Episode #103: Humor in Sales with Andrew Tarvin
In This Episode of The Buyer’s Mind with Jeff Shore:
Andrew Tarvin, author of Humor that Works, laughs with Jeff through this examination of humor in the workplace and the place of humor in sales. Everyone has a sense of humor, some more quirky than others, but everyone laughs. Connecting into that characteristic can have a positive effect on your relationship building skills.
Topics we’re going to cover on today’s podcast:
[1:01] Should we try to be funny during a sales presentation?
[6:30] How to bring out the humans in people through humor
[9:38] From Engineer to Corporate Comedian
[13:59] When should I be funny?
[22:01] From hobby to obsession
[28:10] Improv as a life skill
More about our guest Andrew Tarvin:
Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first Humor Engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.
Through his company, Humor That Works, Andrew has helped more 25,000 people at 250+ organizations—including P&G, GE, ESPN, Microsoft, the U.S. Navy, PepsiCo, and the International Association of Canine Professional—learn to be more productive, less stressed, and happier. Combining his background in business with his experience as an international comedian, his programs are engaging, entertaining, and effective.
Prior to starting his company, Andrew was a top-rated project manager at Procter & Gamble, managing million dollar projects for a $350 million business. He is also an accomplished comedian, having performed in more than 1,000 shows all around the world.
Andrew is the best-selling author of Humor That Works: 501 Ways to Beat Stress, Increase Productivity, and Have Fun at Work, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and FastCompany, and his TEDx talk has been viewed over 700,000 times. He has delivered programs in 50 states, 18 countries, and 1 planet (Earth). He loves the color orange and is obsessed with chocolate.
Links from today’s podcast:
Jeff: So let me ask you a question. Do you use humor in your sales presentation? And should you even try to do so? Well, let’s get into that very interesting subject on today’s episode of, “The Buyer’s Mind.”
Announcer: Welcome to “The Buyer’s Mind” where we take a closer look deep inside your customer’s decision making mechanism to reverse engineer the perfect sales presentation. Now, please welcome your host, Jeff Shore.
Jeff: Welcome everyone, once again, to “The Buyer’s Mind.” I am your host, Jeff Shore, where we try and figure out exactly the way that your buyer wants to buy. We figure out the way that they want to buy. We can also determine how we should sell to them to make it easy for them to do just that. And today we’re going to tackle a really, really interesting subject with a really, really interesting guest. We’re going to talk about humor, and I welcome as always our show producer, Paul Murphy. And Murph, let me just ask you the question. Should we try to be funny during a sales presentation?
Murph: Well, if we go by my wife, I would say no, because she says, “You think you’re funny but you’re not.” So I should probably avoid it.
Jeff: It’s the classic scene in “Good Morning, Vietnam” where I think his name was Hulk, but he fills in for Robin Williams when Robin Williams gets suspended. And he thinks he’s funny. He thinks he is funny so much, but he’s just not and even the people around him are like, “Sir, you are not funny. I know funny. You are not funny.” So that’s a tough one though, isn’t it, Murph, because like how do you tell somebody, “Oh, you know what? You’re just not funny?”
Murph: My wife doesn’t have any problem telling me I guess.
Jeff: Yeah. I guess my wife will tell me that I am selectively funny. And I know that, because she’ll say, “That is not funny.” And then I know it was very much not funny. So that’s a tough one. But when it comes to the sales presentation, do you, Murph, want your salesperson to be funny?
Murph: Yeah. I don’t mind a sense of humor. I think with the right tone and the right attitude, I don’t mind somebody trying a little bit of humor on me. I’m all for a good laugh.
Jeff: All right. Fair enough. And by the way, I Googled while you were answering, I confess, and it was Bruno Kirby, who played the role in that “Good Morning, Vietnam.” So there you go. So, we’re going to look today about this thing called humor. And there’s one thing that we will look at that I think is really, really interesting. And you’re going to hear this from our guest in just a little bit. Humor makes us genuine. It’s authenticity and that’s the real goal.
