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Humor in telecomm: we need it badly!

Sir Winston Churchill was quite fond of spirits, as almost everyone at the time knew. Once he was scheduled to make a speech to a small gathering. The host introduced him by saying, "If all the spirits consumed by Sir Winston were poured into this room, it would reach up to here on the wall." He drew an imaginary line at eye level.

Sir Winston glanced at the line his host had just drawn, and made some mathematical calculations with his fingers. Turning to the group he sighed and said, "Ah, so much to be done, and so little time in which to do it."

Sir Winston's comment here is certainly true of the telecommunications management profession. Even more important is Sir Winston's ability to laugh at the reference to one of his favorite activities.

Humor is one of the most important parts of being human. It makes us feel good; it helps us relax and deal with the many stresses of life in the 1990s.

Humor is desperately needed in telecommunications today.

As our industry presses forward to greater heights of technological brilliance, we must be careful not to lose our ability to relax and laugh. This month's column offers some timely thoughts--as well as thoughts from others--about the importance of humor in our profession. Before we get too carried away with technology and all its implications, we must remember to stand back and see it for what it really is.

Ever notice the growth of comedy on television? Cable TV has been highly instrumental in bringing some of America's top funny people to the public. And the public is responding.

You can see comedians on major entertainment channels like Home Box Office and Showtime; a comedy channel is now on the airwaves as well. But standup comedy is not what we're talking about today.

We're talking about the importance of not taking ourselves and our technology too seriously. Otherwise, we could evolve into one-dimensional automatons, totally devoid of passion. This would certainly not be beneficial for the industry, or the world that will so desperately depend on telecommunications for the future.

John Cleese is well known to most of you from the popular Monty Python series which first appeared back in 1972. The shows are regularly shown on public television stations, and still generate the laughs we enjoyed back then (even if we didn't always understand the British sense of humor).

More recently, Cleese starred in A Fish Called Wanda with Jamie Lee Curtis and Kevin Kline. But perhaps his most significant work outside of film has been Video Arts, Inc., which he co-founded 19 years ago. It is today the world's largest producer of humorous training films.

Can you imagine learning about frame relay or network management from John Cleese?

Indeed, you should be anxious to learn about frame relay and network management from the likes of Cleese. Can you remember the last time you attended an instructional program--of any kind, and on any subject--in which humor was closely interwoven with the major program ideas and goals?

If you have had that kind of experience, I'm willing to bet you are using at least one or two of the lessons learned from the program. Why? Because the use of humor made the program more fun.

Think about this: The bathtub was invented in 1850; the telephone not until 1876. Had you lived in 1850 you could have sat in your tub for the next 26 years without having the phone ring once!

And isn't this true: In the world of business, the executive knows something about everything, the technician knows everything about something, and the switchboard operator knows everything!

If you periodically make presentations or speeches to groups (whether inside or outside the industry), a sprinkling of humor will add greatly to the impact of your message. You may not be John Cleese, but the use of humor will certainly help you make your points.

A telephone repair technician finished installing some equipment in the Pentagon, but soon got lost trying to find his way out of the maze of offices and corridors. Finally, in desperation, he entered an office and dialed the operator. "I'm lost. Can you tell me how to get outside?" he asked. "Just dial 9," was the hurried reply.

It's not a bad idea to take note of Yogi Berra's well-known way of looking at things. Once the famous Yankee catcher and manager went into a pizzeria and ordered a small pizza. "Do you want me to slice it into four pieces or eight?" asked the person at the counter. "Make it four," Yogi said, "I don't think I can eat eight."

One of the lines I regularly use when talking about disaster recovery (not a funny subject, you say) comes from my friend and business associate Peter Gentle in the U.K., who told me of an incident before he started his own business. While traveling with a few others on a boat, through a mishap, his boss fell overboard. "That was a real disaster," said Peter. However, when they pulled his boss in from the water, "Now that was a catastrophe!"

Humor works well in virtually any situation. Rarely will you find successful politicians who don't punctuate their speeches with humor. The most successful professional speakers are always ready with a funny story or one-liner to break the ice or keep the program moving.

If you speak regularly, you might want to subscribe to an excellent humor newsletter called Current Comedy. It's a collection of humorous materials you can add to your speeches to keep them timely or help you deal with a specific speaking situation. Let's look at a few examples.

Hecklers: "Sir, why don't you exercise your right to remain silent?" Or, "Thank you for heckling. It lets me know someone's still awake."

Openers: "Occasions like this make me proud to be an American--freedom of speech and a captive audience." Or, "Let's make a deal. I'll pretend I know what I'm talking about and you pretend to listen."

Or, "Before I begin, I've been asked to remind you that taking flash pictures is strictly prohibited--but if you do take one, this is my better side."

After Dinner: "I hope you all enjoyed your meal. They won't let me eat until I finish speaking." Or, "This hotel has joined the recycling crusade. Those were the same dinner rolls they served us last year."

And when you are asked to field some questions, "Please feel free to ask me any questions I want to answer."

If you conduct regular meetings, try starting off with a joke or story to get the group in a good frame of mind. If you are making a critical presentation to management, try a bit of humor at opportune moments. You'll still be perceived as a professional but, more importantly, a professional with a sense of humor.

Numerous books have been written about humor. Perhaps you periodically receive notices about new books from various publishers (many of which you probably discard). Keep an eye out for books on humor. Build yourself a library of humorous materials. And don't forget to clip cartoons from industry publications.

Our industry is inundated in technology. And we take it all too seriously at times. The next time you feel yourself drowning in the business, find something to make you laugh. Then, share it with one of your staff, your manager, or a friend. Each of you will feel much better for the effort.

Our industry is making tremendous strides around the world. Telecommunications is one of the key elements of the future global economy. So while we are diligently building that global environment, let's make sure we always remember to see the funny side as well.

"Who was that on the telephone?" the homeowner asked his maid. "I'm afraid I don't know, sir," was the reply. "Someone said, 'Long distance from New York.' So I said 'Yes, it certainly is,' and hung up."

Sources used in this month's column

Braude's Treasury of Wit and Humor, Jacob Braude, Prentice Hall.

Speaker's Treasury of Sports Anecdotes, Stories and Humor, Gerald Tomlinson, Prentice Hall.

Current Comedy, Gary Apple, Editor, Associates International, Inc., New York, NY.

The address for Paul F. Kirvan & Associates is 20 Gael Court, Suite 100, Turnersville, N.J. 08012; telephone: 800-227-7525; fax: 609-232-8821.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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