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My new friend George Walther recently spoke in my home town of Denver, Colorado for the Colorado region of the National Speakers Association. He arranged for me to be there and to coach him on his presentation. He flattered me with a very kind note. What do you think? Do I need to buy him a beer?

To my not-so-sure-they-can-be-funny speaking colleagues:

Hire Brad. He’s a little nuts, and that’s what some of us “straights” need to loosen up. It absolutely amazes me that he can watch my damn-good-already keynote once, and just throw out a half dozen goofy georgewaltherpabstideas that will make it a solid 15% better the next time I deliver it.

And then, I can build in his input and send it to him for a peek, thinking he might put me on his calendar for a thorough brush-up in a week or so. But, an hour later he shoots it back. He’s added wacky ideas that are totally fun and I can see myself doing. Plus, he gives me great staging tips.

It doesn’t take him long, and he doesn’t say much. Because he has this uncanny ability to know just the right word to be funny. When he shot back further suggestions to improve my talk, he even suggested “one single word” that will get a great laugh. “Braces.” That’s all, just adding that one word to one of the already very funny bits he had already inspired me to put in. I can’t wait to use it.

I think that’s a big part of what Brad does. He makes you, the speaker, feel like it’s going to be such fun to say “braces” at just the right moment. And since you feel good, the audience gets that and they want to feel good with you.

Remember that story about the guy who charges a hundred bucks to fix someone’s car and he just taps it once and the customer can’t understand how it could cost so much for just a tap? The mechanic says the tap costs a buck but the “knowing where to tap” costs 99 bucks. Brad knows where to tap.

My advice is to try to wangle a deal where you can pay him by the word. Because he’s not going to give you paragraphs of funny stories; he’s going to give you just a word here and there on top of a funny idea, and you’ll have the audience thinking you’re brilliant.

I was inducted into the CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame way back in 1989, and I ain’t found a funnier resource than Brad ever since. Or before.

Call me if you want to know more about the brilliance you’ll be hiring by asking Brad for his help.

George Walther (never wore braces)

Thanks George. Ok, now I’ll buy that beer I promised.

If you’re looking for a funny motivational speaker for your organization, I’d LOVE to be your guy. Go to the contact page

And if you’re a pro speaker looking for coaching on how to be funnier (or a business speaker preparing for a big presentation) I’d love to help you too!

If you think levity and lightheartedness are important to corporate America, join the crowd.  In particular, join the folks at Microsoft Finance North America. 

I worked with this group recently in Seattle, Washington and, like most of my favorite clients, I learned at least as much from them as they learned from me.

(Read the related blog entry about my trip to Microsoft)

I was totally impressed with this organization. (If you read my blog you know that I rarely say that.)

Why?

•  I was impressed with the transparency of the organization.  I was impressed how everything was “on the table” …. I heard candid discussions on the recent (and odd) TV commercials, the aborted attempt to buy Yahoo, the fact that Vista’s popularity is lower than they’d like.   Contrast this openness with many of my other (unnamed!) clients who spend more time instructing me about what I cannot talk about than what their folks need to hear.   [For example, I once worked for a client who had JUST gone through a huge set of layoffs.  They forbade me to discuss the layoffs … as though their folks might forget that 50% of their friends were no longer there and they themselves were worried about their job security.  Oye!]

• I was impressed by the people.  They are good people who love their families, work exceptionally hard, and are very loyal to each other and their company.

• This group was fun loving.   They like each other, and it showed.  They were easy to make laugh.  Ready with fun anecdotes and conversation.  They were a far cry from what any of us might expect from folks who work in the high tech industry for a finance department.   Many times I’ve worked at corporate meetings where people are forced to socialize with each other. It’s clear that they don’t want to be socializing… but they have to be there so they are.  Not so at Microsoft.  Their obvious enjoyment in each other was fun to watch.

• They were eager to ramp up the fun.  They were ready to share best humor practices with each other and with me. I often have to work hard to break the ice with a new corporate group.  Not this one:  MFNA was ready to laugh from minute one.

• During my program, I joked about clown noses, and taught a few funny ways to use them at work to handle stress.  We arranged to make sure everybody had a nose to take with them.  As you can see from these photos, they didn’t go to waste.

Near the end of our time together we split into groups and brainstormed ideas about safeways to create more levity and humor at Microsoft.  [We spend so much of our time at work, it makes sense to create fun. How can we do it?]  We heard a bunch of great ideas…but check out one group’s very specific ideas about how to increase the levity at the office.

1.       Friday Jokes

2.       Laugh at every meeting

3.       Happy Button

4.       Monday stories of weekend adventures

5.       Share embarrassing stories

6.       Dance in the focus rooms

7.       Dance every time you hear or see a “GO DO”

8.       Baby picture ID badges

9.       Word Bingo _  Drowning the puppies – (who ever imagined  we would here these words together!)

10.   Hawaiian shirt day

11.   Match the story to the person

12.   e-flowers/emoticons

But what was my favorite part?  It came 10 days after I left Seattle when I heard that CFO John Rex bought a Nerf Gun to attack his team.  (And, as a follow up, his awesome assistant, Amelia, bought guns for the rest of the team so they could create a defensive strategy.)    ”Hey everybody!  Let’s buy Nerf Guns!

Humor, levity and lightheartedness help us with morale, creativity, energy, communication, and — in the end — productivity.  It was unbelievably cool to share this message with Microsoft Finance.  But it was even cooler to see that they “got it.”

Thanks So Much, MFNA!