Humor is just one avenue that gets you to be authentic and there’s no question about it. We know that there are times when in a sales presentation, it’s just not appropriate to be funny, and we know that in the sales presentation, it’s never appropriate to be funny in a way that’s crude or crass in any way. But here’s what I would suggest might be the way to look at this, time your lighter moments to coincide with some of the customers’ heavy moments.
How do you do that? Well, take some time to contemplate some of the heavy moments in the buying process, those moments when your customer is likely to be a little uptight in some way. So for example, if you sell cars, your customer is probably emotionally tense when you’re talking about the monthly payments. This would be an excellent time for some strategic levity. If you sell property insurance, your customers probably tends to be a little bit tense when talking about what could go wrong in their property.
Now, you don’t have to crack a joke but your pleasant calmness is absolutely transferable. And I think that that’s what we’re talking about here when we think about the role of humor in the sales presentation. It’s not so much that it’s humor, it’s about how do we communicate and transfer positive emotion? So we talk about that a lot at Shore Consulting, the concept of emotional transference. We do this all the time, whether we know it or not. And just think about it with your spouse or significant other.
If I’m having a bad day, there’s no question about it. It won’t take long before Karen’s having a bad day as well, right? But conversely, if I meet that food server at the restaurant who’s really upbeat and a lot of fun, a real genuine person, then what happens over time? I feel better, I become happier. That’s emotional transference. And so this happens in great sales presentations all the time where we bring a sense of positive energy to a customer, and then even if they’re a little bit negative when they’re coming through the door, we outlast them.
Now, humor may be the way to do it, but the key here is, what am I trying to do? I’m trying to bring positive energy. Now, I want to make sure I’m clear on this. I’m not talking about hyperactive energy. You don’t have to freak out or spaz out on your customer. But there’s that sense of positive energy that says, “This is a good place. This is an easy place. This is a fun place.” All of those things are accomplished through that emotional transference of positive energy. And one way we look at it is with humor.
So as we get into our discussion today with Andrew Tarvin, I want to just recommend to you that you’re keeping an open mind and you’re being very evaluative about not just your presentation, but about your customers’ buying pattern. What do they go through, and how can you walk alongside your customer to make it easy for them to do what they want to do anyway?
All right, joined now by Andrew Tarvin. He is the author of, “Humor That Works: 501 Ways to Use Humor, Beat Stress, Increase Productivity, and Have Fun at Work.” And I don’t know about you, but I just think we are all need to have a little bit more fun at work especially in this day and age. Welcome to “The Buyer’s Mind.” Andrew Tarvin, how are you, sir?
Andrew: I am doing well. Thanks for having me, Jeff.
Jeff: And you’re calling in from Brooklyn, New York. So boy, you’ve just got material all over the place if you want to go out and find something funny.
Andrew: Oh, absolutely for days. I just step outside, walk around for about 10 minutes and suddenly I’ve got a notebook full of ideas.
Jeff: That is awesome. And this really is kind of your specialty. It is how to bring out the humans in people through humor. So I just got to ask you the question, I’m just going to channel Robert Wuhl, Marty Lee Dreiwitz from “Good Morning, Vietnam.” Say something funny right now.
Andrew: That’s exactly the goal, because when you’re talking to salespeople, it’s like, “Sell me something right now. Influence me.”
Jeff: Yes. Exactly.
Andrew: But no. I mean, it’s a common response to things that we have to get used to, and actually, people tend to smile, at least, kind of perk up at my job title. I’m the world’s first humor engineer, as far as I know. And so that’s sometimes the starting point to get people to be like, “All right, something’s a little bit different about this person. It’s, one, he kind of looks like a skinny Hugh Jackman. And two, he’s made up his own job title.”
Jeff: Which we all want to do, really, when you think about it. I mean, if we were all given the choice to make up our job title, I guarantee you we’d have far less boring titles than we see right now. What is your background, Andrew? What led you to this course in life, and how do your parents feel about this?
