This week I talk with Heather Tolley-Bauer about comedy
and connecting with audiences.
Find out the first rule of using humor
and the difference between telling a joke
and creating an atmosphere of levity.
Let's jump into it.
Welcome to Ongoing Mastery: Presenting
& Speaking, the podcast and the interview.
Today we have Heather Tolley-Bauer,
an expert in communication and humor.
How are you today?
Heather: I'm good.
How are you?
Kirsten: Oh, so good.
In your honor, I am wearing
my humor shirt, my big happy
humor shirt, and I love it.
Please tell everybody the basics about
you, how you got into, oh my gosh, your
That's my favorite topic.
So I am Atlanta's favorite mom, median,
which means I'm a, I'm a mom and a
standup comedian in the Atlanta area.
I'm also a business communications expert.
I was a business communications
executive for a major company for
many years before I became a standup.
Comedian, so I'm doing standup comedy
like for the last almost nine years.
And then a few years ago I decided to
layer in my business communications
expertise and the Venn diagram is where I
am right now, which is teaching companies
how to interject humor into their client
and their colleague communications and
interactions without getting canceled.
Kirsten: Yeah, there's some
companies that really need your help.
I saw one, a lot of them I saw
one at, so I went to Black Hatch.
It was my first C
And I'm like, okay, I'm at
a conference for hackers.
And I saw one of the vendors had a sign
about crushing hackers, and I'm like,
I know you're trying to be cute, but do
you know the audience at this conference?
So clearly they were trying for like
edgy and it was just like, um, no.
Heather: not a good idea.
Yeah, I mean, and that's what I teach
companies is like the kind of, the first
rule is you gotta know your audience and
then you have to understand your audience.
And so, yeah.
I mean, you know, who knows, who
knows what they were thinking, right?
Kirsten: so, so I've got, oh my God.
So much to ask you, but let's
start with, humor is important,
but why is humor important?
How does it impact things?
Heather: So humor is important because
without humor we don't have laughter, and
laughter is where the science is, right.
Laughter is super important, not only for
all the health benefits that it brings
to us, and the science is out there.
We know it lowers stress, it
boosts your happy hormones.
It also is an innate way that
where we handle stress, but also
it builds trust and likability.
Connection and the act of laughing
has so many different physiological
benefits beyond stress relief.
Like it boosts memory, it boosts
retention, it boosts productivity
that it's kind of a no-brainer.
Why we need to add humor into our
communications with people that,
and always like to talk about this.
Humor exponentially decreases, well
not humor, but laughter exponentially
decreases after the age of 23.
And I think that's because
that is the exact moment where
adulting exponentially increases.
I think that's why that is . Solid point.
Kirsten: Solid point
Heather: But think about all the people you encounter in your
day that are over the age of 23.
And guess what y'all,
they're not laughing.
They're not laughing, so be the person
that gives them a little chuckle.
Because they're gonna like you.
They're gonna trust you and
they're gonna remember you.
It's really kind of like the secret sauce.
It really is.
Kirsten: And a lot of people don't even
know how to start getting it in there.
So what's the intro?
What's the gate in to adding humor
into your content and into your work?
Heather: Well, I think it's, you know,
because I promise a couple of things.
When I go in and talk to companies,
I promise them that they're gonna
learn the why, the how, and the how
to do it without getting canceled.
Um, the how is taking all these comedy
principles that I've learned throughout my
almost nine years of doing standup comedy
about writing and word connection, and all
the different tools that comedians use.
Kind of like I know you have an improv
background or you experienced improv.
It's amazing and wonderful and terrifying.
Heather: the things.
All the things, right?
All the things.
And so is humor, because you know, in this
world, one of our biggest problems is that
we don't have time to connect with people.
And also we're like, oh my
God, but can I even say that?
Am I gonna get hashtag canceled or called
into the HR department if I do say that?
So, you know, the way that I work with
companies and salespeople and things like
that and how to stay in a safe space.
Spot is to really do a deep dive into
your audience and who is this person
or people that you are talking to?
What are their pain points?
What are their successes?
What are their challenges?
What are their likes?
What are they dislikes?
What's their culture?
If it's a company, and speak
to that, make jokes about that.
Add humor to about that, tell stories
about those things, and that's just
one way to stay in a safe lane when
you're a corporate communicator.
Kirsten: I saw a keynote speaker who has
been in the business forever, and clearly
his humor was developed 30 years ago
because he's got some jokes that one joke
landed and literally I just froze and a
couple of people left and he didn't even
recognize this was an issue, but I was
like, oh yeah, no, that's not gonna fly.
That's not gonna work anymore.
And so humor does evolve over
time and it's tied to culture.
. So how surprised are your clients
when they discover that they actually
like need to be in tune with popular
culture and change of language?
Heather: You know, I don't think that
they're that surprised by it because
oftentimes I'm working with salespeople
and salespeople have to relate to people.
On a lot of different levels and how we
relate to people are telling stories,
being aware of what's out there and
then, and making connections, you
know, and some of the things that
humor and laughter builds trust.
