Punchline Your Bottom Line: 76 Ways to Get Any Business Audience Laughing
by David Glickman
Note from Brad: David Glickman is a funny guy, a smart thinker, and a good friend. He has generously provided us with the Introduction and 3 (of his 76) tips for adding humor to your presentation.
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Thank you for taking the time to read this book that is marketed under the pretense that it will show you how to “get any audience laughing, anytime, anywhere.” Actually, now that I’ve got your attention, I wanted to let you know about an incredible multi-level marketing opportunity that gives you the opportunity to make $50,000 a week, working from home in your pajamas.
Wait, stop! Don’t put the book down! It’s a joke….I’m kidding. We really are going to go into depth on how to get laughs in any public speaking situation or business presentation. I just wanted to prove that sometimes a small little thing like that can give you a chuckle. Now, come on, admit it, you did smile once you realized it was a joke, didn’t you? It’s ok. We don’t have to be afraid to laugh anymore.
There has been a decided paradigm shift over the last twenty years from humor often being thought of as “silly” or “not appropriate,” to it being a welcome addition to practically every area of society. The last few years especially have seen an incredible insurgence of humor into the heretofore “no humor permitted” corporate world.
Out-of-control stress in both work and home life swung the pendulum too far to one side. Humor is now being used as one of the most powerful forces to help swing the pendulum back to center. Humor plays an increasingly important role in today’s society. Humor sells. Humor heals. Humor breaks the ice. Humor negates anger. Humor creates credibility. Humor gets votes. Humor gets noticed.
No funny hats!
This is not a book on “humor in the workplace.” That’s a whole different school of humor, usually along the lines of recommending that we “wear funny hats or red clown noses” to eliminate all problems at work. This book concentrates on how to use humor in live presentations–whether you’re presenting to one person or to several thousand people–and leveraging those laughs for your gain.
This book was originally written with the title, “But I’m Not Funny!” The words “But I’m not funny!” are a very familiar cry to those who are required to speak to audiences from time to time. Why even try to get laughs when you know you’re going to make a fool of yourself? Well, with this book in hand, you can’t use the “But I’m not funny!” excuse any more. You’ll have to come up with a new one. If you will follow the tips in this book exactly as written, you will get laughs from any audience, anytime, anywhere. I know–I’ve used every one of them extensively–and continue to use them–with the consistent reward of laughter.
These tips are not based on theory; these tips are based on reality. After having performed several thousand comedy shows, I know what works. And now, for the first time, I’ve decided to document these techniques–most of which are being revealed here for the first time anywhere in print. I really want you to relax and enjoy the book, knowing that I’ve gone ahead and “road-tested” these tricks for you. I want you to feel confident to get out there and try them–and, most of all, to have fun!
Most of the 76 tricks, tips and techniques in this book are derived from the world of stand-up comedy. But don’t worry, no one is expecting you to be a stand-up comic. As a matter of fact, a large part of your success will be because you’re not a stand-up comic. You’re not expected to be hilarious. And when you are, the audience reaction is that much stronger, because of the surprise element.
When a stand-up comic hits the stage, there is no room for error. He or she is being paid to get laughs, and must have the proper tools to get those laughs in any situation. Here’s the good news: Many of those same comedian’s tools can work equally as well, if not better, for the business executive, the salesperson, the committee chairperson, etc. When you are funny—it’s a bonus, a treat, and gives you instant credibility with your audience or prospect.
If you can get your prospect or audience to laugh at something in your proposal or presentation….you have instantly shot to the top of his or her mind. We like people who make us laugh…..and we do business with people we like. And when people are laughing, they don’t feel like they’re being “sold.”
And although this book is dedicated to getting laughs in a live situation, you can be inspired to expand your “humor horizons” in other ways. For example, I strongly recommend humorous outgoing voicemail messages. It can be as simple as, “Hi, this is David Glickman. You’ve reached my voice mail, which means I’m not available right now. And, yes, it is a voice mail system. I assure you it’s not an answering machine where I’m sitting here screening your calls. I wouldn’t do something like that. That’s what I’ve got Caller ID for. So please leave me a message and I will call you back as soon as I can.” You know the person on the other end of the phone is smiling.
