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Make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh
Don’t you know everyone wants to laugh?

Those are the first two lines of the show-stopping song-and-dance performance by the inimitable, absolutely brilliant, impressively physical Donald O’Connor in the classic musical Singin’ in the Rain.

Also, he has a point. Shared laughter is an essential element of the learning experience:

  • Encourages connections and a sense of community
  • Breaks down silos and promotes open communication
  • Reduces anxiety and injects energy

This is serious stuff, and stuff you should consider

John Cleese is an actor, a comedian, a screenwriter, a producer, and a keen observer of what it takes to get people to listen and learn, whether you’re imparting a skill, a concept, or promotion explaining how wonderful your training is.

He explains, quite simply, that at any point in time, a person’s mind is either open or closed.  If the mind is open, the person is receptive to new thoughts and ideas.

This is not pratfalls and pies-in-the-face (even though Donald O’Connor grew up in a vaudeville family), but purposeful humor.

We’ve got two observations to share about levity, when used in support of defined training goals:

  1. A clear message that contains both intelligence and humor becomes memorable (which applies to your marketing and brand, making them relatable and resonant).
  2. Learning is more effective when it feels more like play and less like a chore. The playful mindset fosters creative thinking.

Humor opens minds and creates a positive environment of open communication

A dash of humor of lightheartedness is a strategic tool for revitalizing participants and injecting new energy into the learning experience. Here are some guidelines:

  • The humor can’t be forced, the levity must be appropriate and collegial. It has to complement the learning objectives, perhaps by illuminating the opposite.
  • Embrace the difference between seriousness and solemnity. You don’t want to undermine the seriousness of the objectives, but you don’t have to be so solemn.
  • Of course, it must be in good taste and culturally sensitive.

Our suggestion – start by inserting an amusing anecdote or scenario into prerecorded virtual content, which can be monotonous and tedious for attendees.

Don’t believe me? Think you are immune? Here’s a direct quote from a classroom of executive learners when the instructor told them the next lesson is virtual and can be accessed at their leisure. (Please turn up the sound.)


Humor opens the learning experience, enables the free exploration of ideas, enhances problem solving and increases engagement and participation.

Or, in the words of Mr. Cleese, “He who laughs most, learns best.”

More great articles by Scott Hornstein: