Punchlines, Pitfalls, and Powerful Programs
10 Surefire Ways to Add Humor to your Presentations
By Scott Friedman, CSP
Note from Brad: This book rocks! If you are interested in adding humor and comedy to your programs and presentations, and you wanna learn from a pro, this book is a “must own!” Scott – who is currently serving as the president of the National Speakers Association– has generously shared the intro and a sample chapter. Enjoy! – Brad
If you want to make an impact and truly “connect” with audiences, your programs must entertain as well as educate. This book is full of practical, imaginative ideas for using humor to increase the value of your presentations. Learn to play off the audience, develop original material, and uncover an organization’s “humor” hot buttons. Determine where to find clean, appropriate humor and who to poke fun at in a meeting. As you learn to bring more humor into your presentations, you will reap the benefits of increased enjoyment and learning.
Hello, and Welcome to the Funny Farm…
I’m Scott…Scott Friedman…
And I’ll be your author for this book, if you’ll be my reader.
I’ll try to make it as painless as I can for you, I promise.
I’m a Motivational Humorist or, at least, so I like to believe. That’s a speaker who motivates by humor, or motivates humorously, or something like that. I speak roughly 100 times a year for all sorts of people all over the country and abroad. My hope is that my audience is laughing and learning. If they’re only doing one of those things, I’m not doing my job. And when I don’t do my job, I apologize, I feel bad, but I try to never return the money [Pause for laughter!]. Hey, it’s how I make my living, and at least they are either laughing or learning.
Seriously, I didn’t start out to be a humorist at all. In 1985 I was working in a family business marketing and selling printing in Denver, CO. At the time, I was President of Salesman With a Purpose (SWAP, now Sales Professionals International), a community sales group that met every Tuesday morning at 7:30. I used to start off the meeting with a motivational poem (some weren’t even bad…I thought) and end it by summarizing the speaker’s talk in a humorous poem. That was one of my favorite things to do.
One Monday I visited Downtown SWAP, a sister club, for their tenth anniversary. Cavett Robert, founder of the National Speakers Association (NSA), was the speaker. I was so taken with his talk, “You Can’t Heat an Oven with Snowballs,” that I asked him to come talk to our sales club the next morning before he flew back to Phoenix. Being the wonderful, most giving man in the world, he gladly accepted. His inspiring presentation made it easy to summarize his words in a funny poem. On the way to the airport, Cavett told me I had a unique style and would make a great professional speaker.
Me, a professional speaker…who’d have ever thunk? Of course, what I didn’t know at the time was that he said exactly the same thing to lots and lots and lots of people. Cavett, before passing on in 1997, was the NSA’s number one recruiter.
“Don’t ever worry about getting your piece of the pie. Let’s all make the pie bigger,” he would say. And we did, and we continue to do so. There are lots of professional speakers running around out there who are proud to call Cavett their mentor. Of course, if everyone he’d said that to went into professional speaking, we’d all only be speaking to other speakers!
Back to the story.
In 1985 I decided to quit the family business to become a speaker. Was this the craziest idea you’ve ever heard? My mom thought it was. So crazy, in fact, that she called all my friends to tell them I had lost my mind and asked if they could help. They couldn’t. Not that they didn’t try, but I had made up my mind that I wanted to make my living as a speaker.
I started by speaking to as many service clubs as I possibly could. Every Rotary, Kiwanis and Optimist group for miles around was forced to listen to my motivational message. Widows in Recovery, Parents Without Partners, Parents with Too Many Partners, all were reminded that you can turn circumstances into chances. (my first keynote title) Where any group with two members and a name would gather, I’d speak. Hopefully, they’d feed me lunch, but it surely wasn’t a requirement.
So what did I learn from all these speeches, other than that there are 368 different ways to prepare chicken?
I learned that if I wanted people to pay attention to my talk, it had to be funny. I learned that if I wanted to be asked to speak again, I’d better use humor.
And so I did.
I flung lots of material against the wall. I’m still, in fact, flinging. And I found that the more they laughed, the more attention they paid; the more attention they paid, the more they learned and laughed; the more they learned and laughed, the more money they paid. In no time at all I was up to $35, $50 and sometimes-over $100 per speech. Wow! So I continued my self-proclaimed motivational ways laced with laughter. After seventeen years, 50 states and well over 1500 speeches later, I am making a living as a Motivational Humorist. Okay, so I don’t eat much. It still beats working for a living.