Humor breaks the ice
A few years ago I was asked to design a “comedy curriculum” for a traffic school. This is a “driver improvement” class for people who have received a traffic ticket. I can’t think of a group of people who are more unhappy to be sitting in a room. Many don’t feel they deserved the ticket. Most are angry. And none of them are looking forward to sitting in a classroom for four hours.
I began the class by launching immediately into a quick song parody of the Warner Brothers “Looney Tunes” theme song:
This is it. It’s traffic school. Don’t feel bad. You’re not a fool. Almost everyone’s breaking the law. But you’re the one they caught. I am Dave. This is your class. Four hours long. A pain in the…(pause) But who knows what you’ll learn. On with the class, this is it.
The whole thing was less then thirty seconds, but it served its purpose. I caught them totally off guard, acknowledged the fact that they didn’t want to be there, and got some instant laughs.
I proceeded to tell them how I knew they didn’t want to be there, and how they were probably feeling some animosity towards the police officer that gave them the ticket. I asked them to pick up the printed test that was sitting on their desk, crumble it into a ball (which I demonstrated for them). I asked them, on the count of three, to pretend that I was the officer that gave them their ticket….and to get their frustrations out of their system….and I counted: one, two, three! And, of course, I was pummeled with several dozen wads of paper….and a huge amount of laughter and applause. (See Tip #33 for more information on this technique.)
I always followed up by clarifying that we were just having some fun, and then praising the police officers that patrol the streets. I then launched into the curriculum to a much more receptive crowd.
Using humor as an icebreaker makes difficult tasks a whole lot easier.
Humor diffuses tension
A speaker is heading to the lectern, trips, and falls down. The crowd gasps and there is immediate tension. The speaker quickly looks up and says, “I will now take questions from the floor.” A huge laugh follows, and the speaker picks himself up and regains his dignity. (See Tip #49 for more information on this technique.)
Not all of us can think that quickly on their feet….or off their feet, as it were. But when faced with a tense situation, the power of humor will work more quickly to diffuse it than any other remedy.
Another speaker steps onto the platform. Either the wood is rotted, or the supports are bad, but the speaker falls right through the platform, as it collapses around him. Again, tension fills the room. Until the speaker quickly looks up and says, “Don’t mind me. It’s just a stage I’m going through.” When I heard that story, I was so impressed with the speaker’s quick thinking, I wanted to design a stage to collapse so that I could have the opportunity to use the line. (I wisely decided not to.)
Both of these stories illustrate how humorous quick thinking can not only diffuse tension, but can raise your credibility to an even higher level than had there been no problem.
During the presidential campaign of 1996, Bob Dole had a problem one day while making a campaign appearance. He was shaking hands from a slightly elevated area, behind a fence. At one point the fence gave way, and Dole tumbled forward and fell to the ground. It was a tense moment for all, and, luckily, he was not injured.
However, had Bob Dole thought to look up from the ground at that moment and say (loudly), “Live, from New York, it’s Saturday Night!,” he would have gotten a huge laugh, and would have shot up several points in the polls. I don’t know whether it would have changed the election results, but I do know it would have given him some great momentum that he desperately needed at that point.
The road of recovery from despair to normalcy often begins with laughter. When tragedy, illness, or grief has knocked someone to their lowest low, sometimes the most difficult challenge is giving one’s self the permission to laugh again. There is an attitude of “How can I possibly laugh at anything with what I’m going through? (or have gone through?)” And that attitude is certainly understandable….in the short run.
But, in the long run, one must return laughter to their lives. And, for many people, the healing power of humor isn’t something that’s planned. It’s something that creeps up on them when they least expect it. That’s the beauty of it! Something as simple as stumbling upon an “I Love Lucy” episode while flipping through the cable channels might be all it takes to enable someone to start laughing again. And once one’s self-imposed “laughter ban” has been lifted, the return to the joys of humor can begin to re-enter one’s life–albeit slowly–now that the gates have been opened.
