In a recent post I wrote of speaking in the Utah community where the mining disaster was taking place. I also wrote of how my fellow speakers and Certified Speaking Professionals sent me encouragement and advice. I wrote that, as a professional speaker, knowing what to do for a group that has been through something horrible isn’t easy… no matter what. But I think when humor is involved, it becomes even more trick.
I thought it would be helpful to publish this advice, figuring that professional speakers often are faced with what might be the most horrible situation motivational speakers can face. I found the responses amazingly warm and wise. See if you don’t as well.
I read your CSPlink post this am. As you saw from the responses we have all been there. I spoke right after 9/11. Was speaking the day of the terrorist attack in London two years ago. Several years ago, I was interviewing one the top agents at State Farm in preparation for a program I was doing for them. She consistently ranked in the top 1% of agents. Half way through her best year ever, her husband dropped dead of a heart attack. She was relating this story to me and told me, “On the other side of adversity is ALWAYS something better”. I have quoted her many times with adding that it’s normal to have grieving and a period of suffering but at some point a silver lining appears. Perhaps more miners will be saved in the future, there will be an increased emphasis on safety, other employment options will be pursued, etc. I have done an exercise before (as part of a keynote) where I asked the audience was is the worst thing that they have ever experienced in their lifetime. The most common answer is 9/11. Then I ask them to come up with at least 7 positive things that have happened as a result of 9/11….lists include increased patriotism, higher respect for law enforcement, closer family relationships, etc. While the comedians were quiet about 9/11 right afterward, at some point people began to laugh again and laughter as you know is healing (BTW, this month’s readers digest is dedicated to humor). I think you do a piece on adversity and talk about coping skills that are available in dealing with adversity and go into your best stuff. People do need to laugh and even if for the moment, forgot about their troubles. YOU are the man to make that happen!
Author, Certified Speaking Professional http://www.timrichardson.com/
I couldn’t do what you will be doing.
However, if is a help –
My Dad always said to me, as I was leaving to do a talk:
“I pray you do well”
As you are being introduced…vision the loved one in your life who gives you unconditional love. Their voice is a message from above:
Hear them saying:
“I pray you do well”
It worked for me June 28, I had a talk…the day my Mom passed away. I knew we were losing her, but didn’t know of her passing that morning.
The evaluations were awesome – though I don’t remember what I said.
“I pray you do well”
One idea I heard on NPR the other day. (you can probably search the interview on npr.org) The miners apparently all have nicknames, one of the trapped ones had a funny one, I think is was “flash” but a fellow miner called him “flasher”…and they mentioned that humor is essential on a daily basis to miners and their families, they thought this miner was probably keeping the other younger miner, who had just been on the job only 3 days, keeping his spirit up thru his funny stories. You might “ask permission” as you did for 9/11 and you might also ask for them to gather in 2s or 3s and have them begin by telling you some funny miner humor stories, fond memories of miners above and below the surface, with you roaming the crowd microphone in hand facilitating the stories from them with a funny comment or two from you. This will warm the crowd to you, keep your performance anxiety at a minimum, and allow them to “teach” you the miner mentality toward humor. Then….ask if “we can all dedicate the next hour to all of our miners and their families in recognition of the life and humor and importance, etc.
Kevin E. O’Connor, CSP
Brad, I feel for you. I once spoke at a high school at Etheta, Wyoming. on a Monday. A student at that school had attended the Saturday dance, gone up on stage and blown his brains out with a gun in front of the student body. I can’t recall if it was the seventh or ninth suicide in that school that year. Anyway, it was a national record.
I pretty well did my regular presentation. First I addressed the issue. Said something that I felt their pain and it was not easy for me to make this presentation today. If I was about to do a lot of humor I would preface it with the message that humor has a sort of healing power and that you hoped that somehow your message might in some way ease their pain. That you have discovered that sometimes when you are hurting the most by personal problems that somehow laughter helped you see things clearer and if for only a moment, somehow there was a real healing power in humor.
Some folks might say that there is a time to laugh and a time to cry and that this is not a time for laughter but that you have discovered that we must learn to mix the laughter with the tears and that is all a part of growing up.