Brad Montgomery
Microsoft Fan, Washington Motivational Speaker, Nerf Enthusiast

PS.  Microsoft gets so much bad press.  I suppose it is impossible not to have some detractors if you’re that big, and that omni-present.  [After all, how many companies have actually changed the entire world besides Microsoft?]  It’s impressive.   When you’re there in person, working with the individuals who make up a part of this massive organization, it’s hard not to leave impressed.

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You’ve reviewed all the promotional materials, you’ve watched all the videos, and you’re confident that you’ve picked the perfect speaker for your upcoming meeting. But you’re not quite ready to sit back and relax. There are still a few things you need to do to ensure that your speaker provides the kind of event that attendees will rave about for a long time to come!

8 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Speaker

Once you’ve selected that perfect speaker, follow up with these eight tips for getting the most out of your investment:

1. Send your speaker lots of information about your meeting

Send your speaker lots of information about your organization and upcoming meeting.

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Most professional speakers today provide pre-program questionnaires for you to complete. And while completing a lengthy questionnaire might seem like one more hassle in your day, it will pay off in a highly relevant presentation, tailored to your program’s needs. The more information you provide, the better. Your prospective speaker can always “edit down,” but he or she can’t ever “edit up”!

2. Partner with your speaker for the best results

The best professional speakers work closely with meeting planners to create an impactful presentation. A busy professional speaker addresses more than 100 audiences each year and is, therefore, a gold mine of ideas for meetings. So be flexible — explain what you have in mind, but also ask your speaker for his or her input. For example, I am a high-energy speaker who likes to move around — and into — the audience as much as possible. I appreciate it when I can work with the meeting planner and/or event coordinator to make that possible. Of course, if I’m asked to stand behind a lectern, I will do so. But rarely would that situation be as effective as one in which I had the freedom to move around (and the audio system to accommodate that).

3. Make sure your speaker receives a good introduction

Since the introduction creates credibility for the speaker and sets the tone for his or her entire presentation, presenting a good one is vital. A prepared introduction is always better than one that is off the cuff. When speaking, I always use a carefully designed introduction and ask the introducer not to interject things like, “Hey, I didn’t write this — I’m just reading it!” (And, by the way, introducers who think they are comedians are the kiss of death!) Obviously, you would hate to spend lots of time and money on a good speaker only to have his or her presentation diluted by a bad introduction.

4. Make sure the speaker can do a room check

Make sure the speaker has the opportunity to do a pre-meeting room check

I know few professional speakers who actually rehearse, or go through their entire presentation without an audience, simply because it is a poor use of the professional’s time and energy. However, speakers should always arrive in time to do a sound check, meet and work with the introducer, and deal with staging logistics. Trying to accomplish these things at the last minute only invites disaster.

5. Provide a good room layout

Even the best speaker can be handicapped by a poor room layout. Some of the most common layout problems include:

a. Chairs placed too closely together, causing audience discomfort.
b. The first row placed too far from the stage. I’ve found ten feet to be the maximum tolerable distance — anything farther creates an invisible barrier between the speaker and audience.
c. The center row is too wide. This problem creates two different audiences that the speaker must work, one on the left and one on the right. Six to eight feet is the right amount of space.
d. Poor lighting. Your speaker must be seen to be heard. Bad stage lighting can kill a presentation.

6. Introduce the speaker to key organization leaders

Unless your speaker is a celebrity, few people other than you will recognize him or her upon arrival. Therefore, give your speaker the opportunity to meet key corporate or association leaders. If a sponsor is involved, be sure to introduce them so that your speaker has an opportunity to say thank you. Meeting and talking to key people in advance gives a speaker the opportunity to reference those conversations and to reinforce points that are important to your organization’s leadership.

7. Host the speaker at pre-presentation events

If you would like your speaker to attend a reception before the meeting, keep in mind that his or her ability to do so depends on travel schedule, as well as a need for some pre-presentation rest. Also, be sure that someone is assigned to be the speaker’s host; i.e., to be responsible for introducing him or her to others. It is difficult for a speaker who is unfamiliar with a group to “cold call” people and make self introductions. Even the most gregarious of us do better at such events when hosted.

8. Make sure your speaker has a “good room at the inn”

Reserve a room for your speaker at the site of the presentation. If the site is a convention center, try to use a hotel close by. One of a speaker’s greatest sources of stress is having to factor in travel arrangements and time between a hotel and a presentation site that are miles apart. Also, don’t wait until the last minute to reserve a room, as primary hotels often sell out quickly. Try to honor the speaker’s room request. For example, I always ask for, but do not demand, a non-smoking room with a king-size bed on the concierge level. Why? Because spending 180 nights a year in hotels is draining! My commitment, as is the commitment of most speakers, is to be as energized and “up” as possible for every client. So I try to create a restful hotel experience for myself. I sleep in a king-size bed at home and try to match my hotel experience with that. Also, the concierge level often offers amenities that save my clients money, like a continental breakfast and assistance from hotel staff in troubleshooting problems or fulfilling special requests. It is a simple task to request a speaker’s room preference. And you might want to explain that a good experience for your speaker will result in great PR for the hotel.

Although these eight steps might seem like minor considerations in your preparation for a speaker’s presentation, let me assure you that they are important to the success of your meeting. If you pay attention to these easy-to-accomplish details, you’re guaranteed to get the most from your investment in a speaker!

by Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE

Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE is a professional speaker published in the areas of leadership, change management, customer service and teamwork. He works with business organizations who want to reach the next level of success and individuals who want to perform at their best. You can email him at [email protected], phone him at (800) 650-3343 or visit his Web site at http://www.marksanborn.com.