Whether you’re a seasoned humor professional or truly humor-impaired, there’s value for you in this book. How much value–as with many things in this life–is up to you. There are, however, three things I want you to take away after reading this book:
* I want you to be willing to take some risks. I want you to try a few new things in your next presentation. Start experimenting. Fail your way to success. After all, success is just moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm. Eventually, you’ll create some material worth keeping.
* Tap into your unique style. Humor must be congruent with who you are. As you try on some of these ideas to see if they fit you, I hope you get a better feeling for what your style is.
* Have some fun. Laugh a little. Let your appreciation for humor and those who use it grow.
So, happy reading; happy applying; happy day!
The Fourth Surefire Tip: Success as a Speaker will be in Direct Proportion to the Original Material You Use
Every day is just chocked-full of great speech material. Take some time out right now and think about what’s happened to you in the last 72 hours. Now jot down some of those things and think about how they’re related to the universal truths we all know. These are the things you need to add to your talks, and this is where the best material comes from.
In her book, The Artists’ Way, Julia Cameron talks about writing ‘the morning pages,’ three pages in the morning on what’s going on in your life and how you feel about it. I try to be good–I’m averaging about two days per week! This helps you get into the habit of reflecting on your life, which, in turns, helps you generate the original material you need.
Because — here is the cold, hard bottom line:
The harder you are to duplicate, the greater the fees you can charge.
` In the infancy of the professional speaking industry, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear the top professionals using the same stories and/or using the stories you have read in a Reader’s Digest magazine or seen on television along the way. Back then, stale material had a fresh aftertaste. Those days are gone. Meeting planners and audiences are looking for fresh material. The more unique, the greater the fees.
Jokes Versus Stories
Considering how much we get paid to speak per minute, we have an obligation to maximize each moment.
Therefore, personal stories are the best way to go–the biggest bang for the buck. With stories, you can do so much more with the time you have. If you have 60 minutes in a talk, you want to entertain your audience, give your audience information and, hopefully enlighten them as well.
In a joke, you can only entertain. A story, on the other hand, has inherent meaning. You can entertain, but also give a lesson and enlighten people at the same time. At least, that’s what I tell myself.
Stories allow the audience to get to know you, your imperfections, your flaws and your foolishness, while still making a point. You can be vulnerable right there with the audience watching.
Careful…if you’re not healed yet, don’t play drama out in front of the audience. Save that one until you’re past it and can share the lesson. But let them know that you have had some trials and tribulations and you don’t have all the answers. Be vulnerable; share a funny, foolish moment where you wore some egg. Self-effacing humor creates the perception that you have a sense of humility. And, if off stage, you really don’t, take advantage while you can and fool ’em.
With jokes, you miss all that opportunity.
Sure, the humor builds immediate rapport, and yeah, the laughter helps relax you. There’s no question you can stay a mystery while they’re having a good time. Still, don’t sell out. Get together with a humor buddy, make your personal stories even funnier and make the heart connection. It’s the best use of your time.
Hall of Fame speaker Grady Jim Robinson says, “Personal disclosure is relatively a new addition to the speaker’s potential arsenal and is partly due to the aging of the Baby Boomer generation, who, at forty or fifty-something, are looking inward for meaning and are less success-crazed, less goal-oriented, less competitive and therefore more inclined to make relating to other human beings a higher priority than a Rolex, Gucci or BMW.”
Jokes and the Risk They Rode in on
If the audience has heard the joke before, they will laugh with you tonight, but will they respect you in the morning? Maybe not. And after a couple drinks, someone in the audience may beat you to the punch…line.
Every time they’ve heard a joke they’ve heard before, you drop down in respect. What meeting planners and speaker bureaus are looking for is uniqueness, something different.
And what if another speaker just told that particular joke, or it was told last month, or even last year? Your original status suffers some major blows. And that is not a good thing. So if you decide to tell jokes, tell them better than the audience has ever heard them told–add a funny twist, include a member of the group as your target. Personalize, customize and hope they didn’t hear it this morning.
We’re past the infancy of the speaking profession, and it’s time to abandon those things we did in the infancy. The audience wants and expects the new stuff.
One of my favorite jokes that I still use in a customer service program is the old pig story. I add some levity to it by personalizing it:
A lot of you don’t know this but [audience member who is well-liked] before he got into the [Real Estate] business, had a vision of having the largest pig farm in the entire mid west. So what did he do, he went out and bought all of these pigs, hundreds or them. He brought them back to his farm and found out that every single pig was female, and you can’t breed sows with sows. So he called up a farmer buddy of his down the road [fill another name here from the audience]. “Hey Bob I have all these sows, do you mind if I bring them over and breed them with your boars.“
He says, “Bring them over.” So he loaded all his pigs in his pick up truck, drove on down the road, unloaded the sows, they were bred with the boars, loaded them back into the pick up truck, drove home. The way you can tell if these pigs are pregnant if at 6 o’clock in the morning they’re wallowing around in the mud, that means they’re pregnant.