Andrew: Well, my background is in engineering, which is perfectly sensible for a lot of people. I teach people how to use humor, and I do standup and improv. And people are like, “What’s your background?” I say engineering. They’re like, “Of course, naturally.” That’s what we all assumed. No, but Computer Science and Engineering from the Ohio State University is kind of where I started, and after I graduated I started working at Procter & Gamble as an IT project manager.
And that mindset’s always been with me. I’ve always been an engineer as a kid. I used to like to take things apart and put them back together again, things like clocks and radios, and my parents’ marriage, which never really got that one back together. But no, I was always obsessed with efficiency. How can I do my work as efficiently as possible, and it’s still something that I think about. When I first moved to New York, I counted the number of steps using a Fitbit for the different directions to the different subways to know which is the fastest subway for me to get to, it’s just kind of how I think.
But at P&G, I started to realize that there is a difference between being efficient and being effective. And while you could be efficient with things like computers, you can’t really be efficient with things like people, because they have emotions and feelings, and I’m doing air quotes. But realizing that’s how humans work, is we have those emotions and feelings and so we can’t be efficient instead we have to be effective.
And as a stereotypical engineer, stereotypical nerd, because I think I meet at least one of the stereotypes, you know, skinny body, nasally voice, allergy to the sun. I meet one of the stereotypes of being a nerd. I didn’t have the skill set I needed to be effective with people. But luckily for me in school, I started doing improv and standup, and at P&G, started to realize the reason I was being successful was because of some of the ideas and mindsets and skills that I had learned from improv and standup, I was applying them in the workplace, and that’s why I was getting results.
Jeff: Okay. Just connect the dots though. You’re in school and you’re studying to become an engineer, and you’ve got this highly efficient background and you do really, really weird stuff like count steps to subway stations. And at that point, you go, “Well, the next logical step is to take an improv class so I could do standup comedy.” Connect the dots. That does not make sense to me.
Andrew: Yeah. Well, so my best friend in college wanted to start an improv group and basically forced me to join. Exactly. Yeah. He was like, “We should do this.” And he didn’t have to twist my arm too much, but I don’t think I ever would have been the person sitting in a comedy club and been like, “Yeah, I’m going to do that. And it’s going to make me better. And eventually, I’m going to start a business based off of it.” Not at all. It was just, in college, you’re like, “Yeah, sure. I’ll do whatever my friends are doing.”
And I will say that what I did not have in comedy skill, at the time, I made up for in comedy project management. I was like, “All right, if we’re going to do a group, we’re going to practice three times a week, we’re going to have a business meeting every Monday. We’re going to film all of our shows, and go back and watch it as if it’s like game tape.” Because we had no formal training in this. We watched “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and tried to repeat what we saw. But over time, with that practice and repetition, we got better.
And that’s when I realized and discovered that humor is a skill. And if it’s a skill, it means it can be learned and we learn it the same way we learn any other skill, through a little bit of education and then tons of practice, tons of messing it up, but getting out there and trying it over and over again and seeing what works.
Jeff: Okay. So I want to get into that in a second. But let’s stay to your background here for just a moment. Tell us about your first standup gig.
Andrew: So my first standup gig was in Woody’s at The Ohio State University. We had been doing improv for about a year. And then there’s a comedy competition at Ohio State. And so a bunch of us in the improv group were like, “Oh, if we can be funny when we make it up on the spot, it’s got to be easier to be funnier when we write it down.” And it turns out that standup is a lot harder than improv, at least for me. And so I got up there and I got a handful of laughs. But the thing that it taught me was that I myself was actually funny because in improv, I was like, “Maybe it’s just the people that I’m with. My friend is out in LA as a comedian. He’s hilarious. Maybe it’s just them that’s funny, but it was me by myself sharing my thoughts.” And I got the audience to laugh a little bit. And it told me, one, that I was funny, and two, there is a cool logic to it. I’ve since explained comedy in a way, is kind of math with words. This concept plus this idea creates something new for the audience to laugh. I realized there’s actually a lot of structure and logic to the process. So I fell in love.
