Political MattersAlways keep in mind that it’s the “current year” and there are some jokes that you can’t do in current year that won’t pass. Things like gender roles, politics, religion, and other societal issues are a no-go as they tend to offend more than make people laugh. This is true especially if you are talking to a first-time potential client as there’s no telling how they would react to your joke. If you do crack a joke, thinking it’s inoffensive, you might just trigger the wrong person, get labeled as a misogynist, homophobe, Islamophobe, alt-righter, and every other SJW insult out there, and the deal is off way before it can even start.

    As such, focus on things that you and the potential client can definitely relate on like the issue your offer is going to solve or the general state of wherever you are doing your sales process in. Keep your jokes about starving kids in Africa to yourself.

How to Be Funny (or Funnier)

As was stated, you don’t need an in-depth mastery of the humorous arts in order to use jokes as part of your sales strategies. However, there is a fine line between being unused to being funny and being downright horrible at it. If you think your funny bone needs a bit of exercising, there are a few tips that you can refer to.

  • 1. Master SubtletyThere is intelligent humor and there is low-brow humor. Since the sales process requires a bit of intellect, you’d rather pick the kind of humor that is smart and impactful. After all, who thinks that they can convince people to buy something from them if their jokes are along the lines of Carrot Top or the Three Stooges?

    Intelligent humor does not exactly mean that you have to start quoting Rick and Morty or the Big Bang Theory here and there (If you understood those references, then you already have an understanding of how smart humor works), Instead, learn how to inject humor in conversations as if they are part of it. The ability to quickly come up with a joke based on whatever the client just said is also an ability that you should master quickly.

  • 2. Inspiration is AcceptableHere’s a secret: every known comedian out there based their comedic routines on those that came before. For instance, the late Redd Foxx inspired the likes of Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, Dave Chappelle, and Bernie Mac while the Monty Python crew would go on to inspire the creators of South Park and Rick and Morty. There are some who even just copied late comedians point per point as far as their styles are concerned. Just ask Amy Schumer.

    The point is that you don’t have to be exactly original in order to be funny.If you don’t know how to be funny, then there’s no shame in copying the style of famous comedians. After all, you are a salesperson first and a funny man last. You are going to make money from the sales you closed, not the jokes you cracked.

  • 3. Curb that ShynessSurprisingly enough, what will make you successful as a salesperson will be the same element that will make you a funnier person to be around with: Get rid of that inhibition. This is where your confidence as a conversation starter/carrier will come into play. The best kind of jokes out there are delivered with confidence and a good comedian even knows how to recover from a bad one without stammering mid-sentence.

    Practice your conversational skills beforehand and then find ways to add your jokes in the middle of it. Just remember this, funny people are never shy and even if they do fall face first in a single instance, they have the guts to stand up, maintain a straight face, and carry on.

The Bottomline

Being funny and being effective in sales is an art in itself. It’s even a long and tedious process as you have to go through multiple trials (and errors) as you master your script. However, that does not mean that being funny and being convincing in sales is an impossible feat. What it requires from you is to learn when to strike a balance between making that person laugh and actually guiding them through the sales process.

Have you tried being funny with your potential clients? What types of humor do you think are acceptable for sales in the current times? Let us know in the comments below.




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