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The Smile Is the Shortest Distance Between Two People


I have spoken all over the world. I have spoken to audiences that can't speak a word of English. I have been translated into 5 different languages at the same time. (That's dealing with 10 different interpreters--2 per language and is it fun and games when they all try to get your attention.) However, regardless of the language or culture, smiling and laughter are universal.

The title of this article is a variation from a quote from one the great humorists of the 20th Century, the late Victor Borge. Of course he is also said that "Laughter is the shortest distance between two people" as well.  

So what does that have to do with running a store during times like these?


We are in the people business. Customers don't buy logically; they buy emotionally. Logic makes us shop BUT emotions make us buy. Many times, the biggest thing that differentiates our businesses is the "Likeability Factor" of our business. The fastest way to likeability is with the use of Fun, Humor and Playful Behavior. My biggest selling book is still "Laugh and Get Rich". It has been translated into 7 different languages and is a big hit in Asia. The book analyzes the power and applications of Fun, Humor and Playful Behavior. 

It is because of this book that I have been asked to speak at the most prestigious Humor Conference in the world,  "The Positive Power of Humor & Creativity Conference". It is the Humor Project's 53rd International Program on Humor and Creativity. The Humor Project is the most comprehensive resource, think tank, and authority of the use of Positive Humor and Creativity in the world today. The conference takes place in Lake George on June 11-13, 2010. This is a real honor for me and for recognition for the work I have done with retailers to adopt many of the principles of these tactics and strategies.

This week I had the privilege of interviewing the Founder and Director of The Humor Project, Dr. Joel Goodman. (I will be interviewing him in a webinar in April as well.) Let me share some of the wisdom from Dr. Goodman who is one of my humor mentors and a legend in this arena. But before I do, I also want to mention that Jeffery Zazlaw, the New York Times columnist who is the co-author of "The Last Lecture" with Randy Pausch, is also on the program at the conference.

Dr. Goodman shared that there is a point where the bottom line meets the funny line and that interception creates endless opportunities for businesses.  It is a powerful connection and a place where memories are made and attitudes are changed. He explained how we should be Service Professionals NOT Solemn Professionals.  He explained that by using humor we gain childlike abilities. Looking at the world through the eyes of child can sometimes give us a new perspective without being childish.

He explained that you don't have to be funny, act funny, or even think funny to utilize the benefits. I believe that when "we humorize, we humanize." We become more approachable. In case you haven't noticed, we are in the "approachability business" and laughter is the great social lubricant that breaks down sales resistance.

Understand that the greater the tension, the more humor is needed and works. Did you ever notice that when many people are nervous or scared, they relieve that tension with jokes or laughter? Think of all of the great comedians who came out the depression era. As Dr. Goodman said, these comics "Saved Society's Sanity".

There are some warnings about the use of humor. Sometimes it offends, so be careful who the focus of the joke is on. It must pass the ATT TEST.

A. Appropriate

T. Timely

T. Tasteful

The problem is that many people define those three categories very differently. What is appropriate humor to people in the health care industry, where any joke about bodily fluids is fair game, just doesn't work in a retail store.  That is why self-deprecating humor is so powerful. Don't make fun of other people, ethnicity, physical characteristics, or religion unless you own it. I used to tell lots of "fat jokes" but after I lost 90 pounds, they because insensitive.

I lost one of my closet friends for 12 years because of a comment I made the day of her mothers funeral. My wife and I went into the private room before the funeral and said, "So what's new?" I was just trying to deal with my own anxieties and try to give a little soft comic relief  (or so I thought) to a very serious and somber moment. Because our friend had an outgoing playful nature about her, I felt the comment was appropriate. 

Oh well, I was so very wrong. We didn't talk for 12 years and even to this day I am highly sensitive about anything I say, because I know I am just one line away from losing a friend. As I found out, people do not have the same sensitivity standards, and although I didn't mean any harm by that comment, the damage was done with just one inappropriate line.

Use humor, enjoy the benefits of fun, laughter, and playful behavior but remember the ATT Rule. It's OK if they laugh at you but to laugh with you is even better.

Have your bottom line meet your laugh lines.

(If you want more information on the conference, go to


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