Jeff: I want to talk here about the idea that you discover that humor is a skill, you just put a little math equation to it. But isn’t there a paradigm shift that often has to take place internally first for a lot of people? There are a lot of people who are going to just look at it and go, “Well, this is a real problem. I’m interested in the subject, but we’ve got a problem. And the problem is I’m not funny.” I mean, let’s say some people shouldn’t sing, let’s just face it. Can you just sort of wheel this into being funny or there are some people, you have a sense of humor or you don’t have a sense of humor? Let’s just be honest.
Andrew: Well, I mean, there are certain people that should sing professionally. But I mean, look at William Hung, he had a successful career from not being great at singing. And look at the market of Karaoke. And just because you can’t sing well doesn’t mean that you can’t sing in the car, right? I have a terrible singing voice but that doesn’t stop me from rocking out to some Adele when I’m alone in the car sitting in traffic. And so I think there’s this idea that because you’re not necessarily maybe funny for a standup comedy stage, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use humor to be more effective in the workplace.
Because there is a difference between sense of humor and like ability to humor. And I’ve never met anyone without a sense of humor. I’ve met people with a very specific sense of humor, but I don’t think there’s a single human being on the planet that’s never laughed.
Jeff: Yeah. It’s a fair point. It’s a fair point. So if we looked at it, and we said, “Okay, here I am. My audience is largely based of sales and marketing professionals and I think they’re always asking the question, ‘When should I be funny?'” Let’s face it. There are times when we try something, we think it’s funny and maybe our filter is a little damaged. So the way that I think it’s funny, it’s not going to be the way that other people are going to think it’s funny. I think that there’s sometimes a little bit of fear here for sales professionals that are going to look at it and say, “What if it backfires? I could blow my whole deal because I was trying to be funny, and in fact, I just offended somebody.”
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s a very common fear. But the reality is that I don’t know anyone who’s ever been fired because of a bad joke. I know people have been fired because of inappropriate jokes, but not a bad joke. In fact, they did a study at Wharton and Harvard that found that when people use humor, if it was positive, inclusive humor, even if the other person didn’t laugh, even if it wasn’t met with a positive response, the person was still seen as more confident, more competent, and more capable.
And so, just the willingness to try humor is good, and that positive piece, though, is very important because we as Americans do love sarcasm and satire, and kind of like…especially with our friends kind of poking fun of them, but that’s more aggressive style of humor. There’s also affiliative and self-enhancing humor, which is our two positive forms of humor that work a little bit better in the workplace, that tend to anyway. And so, part of it is that style of humor that you use. And then to answer your question of when, this is what I love about humor as an engineer, is that it’s so effective that there are 30 plus benefits to using humor and they’re kind of spread across the five kind of key areas of work that we do: execution, thinking, problem solving, building relationships, communicating, and leading, humor can be applied across all of those.
And so what we teach is the idea of the humor map, where you’re taking a look at your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in a cold call, is it in a cold email? I remember, not too long ago, I got a cold email from some group. I didn’t respond to it. And a week later, do you know the John Travolta meme? It’s a GIF of him from, “Pulp Fiction” where he’s just kind of looking around?
Jeff: Right, yeah. He’s got his overcoat over his arm.
Andrew: Yeah. And he’s just kind of like looking around like, what’s going on? So this person sent me just that GIF in the email as a week later follow up. And it made me laugh because it’s like, yeah, that’s kind of…I hadn’t responded and he’s just like, “Hey, what’s going on? Where is the message? You’re going to respond or not?” So you can use humor in an email, and it got me to actually respond to this person. I still didn’t buy but it made me like this person a little bit more, made me take another look at this particular moment.
Then you have to understand, who is the audience? And so your audience could be, is this someone that you’re meeting for the very first time, or is it a client that you’ve been working with for the past five years? That’s going to change the dynamic, and also what they need, what they know, what they expect, what the situation is. And then finally, what your purpose is. Why do you want to use humor? Because humor for the sake of I just want to use it is okay, I guess, but the engineering me loves that we can use it for a specific reason.
