Peter McGraw

Speech Topics

In a competitive business landscape, how can you find a professional edge? You can ask a business school professor who teaches MBAs by day and decodes comedy by night. In this talk, you get surprising lessons and amusing anecdotes that form powerful prescriptions for career success. Drawing on behavioral insights from the Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL) and real-world case studies from his global expedition to crack the humor code, Dr. Peter McGraw shows how understanding the habits of the world’s funniest people can boost innovation, enhance communication, and inspire others.

What sets a great leader apart? The world’s best leaders may not be comedians, but they regularly use jokes, witticisms, and amusing anecdotes to effectively inspire, innovate, and live a more enjoyable life. Drawing on cutting-edge behavioral research and real-world case studies from his book, The Humor Code, Dr. McGraw shows how effective leaders can use humor to better deliver ideas, foster creativity, lead change, and strengthen workplace culture.


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Peter McGraw is not your typical professor. Though he possesses the pedigree of a serious academic, he has an adventurous side that is evident in his approach to scholarship and life.  Dr. McGraw, a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is an expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral economics. His research examines the interrelationship of judgment, emotion, and choice, with a focus on consumer behavior and public policy — ranging from how the government is botching anti-terror policy to why couples overspend on their nuptials.

And now, with his attention directed towards the question of what makes things funny, he is becoming a leading force in moving the study of humor from the niche to the mainstream. The advantage that McGraw has over his predecessors is his ability to conduct state-of-the-art experiments with the help of the team he directs at the Humor Research Lab (HuRL), a laboratory dedicated to the experimental study of humor, its antecedents and consequences.

McGraw holds appointments in marketing at the Leeds School of Business and in social psychology in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience. He received a B.A. in psychology and M.Ed. in educational psychology from Rutgers University and an M.S. and Ph.D. in quantitative psychology from The Ohio State University. His post-doctoral training was conducted at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He teaches courses in decision making, consumer behavior, and advertising.

McGraw is willing to leave the ivory tower to delve more deeply into research questions – whether trying his hand at stand-up at a dive bar, attending a funeral director convention, posing as a shopper at a gun show, or singing hymns at a Fundamentalist Baptist church. He blogs regularly about the policy and consumer implications of judgment, emotion, and choice research. His work has been covered by NPR, the BBC, Nightline, Scientific American, Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Financial Times.

With journalist Joel Warner, he has co-authored The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny.


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