So . Not just because it shows me that
you get me, like if you make a joke about
your mother-in-law, your father-in-law,
your, you know, your teenage son, what,
whatever the case may be, and I am also
living, you know, living that reality.
Now I'm like, oh my gosh,
this person gets me.
We innately have something
in common and it bonds us.
But not only that, but physiologically.
Oxytocin starts to run rampant
through our bodies, and that
is our love and trust centers.
It does other things, but that boosts
our love and our trust receptors in our
brain, which means we are wired to like
and trust the people who make us laugh.
And the things that make us
laugh are shared experiences.
Common experiences, embarrassing
stories, and so understanding what's
happening out there in the world
in pop culture is really important
to bringing that all together and
creating likability and connection.
Kirsten: So what are the challenges
that, if you have found about the
getting canceled piece, what are the
challenges that you've helped people
navigate for the boundaries of humor,
because it's not super clear what
those boundaries are all the time.
Heather: No, and you're
not always gonna get it.
And I always say, if you have a
good comedy game, you better have
a good apology game too, because
I like that quote, , you know?
'cause you're not always,
you're not always gonna get it.
One thing that is a really
useful tool is using the inside
joke, but timing is everything.
And so, for instance, I was working
with a client, I got booked to do custom
comedy for their employee retreat.
They were just embarking on facial
recognition as a way of punching in.
So they were now going to, like, they
show up for work, they're gonna do
facial recognition, and not everybody
was like real happy about that.
You know, like people internalize
that change in different ways.
So right off the top, I did jokes
about things, about facial recognition.
Like how, you know, when I open, you
know, when I open my phone, my phone can
recognize me with my sunglasses on and
it opens up and it can recognize me with
my readers on it opens up, but when with
nothing on it opens up and it directs me
directly to my dermatologist's office or,
you know, something along those lines.
. So we're talking about, that was
an inside joke that went well.
But if it were a topic that was still
smarting a bit, that was a little more
controversial, maybe now's not, you know,
now's not the time to talk about it.
Not only corporately, but in
your personal interactions.
You know, hashtag too
soon is a thing for real
Kirsten: I would imagine AI is a
subject that is just not, you can't
even get close to in most audiences.
Because it's on fire.
What do you mean by that?
Well, the subject of AI in the
learning and development community,
and I have a frog in my throat.
There's a lot of nervousness, a lot
of fear around it, and yet in the
tech training community, there's
a lot of excitement around it.
And so it's one of those things where,
You have people in both sides that
are essentially going and looking at
the group think and the everybody's
feeling and going, no, no, no, no, no.
So you've got people in L and
D who are like, no, it's great.
And you've got people over in the tech
trading world going, whoa, backup.
It's not as awesome as you think.
So, I imagine subjects like that
are even harder to navigate, to find
Heather: the humor, or
No, not, not necessarily.
It could be.
Yeah, it very well could be.
Or it could be that you just talk
about the elephant in the room.
And you say, if you're talking to
a group of people that have those
two different perspectives, then
you compare and contrast those.
Two perspectives, and then you fold
it into some sort of analogy or or
metaphor or simile or something.
You have to be literate to be a comedian.
I can tell you , you have to have
a good command of the English
language to be a good comedian.
So maybe you would say for
you guys over here, AI is like
something, something, something.
And for you guys over here, AI
is like something, something.
And for me it's like, and then
you bring those things together
with your own little twist.
Kirsten: So several things you've
said so far, which I love the
fact that this brings this up.
Several things you've said so far
show that you do research on your
clients before you speak, which
all good speakers do, but not all
speakers know they need to do.
So what is your prep process?
Heather: So with every client that I have,
I do what I call a listen and learn chat.
Where I'm getting to know their culture.
I'm getting to know what
do they call each other?
How do they spend their Fridays?
Do they do, you know, wacky jeans Friday?
Tell me something about your CEO.
Tell me something about yourself.
I mean, I do as deep of a dive as I
can possibly do in about 30 minutes.
And I just listen.
And I just listen to their stories.
I listen to how they say certain
things and I listen for those inside
jokes and that is how, so that's how
I, they don't even know that they're
giving me comedy gold or relatability
gold, let's just put it that way.
'cause it's up to me to
turn it into something.
It's up to me to turn it, to turn it
into something, and that's where the
comedian humor expert comes into play.
And honestly, after a while, and you
know this from improv, your brain
just starts to look for these things.
Your brain, you train your brain
to just start to formulate.
And now you know what to look
for when you're talking to
somebody in a conversation when
you're preparing for speech.
But also I would say that it all,
listen, it all has to be comedy
that is elevating something.
And or someone.
Kirsten: another quote.
It has to right there.
That's another pull that
and write that, that down.
That's another awesome
You know, for speakers.
I talk to a lot of speakers because
I, I help speakers like write
their speeches in a more funny way.
Not everybody, we're not
talking about Kevin Hart here.
People, we're not talking about you
being the funniest person in the room.