So this person used the John Travolta meme as a way to get me to pay attention and actually respond. Or we can use humor as a way to build rapport quickly with a client, or we can use it to manage our own stress. I remember talking with a salesperson who she traveled quite a bit and she had a Tickle Me Elmo doll that would sit in her passenger seat. And any time she needed, she had a stressful client call, she would come out to the car and just kind of do the…turn the Tickle Me Elmo thing on. And she joked that she thought that that should allow her to get into the HOV lane drive.
And so it’s going to be different for every person, what they do, but we have so many specific reasons or benefits that we can gain from humor that we should be intentional about that. And that helps us control the when.
Jeff: I think that sometimes salespeople look at it and think, if I try to be funny and I’m not funny, then that they’re just not going to like me. And it sounds like what you’re suggesting is, no, no, even if you try to be funny and they don’t think you’re funny, they probably like you more because as you pointed out, it shows a sense of confidence that you’re willing to put yourself out there. Let’s face it, part of displaying humor is there’s some risk involved. Every time I’m going to try and say something and do something funny, there’s always little risk involved. I wonder if it’s just a fear defense that pops up in people’s head.
Andrew: I think a little bit. And obviously, there are extremes to it. If you spend 10 minutes of a client call really trying to work shops and standup materials as if you’re in a standup club and it is bombing, that’s not going to suddenly be like, “That guy was confident, we should pay him.” But if you say a single joke, if you tell a story that’s not the funniest thing in the world, then that one thing isn’t going to unravel everything typically. I think the other thing to recognize is that humor is more broad than comedy.
So comedy is a subset of humor, but humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. So if you’re not comfortable with doing a joke, or trying to specifically be funny, then maybe try to be amusing. We talk about humor in the workplace or humor that works our brand as a way of working that is different, effective, and fun. So not necessarily funny but more fun. So how can you bring more of a smile? How can you do things a little bit differently? And if you’re not great at it, you can also leverage the humor of other people. This is where the value of sense of humor comes in.
So you can create a pitch deck that you use images from Flickr under a Creative Commons License that are interesting pictures instead of just a wall full of text. Or you can kind of share a story, and connect it, as long as it’s connected to kind of the thing that you’re talking about a little bit later but use a story of like, “Oh, and so and so said,” or, “As, you know, this comedian has talked about,” or, “X, Y, Z.” So for example, when I’m explaining the structure of humor, I’ll use George Burns’ quote. So there’s a great George Burns’ quote that says, “Happiness is having a caring, tight knit family in another city.” Great line?
Jeff: Yeah, great line.
Andrew: When I’m talking about structure, I would say that structure is important. You want to put the funny piece at the end. And so it’s not happiness, is having a family in another city who is caring and tight knit. That’s not as funny. So that structure is important, but I didn’t have to use a joke that I created, instead I’m giving George Burns’ due, and then using that example. So with the popularity of memes, with GIFs in our keyboards, with emojis that we can use, with links to YouTube videos, with quotations that we can pull from the internet, again, you don’t have to be the source of humor. You don’t have to be the creator of humor, but you can still be the shepherd of humor, and you just want to make sure that you give proper credit, and don’t violate any copyright rules. But that can be a starting point for some people who feel like, “Oh, I’m just not funny.”
Jeff: It’s really interesting as I’m talking to you, Andrew. I’m listening. We’re talking to Andrew Tarvin, the author of “Humor at Work,” and his website, humorthatworks.com. We’ll put that in the show notes, there’s a host of resources there. It’s interesting because I’m always impressed by people and intrigued and attracted to people who obsess about things that are worth obsessing about. And this is one of those things where…this doesn’t sound like an interest to you, it sounds…I would classify it under the category of obsession. Do you agree with that?
Andrew: I would agree. Well, and I think that that’s part of…like if you’re going to be a full-on comedian, I think that’s part of what it is. A friend of mine who is a speaker, but speaks and uses things like magic, has talked about magic. Being a magician is really about just spending far more time than any other human would ever consider spending time on to learn a trick so that it looks natural. And comedy, a lot of times, is just spending far more time thinking about a particular subject and looking at it all of its different angles than most people would think about. So I spend a lot of time looking at efficiency. I don’t know. I realize, do you have a favorite number, Jeff?
Jeff: Well, I’ll just go with my…I wear number 11 on my hockey jersey. Let’s go with that.
Andrew: Yeah. So right. So you have a favorite number, 11. Maybe it’s not super, but for me, I love all the numbers because I’m a nerd. But favorite number is eight. And most people have a favorite number. The interesting thing is, like, do you have a favorite letter?
Jeff: No, I’ve never thought of a favorite letter.
Andrew: Yeah. Most people don’t have a favorite letter. I do. Favorite letter is A, it’s the start of my name. It is symmetrical. A plus, it’s good. I also have a least favorite letter. I think Q is worthless. I think we should get rid of it. Get to a 25 letter alphabet. So you can just kind of start to go down this rabbit hole of, like, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And that’s where your sense of humor comes in. Your sense of humor is simply what makes you curious about the world, what makes you go, “Huh? That’s interesting.” And then as comedians, we build off of that point of view.
So the joke that I share in my TEDx talk is that it took me going to the state of Florida to realize that the rapper Flo Rida got his nickname from his home state of Florida. And he put a space in it. That blew my mind. And so that’s just kind of an observation but you can extrapolate from that. You can build from it. You can say, “If this is true, what else is true?” So then you can say things like, “All right. I think other places should do that. I think there should be a Hispanic travel agency in Dover called Delaware.”
Jeff: Sure, why not?
Andrew: This is true. What else?
Jeff: Makes perfect sense. Sure. Yeah. I love the whole concept that because…this goes far beyond the idea of, how do I use humor in my work, or in my sales process, or whatever it is, just to say that, you just spend more time on that than most people. I mean, let’s face it. A lot of people are going to say, “Well, I’m not really funny.” But if you challenge them and say, “Okay. Well, how much time have you spent just thinking about funny things?” And they’re probably going to tell you, “Not all that often.” I want to ask you about one other thing here, and just go back to your standup days, when you think about most people, even thinking about standup or improv, it just scares the life out of them. And they can’t even imagine being in that setting. It’s the fear of public speaking, the fear of being in front of people, whatever it is. First of all, is it fear, or is it just rampant discomfort?
Andrew: Oh, I like that phrase. I think it’s rampant discomfort. Well, as though, I was speaking in Switzerland a few years ago. And one of the other speakers was a guy named Kevin Richardson, is also known as the lion whisperer. So like if you’ve ever seen the YouTube video of like a lion hugging a guy, that’s this guy, Kevin Richardson. And he and I were talking before the event and he found out that I did standup comedy. He is like, “I can never do that. It’s too scary.” And I’m like, “You live with lions.” Somehow living with lions is somehow not as scary as standing up on stage, in front of people, talking into a microphone.
And so, I think to your point it’s rampant discomfort, and it comes from the fact that you haven’t done it before. Absolutely, when I first started doing improv and standup, I was completely…I was a nervous-wreck the entire day. I couldn’t eat anything, you would mess with me. And then I did it for a little bit, then I was in a wreck for like half of the day. And then when we were like two hours before, and then only an hour before. And then kind of a practice and repetition, now, I’m comfortable being able to do it. But it’s just like the first time you learn to drive a car, you’re sitting there and you’re like, “Oh, my God. I’m responsible for a lot of metal that can go really fast.” And you become a little bit nervous about it.
And then now there’s times… There might be people listening to this podcast that are driving and forgot that they were driving. They’re like, “I don’t remember the last 20 minutes of me driving, and I’m on the highway going 70 miles an hour,” because it’s from practice and repetition. And so I think it’s just getting out there and trying it and it doesn’t have to be…certainly one, I think that everyone should take an improv class. I think that you will learn life skills that will benefit you, not only in work, but at home as well. But even if you don’t do that, to your point that you talked about a little bit earlier, of just think a little bit more about it. Just when you make someone laugh, because you do, when you make someone laugh, just kind of have a little trigger in your head to see like, “Okay. Why was that? What was it that I said?”
