Business management

Women in business: boosting confidence with humour

Confidence is an invaluable asset for entrepreneurs. Founders and comedians share insight on how humour can help boost confidence and business success.

But according to the organisers of a series of workshops run by comedy performers and aimed at female-led businesses and entrepreneurs, incorporating an element of humour can be the key to boosting confidence and increasing engagement with everyone from suppliers and potential customers to fellow board members and employees.

“In business as in life, you always remember the funny people,” says Lynne Parker, entrepreneur and founder of Funny Women – an organisation set up in 2002 “to help women find their voice through performing, writing and using humour in business and everyday life”.

Develop your own style

“Humour makes you memorable,” says Parker. “But we’re not always used to seeing women using humour in the workplace. A lot of my work is around getting women to own their personal style of humour and learning to go with it and use it.”

Parker has created a series of training and education events under the “HERlarious” banner, some of which have focused on helping women in business improve their confidence and “change the narrative” around how they are expected to behave.

Parker points out that, according to research carried out by consumer goods conglomerate Unilever and the #SeeHer campaign – which promotes positive depictions of women in advertising – only 3% of adverts show women in leadership positions, 2% show them acting in an intelligent way and 1% use women who are displaying a sense of humour.

“I recently met someone who had done one of my comedy workshops about 10 years ago, and she said it was the making of her: she said she had always been quite a serious person, but by doing the workshop she learned to own her sense of humour – and says she has been much more successful as a presenter or salesperson as a result.”

Learn to think on your feet

Also involved in the HERlarious workshops is actress, comedian and coach Jenny Bolt, who focuses on techniques used in improvisation. She says: “What I aim to do is show women that they really can think on their feet. In the business world when there is so much going on in the working day, sometimes being able to just trust your instincts – and deal with work situations with humour – can be quite difficult.”

In one of Bolt’s exercises, for example, a team of workshop attendees is tasked with presenting an impractical or nonsensical business idea to the rest of the group. The objective for the presenters is to convince their audience that they truly believe in the idea they are putting forward.

“This is about encouraging women to be bold and to present with belief and humour,” Bolt explains. “If you can get someone to have a bit of a laugh at something you say, you will make a friend and they will be more open.

“Remember, comedy works two ways – it gives you more confidence and it makes the other person want to hear more.”

It’s about being relaxed and aware of other people. Using humour allows you to communicate more openly and ultimately be more successful

Naomi Paxton
Performer and writer

She adds: “People enjoy the workshops and are often amazed at themselves: a common response is, ‘I never thought I’d be able to improvise and get up in front of so many people’. The most amazing thing is that everyone realises they are really funny.”

The value of performance skills

Being able to use humour in the workplace can also be empowering, says Sajeela Kershi, a comedian, actor and activist. “This training is not about just doing stand up and firing off joke after joke: the aim is to give you more confidence, and help develop performance skills that can benefit you in other areas of your life.”

Naomi Paxton, a performer and writer who is also involved with HERlarious, agrees that the use of humour isn’t really about making jokes and delivering one-liners. “It’s more about being relaxed and aware of other people,” she says. “Using humour allows you to communicate more openly and ultimately be more successful. It allows you to authentically represent yourself to many different types of audience.”

Paxton says that using techniques commonly found in stand-up comedy can also be very effective. “These are things like ‘call backs’, where you talk about something early on in a presentation, say, and then return to the topic later. It’s about embedding those techniques in what you do.”

Five confidence-boosting tips to borrow from comedians

1. Take a different view

Comedians often try to tackle subjects from a fresh and insightful angle – could you do the same? Think about the topic you’re presenting and ask: what is funny or quirky about it? Could I present it from a different point of view?

2. Trust your instincts and expertise

Overthinking and excessive preparation can be the enemies of engaging communication. If you are talking about a subject you know well, don’t be afraid to wing it from time to time.

3. Think about your audience

What would interest them – and what do they want to hear or find out? If you can tailor your presentation to their needs and interests, you’re likely to get greater engagement.

4. Get your body language right

Positive but relaxed body language can play a significant role in creating the right impression. Think about the signals that your posture sends out.

5. Be resilient

Resilience is one of the most important skills for comedy performers: like them, entrepreneurs should roll with the punches and learn from their mistakes.

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