I’d work in the thought that for every bad thing that happens there is somehow an equal force for good within that tragedy and just maybe this horrible tragedy might become a blessing in the future for other miners as this nation reacts and demands new safety standards in all of this nation’s mines.
My talk went OK. I had written down the wrong time for the ending of the school day and ran a few minutes into overtime but the students were patient and polite and fairly responsive. I then did a teacher program. At the end of that day the Asst. Principal who had been serving as Acting Principal for over two years took me aside and said that I had been an inspiration to him and that the next day he planned to quit his job. The Superintendent had refused to promote him to principal because he was an Indian. A few weeks later I received a letter from that man. He had prevailed at that meeting the next day and was promoted to principal.
So Brad, that day that I dreaded might become the worst in my career turned out to become a happy memory. Much luck and success to you. If I can be of any further service at this time just contact me. Positively,
—Art Fettig CSP
You’re right. It is different. Right now they are entering the anger stage – yet still in the hope stage. Think ‘Jerry Maguire’ when Rod Tillman is laying on the field and his wife is kicking the shit out of his younger brother. The anger is over the manager/owner and the BS he’s been feeding the news and family. People are beginning to suspect that he has been operating out of self interest more than their interest.
The reality is I doubt anyone with a direct relationship, wife, daughter or son, of a miner/dead rescuer will be there. Doesn’t make sense they will go (we’re not that special to them that they have to attend our programs). So what you will have is people that will be secondary grievers (Well my cousin’s daughter’s, step-father uncle is in there) and they will want a chance to laugh as long as they are given appropriate acknowledgement as a griever.
Trust your instincts (they’re really good) and have a few scripts as go to ones if you need them:
1. asking permission is one…. it still works
2. dealing with some honest issues like – mining work is dangerous and they know it and did it for their families and loved ones
3. taking the perspective that they will be rescued and when they are they will laugh is another…
you got some other good suggestions from your request…gentle humor…asking them what they want to talk about…. etc.
My final suggestion is to contact Jeff Tobe directly. I just had the chance to see him in action and he is the person most likely to come up with a genuinely creative solution that will work. He’s extraordinarily good.
I know you’ll do great.
Brad – I had the same situation – one week after hurricane Iniki tore through Kauai, I was scheduled to speak at a hotel. I tried to cancel, but management wanted me there. Mine was also supposed to be funny… The majority of these people either had lost a home, or a relative had. People had died in this small community, and the only place we could hold the program was outside in a pavilion that had lost its roof. The hotel structure wasn’t safe and had closed for repairs. The whole island was a disaster.
I felt just like you as I flew into my beloved Kauai and saw the destruction from the air. The airport was partially operational and National guardsmen were everywhere. All the way to the event I kept muttering, “Thy words, my mouth.”
I decided to just be honest. I got up there told them my heart went out to them and I was their servant today. “What do YOU want to talk about?” I switched my topic to stress and change, let them talk about what was going on, and injected stories, humor, and information I thought would help. It doesn’t have to be rolling on the floor funny, but gentle humor is needed and called for in a tragedy.
IMHO, these are exactly the situations every one of us is called to do. The rest of the gigs we do are just practice. It’s no accident that it’s you who is scheduled to be there. And not only will they benefit from having you there, you’ll have a new experience of who you are that will inform every program you do forever. That’s what happened to me.
It’s really difficult not to get sucked into the pit of despair when
such a horrible event is going on right where you are to people you are
Here’s an option; frame your light-hearted presentation as a means of
helping people cope with what is going on – a way to keep their spirits
up and to help others have the strength they need.
It’s even more important now to do what they can do – and keeping their
morale up is instrumental to being able to do that.
Shelle Rose Charvet
I feel for you.
The late, great, Robert Henry was on stage when the audience began to learn of the Challenger disaster. He stopped, addressed he matter than proceeded. Grady Jim was introduced during a big game for the local Big League playoffs. People had little TVs on their tables. Danged if Grady didn’t borrow a TV and do a color comentation during the last few minutes of the game.
Also, I reminded of the people over the years who have come up to me–and surely to you–and told me, “I needed that. My husband (son, wife, daughter, etc) died two months ago and I haven’t laughed since ’til now. You can deliver what they badly need. In fact, you might have the introducer mention that you are going to provide “something we all really need, let us laugh a bit.” I think that’s basically the way Robert handled the Challenger disaster.
