Did I take things way too seriously when I first started getting into management and leadership roles. Way too seriously.
Humor goes a long way towards creating powerful relationships and rapport. Don't underestimate it. And seriously, don't take yourself too seriously.
The first meetings I had with external vendors was nerve-wracking. Whether it be in person or over the phone, I wanted to impress, to not slip up, and to look good.
Humor was out of the question, right? For me, yes.
When I eventually took on a technical training/sales engineer role, I had to go out and speak to anywhere from twenty to a hundred people at a time. Sweaty palms all day, every day. But the effort taught me something. Humor is okay. In fact, humor in business is awesome.
I've always been one of those people (not uncommon) who tries to break up tense situations with a joke or a funny aside here and there. It took awhile, but during my trainings I realized two things: 1) Being humorous relaxed me (if only a tiny bit) and 2) the audience seemed to be more engaged and retain more information (if my end-of-training polls were to be believed). So I kept it up. Those first few years of being in the "corporate public," as it were, did a lot to improve my confidence.
But a place that took me much longer to gain confidence in was meetings. Face-to-face, we've-got-business-to-discuss type meetings. Large accounts, small accounts, vendors, clients, customers, internal, external. Nerve-f'n'-wracking.
It's not like I didn't know my stuff. I was just fearful and confident that my confidence would show through. Ground zero of imposter syndrome.
But I watched. I listened. I recalled how humor helped me in presentations. I started to apply it here and there. And I started to mimic, a little, with my own style, people who I respected who seemed to be able to inject humor at anytime, even when the situation was dark.
Take Ben, a sysadmin who I admired greatly. Gregarious, smart, open-minded and caring. We'd often be on phone meetings together, and he'd slip in the funniest little things. A self deprecating joke here. A ironic observation there. He'd ask about people's family (which isn't funny, per se, but he'd often open up a meeting with a funny story about his own family, then crack a joke about his wife painted his toenails for him so she could relax). Over time, what I came to realize was that being open and humorous was okay.
Business is business, but humans are humans, and good rapport trumps all challenges. Rapport created through openness, listening, and humor.
It took more formal training and research into public speaking to move beyond the silly jokes and ad libs I'd put into my earliest training presentations. It took listening to people like Ben and how folks responded to me to be okay with experimenting to move beyond my massive shyness and overly serious nature (in the business world). The combination of the two, public speaking training and observation, for me learn how to be more comfortable in my own skin, more comfortable with other people (even in serious situations) and to express myself in a positive way that created connectedness, and through connectedness, effectiveness.
The moral of this story is clear: Humor has a place in meetings. Humor is a human activity. Humor is fun, even when business is serious.