And you never know–perhaps a funny line that you say to an audience may be that unexpected trigger for one audience member. A trigger that allows them to laugh again. A trigger that helps someone who is hurting to begin healing. It is truly one of the most awesome powers of humor.
Humor gets results
The bottom line is that humor gets results. When I was a child, I remember how my father would handle the times when I would get very angry. He would find ways to make me laugh. He understood the power of humor.
I remember going to him, very upset, and yelling. And I would try to resist his attempts to make me laugh—“Don’t do that, Dad! I can’t stay mad when I’m laughing!”— and he would say, “That’s exactly right. You can’t stay mad when you’re laughing.” And then in a few minutes we would talk about what was upsetting me….in a rational, calm manner.
I learned some important life lessons from that. Lessons that have given me the ability to make an entire career out of bringing that power of laughter to audiences and into organizations.
Sales and marketing people are hungry for any tools that will help them make more sales. Humor is that tool. Business executives are grasping for tools to gain credibility with their employees–or their shareholders. Humor is that tool. Managers in organizations are looking for ways to make their meetings exciting. Humor is that tool. Professional speakers are striving for techniques to set them apart from their competitors and help them get more bookings. Humor is that tool. Not the “two guys walk into a bar” kind of humor; but clever, relevant-to-the-situation, business-oriented, perfect-for-a-Dilbert-cartoon kind of humor.
If you commit to using even a handful of the 76 techniques you’re about to read, you will get many laughs and harness the power of humor. And you’ll find that you’ll never have to utter the “But I’m not funny!” cry again.
1. “And now, here’s someone who needs no introduction”–Yes, they do!
If you are presenting to more than one person (as in two or more), get someone to introduce you. Even if you have to recruit someone from your audience to do it, arrange with someone before your presentation to do you the honors.
Have your introduction typed out, double-spaced in a large font. Often, you are able to pre-arrange your introducer with enough lead-time so that you can send them your introduction long before the date of the presentation. (Of course, always bring a backup copy with you–the introducer may have forgotten it, lost it, or simply not shown up!)
Why do you want to be introduced if you’re only addressing a group of ten people around a boardroom table? Because it sets the stage that you are, indeed, “presenting” to them–that this is not just another boring speech. An introduction says “it’s show time!” And if you’re going to use some of the other 75 tips that follow this one, you must set the stage to “be funny.” An introduction helps do that.
We’ve been conditioned to hear entertainers “being introduced.” We’ve been conditioned to applaud as an introduction ends with the words, “Please welcome Joe Smith!” If you want to get over your “but I’m not funny” phobia, from now on you must think of yourself as an entertainer every time you address an audience–even a small one.
An introduction should not be long. The shorter, the better. Honestly, nobody really cares about all of your awards and degrees and what you’ve written and what you’ve done. Even the aura of celebrities wears off real fast if their presentation isn’t entertaining. Audiences judge you solely on what comes out of your mouth–right now.
If the audience is talking, distracted, or milling around, the introducer should take as much time as needed to get everyone’s attention, and get them settled, before beginning your introduction. This may take an extra minute or two, but it’s well worth it! I’ve seen too many introducers just barrel through the speaker’s intro, while the audience members were still standing and chatting with each other.
If you don’t have the lead-time to pre-arrange your introducer (or your chosen introducer doesn’t show up), ask someone at the event or meeting to do it for you. Try to pick someone who is well-known to the audience, as it lends credibility to the intro. However, if your “pre-presentation radar” scans someone in the room who seems very upbeat and gregarious, they are usually another good choice. (Sometimes they are even a better choice, because the high-profile person you select may be extremely dull when it comes to introducing you. However, a dull introduction is better than no introduction at all.)
A back-up plan is to have your introduction pre-recorded–by someone else, not you–on a tape or CD. (Which also means having to bring a tape or CD player with you to your speech, or knowing there’s one available in the room where you’re presenting.) It’s certainly not as effective as being introduced live, but a taped introduction is better than no introduction at all.
So, with that being said, ladies and gentleman, please welcome Tip #2!
2. Make the last line of your introduction a funny line.
An introduction brings you to the front of your audience with applause. Usually when people are applauding, they are also smiling. If you want to be perceived as funny, then you should also have them laughing when you are being introduced.