In the meantime, good luck and I hope you knock ’em out. They need you.
Couldn’t be put any better, Beth. A wise and meaningful response. I
had one of my audience drop dead from a heart attack the morning I
was speaking and those of us who have faced these situations know how
on target your advice is.
You’ve got a big community behind you Brad – all sending love and
energy. You’ll do what is needed; and what you are called to do.
Brad: You’re a professional but, more than that, you’re a human being. It’ll work out and, when the time comes, you’ll know how to handle it.
Beth is so right.
I had a similar experience in April. I was to speak in Lynchburg the day after the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech just a few miles down the road in Blacksburg. There were folks in the audience from Blacksburg. I started the program acknowledging the situation and went from there.
But I wasn’t brought in to do humor, Brad. That would have been more difficult.
“Your words; my mouth.” I like that.
James D. Sutton, EdD, CSP
I was in the audience when Zig Ziglar was presenting and a person had
a heart attack and someone screamed for a doctor. Zig stopped, found
a doctor, made sure someone had called rescue, and dropped to one
knee for a moment of prayer.
Then he got up and went on with the show.
The lesson I learned was that the audience needs to know you are
aware and care. After that, life goes on.
I’ve been faced with this situation several times.
It’s important that you don’t try to gloss over or ignore the crisis that
I explain to my audience that the reason some people can’t or aren’t ready
to laugh is because they are not done crying. The two are actually very
I also explain that while humor is recognized as a primary coping mechanism,
it is NOT the be all, end all.
In my experiences with working with dying patients and their families, or
groups that have experienced tragedy–it’s evident that there is still a lot
of humor-frequently dark. I think we need to give people permission to
laugh-many times people are admonished for laughing at such a serious time.
One of the techniques used in helping people heal after tragedies is
something akin to what we call “reminiscence therapy,” that is, recalling
times that are happier, and even funny. (Most, if not all, have experienced
laughter at funerals-people start telling funny stories that related to the
deceased. It is a part of the healing process.
People find things funny when they can emotionally detach-these folks are to
close to the situation to laugh about anything that is even remotely related
to it. But they can laugh about other situations-you just have to lead them
A quote that I frequently share in these situations: “Life does not cease to
be funny when people die, any more than it ceases to be serious when people
Speak from your heart, not out of fear, but out of love and support and you
will be great.
Yours in laughter~
Karyn Buxman, RN, MSN, CSP, CPAE
Just a quick thought that came to my mind – the importance of honoring the
situation and setting the right context.
So., maybe you want to:
– get them laughing right away.
– Then, pause to acknowledge and honor the families.
– Then, set the context that laughter is the best medicine.
– Then, rock n’ roll!
For whatever that’s worth. Just being who you are is the real key, because I
know who you are!
Ed Oakley, CSP
So glad you are coming to Emery School District Monday. YOU, perhaps, are just the medicine we need. You will find this community to be warm and very receiving of you and your “humor.” Please allow me to give you some inside information.
I spoke for Emery School District (Superintendent Kirk Sitterud) 2 years ago for this same district event (roughly 90 teachers, educators, janitorial and educational staff). As you know, Brad Barton followed last year and now you! The timing is just right and I believe they do need YOU now. This WILL be one of the most piercing speaking engagements of your life. I spoke for this community just last Tuesday night at a Non-denominational Christian service. As you mentioned, Huntington is a very small community. However, at last Tuesday night’s religious event, 2200 (people came from all over the country) packed into a small chapel to show support for one another. They did not come to see me, Governor Huntsman, or the other mine official/Bishop that spoke. They came because they wanted to feel ‘a healing’; a sort of “it’s okay to move forward and to yes, ‘laugh’.” They did want to laugh, and they do want to move forward. On the front two rows sat members of the 6 trapped. Of course we had not yet lost three more miners at that time. Since the additional fatalities, I think these key components of healing and remembering are even more vital, and you’re the man to deliver them! They need to hear you, and more importantly FEEL what you are. You are a fit for them-
One more small note: My family and I attended last night’s Opening Emery High School football game. I got to be on the sidelines with the team. Before the game, the opposing team presented Emery High with a HUGE bouquet of flowers and a check for $2300 that their team had collected for the affected families’. It was most incredible. After a brief moment of silence, THE GAME WENT ON! Not forgetting those that we have lost. Re-read Steve Waterhouse’s response. He hit the nail on the head.
