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6 Tips for Using Humor in the Classroom

Posted by Paul Sitter on 2/22/12 4:15 AM
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Accelerated Learning Theory says that people retain information in a fun and a relaxed atmosphere. Furthermore, if people enjoy training, it is good marketing for future classes. How do you set a fun tone without going too far? Sometimes, it may feel like you are walking through a minefield with every step bringing potential disaster unless great caution is used. How do you pick the safe road?

Here are some tips to help you walk on the right path:

Establish rapport early

Make sure you’re in the training room before the learners arrive. Greet them as they come in and engage them in brief conversations to try to find areas of commonality. Introduce yourself when the class starts and include statements about your personal and professional background; this helps build rapport. It makes the workshop participants more comfortable in general and, perhaps, helps them view what you say or do in a more favorable light. Once you establish rapport you are no longer dealing with a room full of critical strangers, but rather a group of accepting friends.

Use appropriate humor

Appropriate humor would be defined as that which may make people laugh, but does not offend. Examples of inappropriate humor would be jokes that have religious, racial, or gender overtones. Generally, self-deprecating humor (where the speaker is the object of the joke) is safe.

Don’t use sarcasm

Comments that may be perceived as sarcastic references to participants must be avoided. On some occasions, a trainer will have a very comfortable relationship with a participant through workplace association or personality. He or she could say virtually anything to this person without offending them; however, the rest of the class may not recognize this relationship and take offense to an off-handed remark, made purely in jest, which would seem to attack the person. Adult learners walk into the classroom with a hard-won sense of self-esteem which must be honored.

Be too politically correct

We live in an age of political correctness. If a humorous reference, a word, or a phrase could be offensive to anyone in the room, why use it? Surely, there are other ways to get the message across. When in doubt, don’t go there!

Think, and then think again

Most trainers are busy enough with effectively presenting content and facilitating exercises; however, one other task that needs continuous attention is keeping a filter in place between brain and mouth. The filter should constantly evaluate word choice and examples used in the classroom to ensure there is nothing offensive to the participants. If your filter catches something that may be offensive, just use other words or examples.

Learn and don’t repeat

Trainers are continually evaluating their participants. Are they “tuned in?” Are they getting it? Did they understand the instructions? Those questions and more are answered by reading body language, facial expressions, and comments. Sometimes, you’ll see that something has fallen flat as soon as you say it and you can attempt an immediate recovery. Other times, you might find out that you said or did the wrong thing on the end of course surveys. You certainly don’t walk into the classroom with the intent to disconnect from the participants, so when you receive those signals, you are likely disappointed with that aspect of your performance; however, the key is to isolate the behavior that caused the problem and ensure that it does not reoccur in that class or any other. Luckily, unlike a real minefield, we can have an occasional misstep, learn, and move on.

Or we can just bypass the minefield altogether by ensuring that good rapport is established early with our learners and the energizing humor used in the classroom is appropriate, safe, and well thought out. In that environment, it is not only enjoyable for our participants, but fun for us, too!

What additional tips would you like to share with our readers?

Paul has been a course leader with Langevin since 2000. He graduated from the University of San Francisco with a Bachelor’s degree in History. Throughout Paul’s career he’s had the pleasure of training for a variety of industries including sports, military, technical, aviation, and academia. Paul firmly believes with the right training and support, people can be competent performers in most positions. The organizational trainer is the key to providing that performance boost. In his spare time, you might catch sight of Paul on the sidelines of a soccer field, biking through Napa Valley, or spending some quality time with his family.

Topics: instructional techniques, instructor-led training, learners

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Our very own world-class course leaders share their experiences, tips, best practices, and expertise on virtual training, instructional design, needs analysis, e-learning, delivery, evaluation, presentation skills, facilitation, and much more!

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