Next morning 6 AM, he can’t wait to see what the sows are doing. Strolls on over to the window, peers out the shade. Not one sow is wallowing in the mud. So he calls up his farmer buddy, “it didn’t work, can I bring them over again today?” “Sure bring them on over.”
So he loads the pigs in the pick up truck and heads on over to Bob’s place, breeds them sows with the boars, loads them back in the pick up truck and drives home. The next morning all excited at 6 AM farmer runs to the window, peers out the shade, still not one sow wallowing in the mud. This goes on for five days.
On the morning of the sixth day the farmer can’t bear to get out of bed. So he says, “Honey can you go to the window and see what the sows are doing.” So his wife [enter name of wife] goes to the window and says, “Not one pig is rolling in the mud honey.” “What are they doing?”
“Every pig but one is in the truck ready to go.” Pause… “And the other one is honking the horn.”
Yeah, it is an old story, but it still works and it works even better when you plug one of the fun-loving characters in the group. Of course, if you don’t tie it in to a point, the story is a waste of time. Here’s my customer service slant:
We can learn something from these pigs, so stick with me for a minute. See the sows are up at six every morning, excited to go the same place they were the day before and the day before that and the day before that? Why? Why! I’ll tell you why. Three reasons. Number one: great service. Number two: all of their expectations are being met. And number three: They’re having a lot of fun. Can you say that about your customers? Are your providing great service? Are you meeting and exceeding expectations? Are you fun to do business with? Remember, the best business strategy is a satisfied customer…
A cute joke, and it makes a great point about customer service. After telling the joke I will then launch into talking about what great service is and what it means to meet and exceed expectations and how to be fun to do business with.
In my humor workshops, I may tell the same story with a different slant when making the point:
Now, wouldn’t it be nice if we could get up every morning at six all excited about going to the same place as the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that? We may not be quite as happy as a pig rolling around in mud, but let’s see how close we can get. We are going to take a look at how to enjoy every day a little more and truly tap in the joy and passion of what we do…
In a humor workshop, it makes a good point.
Assignment: Think of two more ways you can use this story to make your point.
Joke Teller Beware!
If you are going to tell a joke, it must be unique, and it must have a strong message at the end. Never tell a joke unless you know all of the specifics…especially the punch line. You’ve heard the guys who waste two minutes of your time only to get to the end of a joke and not remember the punch line? How do you feel? Not so good about your joke teller for starters. Don’t be one of them. Make sure you know any joke you tell well.
Mislead Me Not
If you tell a joke, and it isn’t obvious to the audience that it is a joke, and you try to claim it really happened to someone in your family, you lose your credibility. Your listeners say to themselves, “If he lies about this, what else in his presentation is he lying about?”
Attention K-Mart Joke Tellers
The single largest mistake in joke-telling is to announce that you are going to tell a joke. Never say, “Now, I am going to tell you a joke.” It increases the audiences resistance: “If it’s a joke, it better be funny;” “make me laugh, wise guy;” “oh, so you think you’re funny.” Bite your tongue; they’ll know it’s a joke, won’t they?
Don’t say, “That reminds me of a time when…” Again, the antennas go up, and so does the resistance. Just tell it.
It’s Show…case Time!
If you’re invited to participate in a speakers showcase, a situation where potential clients are there to preview you with the intention of hiring you, original material is even more paramount. Chances are the attendees have heard many speakers in the past and a quick way for you to be excluded is when you use material they have heard before.
In summary, start writing. Original material is your best friend. Jokes have a place, but the more you tell, the easier you are to duplicate, and the less money you can charge.
Buy the whole book (and plenty of others!) in BradMart — Brad’s Store
Copyright 2005 by Scott Friedman. Reprinted with Permission. Scott Friedman, CSP, speaker and author, is one of the most unique motivational humorists on the platform today. As the current president of NSA, Scott shares his expertise in using humor in presentations all over the world. Scott’s program titles include, “Punchlines, Pitfalls, and Powerful Programs” “The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create It,” “Using Humor for a Change, (also a book) “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sale,” and “Connecting with Customers.” Check Scott out at www.FunnyScott.com.