Give them you. Recognize their pain. Laugh with them! And you’ll walk away having given them more that you thought you could! You’ll be impacted as well, perhaps more than you ever have before at any of your other events.
To my knowledge there will be two in your audience who have lost someone very close to them due to the mining tragedy.
Bell well Brad~
Chad Hymas, Certified Speaking Professional (CSP),
Inspirational Speaker, Author, World Record Wheelchair Athlete
President, Chad Hymas Communications, Inc.
Proud Recipient of the Superior Civilian Award
Past President, National Speakers Association-Utah Chapter
Brad — for six years I have been speaking at an annual conference for
Survivors of Homicide — people who have lost a loved through an act of violence. My
job is to make them laugh.
I first acknowledge what an injustice they have to endure — some of the
worst one could imagine. This is my way of honoring them.
I then talk about the fact that my youngest son was killed in a work
accident; and while he wasn’t murdered, I too know what it’s like to have one’s world
brought to a screeching halt.
From there, I discuss that even though they must endure such pain, that the
resilience of the human heart is absolutely amazing. For this group, there is
no closure. That’s one of the things I’ve learned.
And then I describe some of the stupid things people say when they try to
offer comfort. Some of them are so stupid they make people smile.
And how so many people in our culture complain about things that matter
so little and they haven’t a clue how trivial it all is.
From there, I go into some of my stress/change/grief material — some of
it very funny, some of it bittersweet.
As has been said, bring your humanity out, express your empathy, give hope
and you will bring many gifts to this audience.
I’ve written a book on grief and loss and will be happy to send you a copy.
I will also give you a copy of the handout for the homicide group if you’d
like to see it — maybe even use it. The handout isn’t funny — it’s designed
to bring comfort and outline the process of healing.
My experience — it’s pretty early in the grieving process to use much humor,
but some will be appropriate. Mainly your audience needs hope for a better
day, ideas for honoring their loved ones, and a few minutes of relief.
Next April I go back for a seventh year with the homicide group. It’s one of
the most important speeches I do every year.
In support, Leslie (Charles)
With the greatest respect to you, this is not about you and how you
feel. Consider this: what if your God has sent you to these people
at this time? Your God trusts you to know what to do. Your peers
trust you to know what to do. The people of UTAH trust you to know
what to do.
Now trust yourself and go be the amazing man you are and bring those
people back from where they are, and give them our love as well.
Best wishes and admiration
Paul CSP FPSA MBIC
Past President of the Professional Speakers Association in UK
I wasn’t going to respond…but after Karen posting her article…I went
‘over the top’ with the ‘awe’ of the rich resources we have through our
And…I will ‘add’ reference to my most difficult experience….
One week after 9/11 I spoke in upstate N.Y. to a convention of Medical
personnel form the state of N.Y. Obviously they were grief stricken, as many of
them had been involved with the disaster personally.
About 10 minutes into my presentation I stopped and openly recognized
the emotion in the room…
the emotion in all of our hearts. I stepped off the platform, into the
audience, and asked them all to stand..
take the hand of someone near them, pause for a moment of silent
reflection (and prayer if they so desired) and
started singing ‘God Bless America’. It was an amazing transformation
in the room from ‘tight—to relaxed’,
somber to released….etc.
Blessings, Brad….I know you will be the messenger with ‘the message’
that they need to experience.
Naomi Rhode, CSP, CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame
Past President International Federation for Professional Speakers
Past President National Speakers Association
Past President International Federation For Professional Speakers
What can I say? I’m flattered. I’m touched. And I’m amazed.
Want to be a professional speaker? Join the National Speakers Association, (NSA) and strive to be a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional.) Want to be a REALLY great speaker? Learn from peers like these amazing speakers and we can help but be better.
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Motivational Speaker, Sometimes Speechless (Rarely!), Proud Member of the NSA.
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