Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Start with Silly: 5 Ways to Let Playfulness Pave the Way

So, I like to bite my dog.

She asks for it. And I figure, if she’s always (playfully) biting me, there’s no reason I can’t return the favor.

I usually go for the ears. It drives Paisley crazy.

Now, you’re probably wondering why the heck I’m telling you this.

SIMPLE: I always start with silly.

In emails. In writings. In speeches. In conversations. In phone calls. In conference calls. In sales pitches. In meetings. In customer encounters. In coaching sessions.

I start with silly.

What about you?

How early are you expressing YOUR playfulness?
How early are YOU being silly, funny and childlike?


ANSWER: Not early enough.

In my experience as a Professional Dork/Nerd/Geek/Putz/Goofball, when you start with silly, six things happen:

You diffuse defensiveness. Letting go of having a purpose = Letting your guard down. Instant comfort. Instant relaxation. Instant vulnerability. How are YOU uncrossing people’s arms?

You return to your core. Childlikeness takes you back to a purer, more authentic, more creative and less judgmental place. Wouldn’t it be great if ALL communications existed in that kind of environment?

You relax the situation. Humor, silliness and lightness relax people; and relaxed people think and learn better. How are YOU making it easy to listen to you?

You break down barriers. If someone is laughing with you, that person is also agreeing with you. This reduces psychological distance between parties, thus increasing approachability for all. How are YOU coming nearer to others?

You soften the ground. Relieve tension early and you will set a foundation of comfort that lasts for the entire email/conversation/call/article/speech. How quickly are YOUR elephants addressed?

You stimulate memory. Famed cartoonist Alfred Mercier once said, “What people learn with pleasure they never forget.” What percentage of the information YOU give people is forgotten by time they’re done?

OK! Ready to become seriously playful? The following five practices will help you start with silly:

1. Begin small. Do something unnecessary and superfluous. Sure, it may start out little, but it also may become big. For example, if someone asks you, “So, what do YOU do?” before you give your REAL answer – just for the sake of starting with silly – try responding with one of these answers first:

o “I do windows!”
o “As little as possible…”
o “I do whatever my wife tells me to do…”

It’s unlikely you’ll get a standing ovation, but the other person will (at the LEAST) smile, chuckle, or, better yet, start playing along with you. Great way to kick of a conversation with someone you’ve just met. How playful are your answers to mundane questions?

2. Leverage brand moments. Next time the secretary or gatekeeper says, “May I ask who’s calling?” use this as an opportunity to start with silly. Insert your That Guy. For example, I always say, “Yeah, tell Karen it’s The Nametag Guy.” Nine times out of ten, when the other person picks up the phone, they’re already laughing! You challenge is to leverage similar brand moments. For example:

o The subject line of your emails.
o The “FROM” line on your email account.
o The “FROM” message on your cell phone.

3. Get over your boringness. Don’t throw me that, “But I’m not funny,” lie. Everybody is funny. Everyone has funny stories. Everyone possesses inherent hilarity. The challenge is learning how to discover and then deliver it. That doesn’t mean tell jokes. That doesn’t mean, “Use humor.” That means BE funny. It’s not something you DO; it’s something you ARE. Regularly as yourself questions like these:

o What’s funny about what just happened?
o Who would think this is absolutely hilarious?
o What other funny example is exactly like this?

4. Be funny early. Take a lesson from comedians, writers and professional speakers. They’re funny within the first seven seconds of opening their mouths. If they’re not, they’re no good. Now, that doesn’t mean evoking sidesplitting humor right away. But it DOES mean a playfulness, excitement and lightness that INFECTS the audience right away. After all, humor is the only universal language. So, consider these examples:

o Re-read the introduction of this article. It’s not exactly Humor Hall of Fame Material, but it’s fun. It’s playful. It’s light. That’s how you start a piece of writing.
o Watch ANY video of George Carlin doing stand up. He has the audience laughing within seven seconds every time. Classic.
o Google Dave Barry Article. The first sentence in every column he’s every written is hilarious. Typical Dave.

REMEMBER: Starting with silly has a cumulative effect.

When people become silly, they become less defensive.
When people become less defensive, they become more relaxed.
When people become more relaxed, they become more engaged.
When people become more engaged, they become more likely to listen to you.
When people become more likely to listen to you, anything is possible.

NOTE: This practice of silliness doesn’t mean being a big goofball ALL the time.

Just some of the time.

ALSO NOTE: Starting with silly can backfire.

Your job is to discern the situations in which silliness is or isn't appropriate.

And sometimes, if you start with silly - and truly feel that it WAS appropriate at the time - and someone simply DOESN'T get it (or looks at you like you're nuts), let it go. Maybe it was you, maybe it was them. Move on.

Ultimately, whether you’re giving a speech, writing an article, making a sales call or leading a teleconference, the sooner you “lay tile” of comfort and playfulness, the smoother the message will be digested.

Maybe Mary Poppins was right. Maybe a spoonful of sugar really DOES help the medicine go down.

So, wouldn’t it make sense to give people that spoonful as soon as possible?

I challenge you to start with silly. Learn it, practice it, BE it, today.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go bite my dog.

LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How early are you expressing your playfulness?

LET ME SUGGEST THIS...
For the list called, "7 Ways to Out ATTRACT Your Competition," send an email to me, and I'll send you the list for free!

* * * *
Scott Ginsberg
That Guy with the Nametag
scott@hellomynameisscott.com

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