And then the other thing that comedians do is they practice a lot of different things and they tweak it. So if you’re on a sales call, and you know all the time you’re going to have to say a little bit about your background or a little bit about your product or something that you’re going to have to do over and over and over again, just start to make slight tweaks to it. And you beta test it. Okay, if I say it this way, does this get a smile or does this get a laugh? And if it does, keep it, and if it doesn’t, then try something new. It doesn’t have to be the fear that you talked about earlier that, is this joke going to work or not? What comedians do is they just practice that material a ton and they know, “Okay, this is going to work as a joke because I’ve done it in front of 100 different audiences before.” You’re going to have the conversations anyway, you might as well have a little bit more fun with them.
Jeff: We’re almost out of time. But I wanted to ask you, you just made this suggestion, I was going to ask anyway about the idea of improv, not just for the purpose of performing, but just as a life skill. You know, for me, I haven’t tried improv since I was in high school. All I know is I watch “Whose Line” and I go Colin Mochrie is just like the most creative guy I’ve ever met in my life. How could I ever be like that? Well, then I have to remind myself, I’m not auditioning for “Whose Line.” So the question then is, what are the benefits that you’re going to get out of an improv class? And if somebody did want to take an improv class, what would they expect to see when they showed up for that class for the first time?
Andrew: Yeah. So I think a couple of things. One, there’s an entire book by Patricia Ryan Madson called “Improv Wisdom.” And it’s basically the life lessons learned from improv. On the Humor That Works site, we have a blog post that is 10 life tips learned from improv class, and they include things like how to be a better listener, how to be more present, particularly, in a world that is constantly distracted, how do you be more present? How do you react more honestly? It improves listening skills, it improves your ability to think on your feet and be able to react to stuff. I mean, listen, it taught an engineer how to actually have humor in conversations with people. That’s a pretty good testament to the power of improvisation. And when you go to a class, it kind of depends, you’re either going to learn short form which is like “Whose Line is it Anyway,” or long form which is more scene based. It’s what you see at like say UCB or iO in Chicago.
But you’re going to be there with a group of people, and you’re going to do a couple of exercises and activities just to kind of practice this in a safe environment. And this is why we use a lot of applied improv in our training programs, is because we use them as a way to…it’s an interactive exercise and we’re applying concepts from improv to the world of say communication or leadership skills. And then you’re practicing those skills in a safe world where you know if you make a mistake in an improv class, if you kind of stumble over yourself, or you say something that you can’t quite figure out how to say it, or you can’t come up with something, it’s safe to do that in an improv class. You’re learning that skill so that when you are in front of clients, or you’re at a networking event later, you have already built up that skill and you know how to react. So I could go on for days about the benefits of improv. It’s my belief, it’s my wish that every student growing up takes a programming class because it teaches problem solving and thinking skills, and they teach it in improv class because it teaches you the human skill.
Jeff: Love it. Love it. Hey, we’re out of time, but we have just enough here to get you on the hot seat. Rapid fire questions, rapid fire answers, you’re ready?
Andrew: Right, go.
Jeff: Your very first job?
Andrew: Cart pusher at Meijer.
Jeff: Love it. When you were 10, you thought you would be what?
Andrew: I wanted to be an international soccer superstar. That did not happen.
Jeff: Did not happen. I was going to say I’ve not heard of you. Most beautiful place you’ve ever stood?
Andrew: Imperial Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.
Jeff: Any book that you’ve read that made a profound impact on your life?
Andrew: “Improv Wisdom” is certainly one of them and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Oh, and Calvin and Hobbes, “A Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes” is my final answer.
Jeff: You cannot go wrong there. A movie you’ve seen multiple times, but you just can’t help it. If it comes on, you have to see it again?
Andrew: “Airplane,” my favorite movie.
Jeff: Love it. And the name of your first celebrity crush?
Andrew: First celebrity crush, Kate Beckinsale.