We're talking about you being the most
relatable person in the room, being the
most effective speaker that you can be,
being the most memorable, making sure
that you are the information that you
are the expert on, that they can remember
it by throwing in some other ways to
engage the audience that fires the
brain in a different way so that it all
So that it all hangs together, but
not, we're not talking about set
up, punchline, set up, punchline.
Okay, we're not talking about a joke.
We're talking about creating an
atmosphere of levity that lifts
people up and never punches down.
And so as a speaker, you cannot add
humor just for the sake of doing it.
It has to support and enhance
and elevate your message and
your goal for your audience.
Kirsten: Oh God.
The number of times I've heard folks who
do the A formula, like you can tell that
they wrote, say this, put a joke here.
It's so painful because it's obvious that
they are trying to land this joke and it's
like, How difficult is it in working with
clients to help them understand that it's
their voice and they're not trying, like
people wanna be somebody else when they're
telling a joke, like, they're like,
well, I will then plunk this in here,
and it's like, no, it's still your voice.
Heather: how hard is that?
I think, I think they're
actually kind of relieved by it.
I think the minute I tell 'em I'm not
trying to get you to be Kevin Hart,
they're like, oh, thank goodness.
'cause there's no way
I'll be Kevin Hart . Yeah.
You know, I think that when they, one
of the reasons why comedy doesn't work
or humor doesn't work and business
communications or speeches or whatever,
it's because it's not authentic
and you know, you can't force it.
You just can't force
comedy onto, onto anybody.
Many, many comedian have tried . So
again, you just have to, it's just
going in and resetting expectations.
People say, I want, when a client
comes to me and they said, Hey,
I want my speech to be funnier,
the first question I ask is why.
What are you talking about?
You know, who's your audience?
And then we go from there.
. And then instead of maybe making
it like what people think of as
traditionally funny, we just add
good elements of comedy that punch
it up, make it easier to listen to.
The power of the pause.
Yeah, the power of the pause,
the power of the turning.
A good phrase.
Adding like, you know what,
this needs a, an analogy here.
This needs to compare and contrast.
All of those are comedy frameworks
that help make people better
writers and just better speakers.
Kirsten: So the core of it is
obviously just good communication.
, what are the things that trip people up
in trying to get the good communication?
What holds people back from success?
Heather: Well, I think it's not
really knowing what the one main idea
is of what you're trying to, Ooh.
What is the thing, and I'm learning this
too, as I'm moving outta comedy space and
into keynote space, I'm learning this too.
I wanna cram a lot of information in
because I have a lot of knowledge, right?
So I, I'm the expert.
I wanna cram a lot, a lot of information.
I wanna give them a lot of useful
information, but it's no use to them.
If they can't remember
it, apply it, whatever.
And this is what I'm learning.
And so this is what I've learned
through comedy and what I learned
through business communications and
what I talk to when I talk to people.
Okay, why are you giving the speech?
What is the thing you want
that person in the seat?
Picture the person.
To walk away with.
If they remember only
one thing, what is it?
And if they're not clear on that, then
we have a different jumping off point.
So lots and lots of boldness.
Thank you, thank you.
What would you say is, in the
world of ongoing mastery of
presenting and speaking mm-hmm.
, what is a thing that you want everybody
to take away from this conversation?
Heather: I mean, one of the things is
that comedy has also taught me this.
You can't stay stagnant.
I always have to be working on my craft.
And so there's no such thing in comedy
as phoning it in people paid to see me.
You know, and it's no different
when you're a speaker.
You know, you have to treat it like
it is the most important thing and
that you are no matter what's going
on in your life, that this is the most
exciting thing that you have going on
and that they have your full attention.
But the thing and all of your energy.
But I think the one thing is remembering
though, that none of it is about you.
It's all about them.
Yes, I approach my comedy that way.
I approach my speaking that way.
I approach my customized
comedy shows that way.
It is all about them.
Not what do I want to say?
Yeah, but what do they
need and want to hear?
And then I craft it in the way and the
style that only Heather Tib Bauer can do.
That's, you know, and I find what
that is for you if you're my client.
Kirsten: now obviously
people need to find you.
So where do
Heather: they find you?
I'm on LinkedIn at Heather
Tolley-Bauer, and also my
website, which is hyphen up.com.
It's just me making fun
of my hyphenated name.
Where that comes from.
Kirsten: Thank you so much for being on.
This was awesome.
So much good stuff in this.
Heather: Really appreciate your time.
Kirsten, thank you for having me.
I'm so happy to.
I'm so delighted.
Kirsten: everybody who is watching
and listening, please make comments
and I would like to ask that
everybody puts their favorite dad
joke into the comments because I
personally need a few more in my life.
All right, so there's where
we're gonna wrap it up.
We'll see everybody next time.
Thank you so much for
watching and listening.
Have a good one.
If you enjoyed this conversation about
why speakers need to stay current
about humor and popular culture, check
out season two, episode number 15.
Do experience speakers.
Need ongoing mastery.
The link is in the show notes.