I know several speakers who have written some funny lines into their introductions that get some good laughs. But you should save at least one laugh line–if not your best laugh line–for the very end of the intro. As the introducer says the line, the audience laughs, and the introducer says (while the audience is laughing), “Please welcome Joe Smith!” Joe walks to the front of the room to laughter. There is no better way to start a presentation than to have the audience laughing before you ever say a word!
The funny line that I use is from an old stock comedy club bit. The introduction ends with, “And we have some good news to share with you, that is being announced for the first time here today. Just this last Wednesday, David signed his first contract with HBO. (The audience typically applauds at this point.) Yeah, it’s a great deal. He pays $10 a month, and gets all the movies he could possibly want. (Big laugh on this line.) Please welcome David Glickman!”
This line works well for me, because I’m an entertainer and it’s conceivable that I could have signed an HBO contract. You need to create a line that works well for your role.
If you are a professional speaker, you could use a similar theme, “…..She just signed a book deal with Doubleday. (Applause) Yeah, she gets nine books for a dollar, and only has to buy three more. (Laugh) Please welcome Jane Jones!”
Now, of course, if you already are a successful published author, that line wouldn’t work. So you create a line that fits you: “Jane’s best-seller is now in its fifth printing. And they’ll keep on printing it until they get it right. (Laugh) Please welcome Jane Jones.”
If you are a salesperson making a presentation, the line could be, “And now here’s a man who would never clone himself….because he’s afraid he would have to split the commissions. (Laugh) Please welcome John Jones!”
Self-deprecating humor, like the ones in these examples, is the best and safest kind of humor to use. It doesn’t take away any of your credibility. If anything, it enhances it–showing the audience you are not afraid to poke some fun at yourself–and immediately increases your likeability.
When you give the introducer your written introduction, you should ask them to rehearse it with you once out loud. Tell them there’s a joke at the end of the intro, and you want to make sure they’re comfortable with the delivery. The delivery on the laugh line is crucial. That line should be delivered without the introducer looking at the paper, but by using direct eye contact with the audience.
If you are having trouble coming up with a funny line to end your introduction, there are many humor books available that have lines written just for this purpose. One of the best I’ve seen recently is the “Speaker’s Handbook of Humor” by Robert Orben (Merriam-Webster 2000). There are over 50 lines listed that can be used for funny introductions.
So, now you’ve been introduced–and you’re walking on stage to big laughs.
16. “Two guys walk into a bar….and nobody cares!”–Don’t rely on jokes.
If I had a dollar for every speaker who I’ve seen open their program with a “joke,” and then just launch into their speech, I could retire a rich man. This book takes the bold stand that you should not tell jokes. There are better and more innovative ways to get laughs–leave the jokes to the other speakers.
When I say “joke,” I’m referring to the classic definition of a short narrative or story, told in the 3rd person. They usually start with “Two guys walk into a bar” or “A man goes to the doctor” or some other clue that you’re about to hear a joke. If you want to tell a story that’s going to get a laugh, tell a true one about yourself. Don’t just switch the joke from “A man goes to the doctor” to “I went to the doctor.” That’s even worse. It’s still a joke.
Why avoid jokes? First of all, most speakers don’t tell them well. There’s nothing worse than a poorly told joke. Second, many jokes are offensive. While you may think the joke you’ve selected is fine, our hypersensitive society is more primed to be “offended by a joke” than almost any other type of humor you may use.
Also, jokes are widely told, so they’re widely known. There’s a good chance that many of the members of your audience have heard it, too.
Now I’m not saying that they won’t laugh at it. Good jokes–even old ones–if told well, do get laughs. I’m suggesting that joke telling is an “old school” way of getting laughs. If you want to break the “but I’m not funny” cycle of bad humor, use the techniques in this book instead.
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Copyright 2005 by David Glickman. Reprinted with permission. David Glickman is a successful motivational speaker and professional humorist. He is the creator and founder of the Humor Advantage. For more information on the customized comedy of Glickman see his website at www.davidglickman.com