Jeff: You were off the hot seat. Andrew, that was a lot of fun. I really appreciate you being on the show. I know it’s very, very helpful to our audience. And to our audience, I want to just drive you over to humorthatworks.com. And if you just click on a tab called For Individuals, you’re going to find just a host of really, really interesting, really, really helpful tools for how you do work. And then for organizations, you can learn how you can bring Andrew in for workshops for coaching and for just really amazing opportunities to do something that, let’s face it, the world needs more of and I think we can make the world a little bit of a better place. Andrew Tarvin, thanks for being on, “The Buyer’s Mind.”
Andrew: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I’ll give one last quick shout out for people if they’re wondering where to start. I’m an engineer, former project manager, got to end on next steps. Think one smile per hour. Think one thing that you can do each hour of your day to bring a smile to your face or someone else’s face. And that’s how you start to build a humor habit and start to get the benefits of humor in the workplace.
Jeff: That’ll be a Jeff Shore original by next Thursday. Thank you, Andrew. So Murph, how much fun was that?
Murph: That was a blast. Now, I have a question for you. Do you know who William Hung is?
Jeff: Sure. I mean, absolutely famous for the remake of the song “She bangs,” and doing his best of Ricky Martin on American Idol. Do you remember that?
Murph: I do remember that. And it’s interesting. He parlayed a whole career out of that.
Jeff: Isn’t that interesting? Yeah, yeah. And Andrew Tarvin is an interesting character, right, he just sort of things a little differently.
Murph: Well, and I think that’s why we had him on the show, was to help everybody kind of think outside the box a little bit.
Jeff: Yeah. But to go from an engineer at a big company like Procter & Gamble where, my guess is, they probably didn’t have standup and improv sessions in the lunch room, and to look at that and say, “Okay, now here I go, I’m going to become a humor engineer.” That takes some gutsiness to be able to do that. It’s really cool to see the way that it played out. But I just love that sense that he just takes this seriously. Normally, you look and say, “Well, it’s humor, so we don’t take it too seriously.” But I got the sense that he takes his humor very seriously.
Murph: He does. And one of the examples of that, at least in one of the videos I saw was when he was a project manager at Procter & Gamble, was renaming the project and calling it the Project for Awesomeness. Come on. It’s pretty hilarious.
Jeff: Yes, absolutely. I mean, why not? Yeah, that’s right. I’ll tell you, when he was talking about this and he was talking about how he has turned this into a craft, and of course, that’s right in line with what we always talk about here on, “The Buyer’s Mind.” The idea that when it comes to the sales world, and the job that salespeople do, it’s not something that we ever want to look at, sit back and go, “Okay. Well, I’ve learned how to do sales. I guess I’m done now.” And I see so many salespeople that peak and they get to the point where I know what I need to know. And then they get on autopilot. And then what happens? The rest of the world changes around them and consequently, their skills become outdated very, very quickly.
But one thing that Andrew talked about that I absolutely loved was the whole idea, the whole concept that he obsesses about this. And he put it very, very simple. What did he say? He said, “I spend more time than most people on this subject. I just spend more time than most people.” Now, to me, that is very, very important because whether you’re looking at how to be…how to use humor in your process, whether you’re looking at a skill, whether you’re trying to get better at a musical instrument or athletics or whatever it is, or when you’re looking at sales, are you a student? Are you somebody who is simply willing to put more time into crafting what makes you great? Whatever that is, whatever you were doing, are you taking the time and thinking about it more? And I want to make a suggestion here to you. That’s exactly what your customer needs you to do. Your customer needs you to put more time thinking about what you do.
Over and over again, we get into this habit of just doing. We spend so much time in doing that we’re relying on the thinking of old thoughts. And I want to recommend to you here that you want to be thinking new thoughts. You want to use your creativity and invest that time to think about what it is that you do. This is such an important way to go about this because at the end of the day, you will get stronger. You will be more effective. But the bottom line is, you will serve the people that you are called to serve in a way that you’ve never done it before. It is time to obsess about those things in your career that will really, really matter. When you obsess on how to take care of people, that is when you change their world.
We’ll see you next time.