Archive for September, 2007

Cartoon Caption Contest

Sunday, September 30th, 2007

It’s time for our October Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the artwork of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

Click here to see the cartoon for this month’s contest.

Your challenge is to write a caption for the cartoon which describes what’s happening or provides dialogue for the characters.  Normally the shorter the caption the better.  A caption with six words if often twice as good as a caption with twelve words.  Not always…but it’s a good thing to think about.

Do your normal creative routine.  Write captions then set them aside for awhile.  Revisit them and rewrite the lines.  Work with your humor buddy to refine your captions.

Here are three sample captions to get you started:

   Tomorrow we look for oil.

   They say we’re responsible for the glaciers melting.

   You throw this to someone who’s drowning.

To Enter The Contest:

1.  Select your best lines.

2.  Submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by Sunday, October 14, 2007.

3.  The top captions will be posted by the end of the month.

4.  If you’re looking for cartoons for a book, speech, other project or just for a fun time:  Visit the web site of Dan Rosandich, www.DansCartoons.com.

5.  Click here to see the results of last month’s contest.

The Last Lecture of Dr Randy Pausch

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Forty-six-year-old Carnegie Mellon University computer science Professor Randy Pausch, dying from pancreatic cancer, gives his last lecture on September 18, 2007.  A motivational speech delivered by a real person.  Learning points from the viewpoint of public speaking:
1.  Have fun in the present moment.
2.  The power of humor.  Often, the more serious the topic, the more appropriate it is to use humor.
3.  Be conversational.  He didn’t lecture.  He visited with us.
4.  Notes are OK.  Glance at the notes and speak from the heart.
5.  The power of original stories.  He talks about his life.
6.  Visuals add power.  Photos and video clips are worth 1000 words.
7.  Know your limits:  “I’m not going to talk about my wife and kids.”
8.  Know the parameters of your talk:  “I’m not going to talk about spirituality.”
9.  Watch the close.  I thought, wow, he’s only left two minutes for the close.  And he did it in 27 seconds.  With impact.

CBS News four-minute version of the story.

Google video:  One hour twenty-five minute video of the whole speech (highly recommended).   Or try this link.

Related Post:  If This Were Your Last Speech

Observational Humor — Case Study #12

Friday, September 28th, 2007

Let’s take a look at an observational humor monologue I presented at a National Speakers Association chapter meeting in Las Vegas.  The guest presenter was Glenna Salsbury.

THE SET-UP (what happened and what was said at the meeting before I delivered my monologue)

1.  Glenna coached several speakers in the afternoon.  The last two speakers told stories about relationships with attractive men when they were younger.  They were the last two speakers before I delivered my monologue, and the very last speaker said she had a crush on the cutest guy in high school.

2.  Glenna said that one of the first things women wonder when seeing a woman speaking from the platform is, “How old is she?”  Then Glenna told us her age.

3.  Glenna talked about a speaker who talked fast and delivered high content.  This frustrated audience members because they couldn’t take notes fast enough.

4.  One speaker, during the coaching, told us that a guidance counselor in school told her that she would be wasting her time going to college. She now has a PhD.

5.  Glenna told about a man who was struck by lightening while wearing a Timex watch.

6.  I picked Glenna up at the airport and on the way to the hotel we started talking about Billy Graham. 

7.  Glenna told us that the fish Orange Roughy was also known as Slime Heads.

8.  The night before the meeting the officers of the chapter take the guest speaker out to dinner.

9.  Glenna told us that she was not a biblical scholar.

10.  Glenna told us a story from the bible about a group that was starving and was saved by Quails falling from the sky.

11.  Pam, a member of the audience, told us that her employees were so loyal they would throw themselves under a bus for her.   She also said she had fired some of her best employees.

12.  Glenna talked about “raising the bar.”

13.  Glenna talked about great stories making at least two organs squirt.

14.  Glenna mentioned the subject of getting dehydrated.

15.  Glenna told the story of gorilla watching in Africa.  The tour guide said when confronted with a male gorilla to:  Drop to the ground, lower your eyes and eat grass.

THE MONOLOGUE (presented at the end of the meeting)

When I was in high school…I had a crush…on the cutest guy in the class.
(I used the twist of saying the opposite of what would be expected.)

For the benefit of the women…I’m 90.
(Exaggeration is good for a laugh.)

If you haven’t seen me before, I’m a slow speaker.  Which I know will frustrate many of you.  Because I won’t say anything you’ll want to write down.
(I love this structure.  First, reversing the fast-speaker for slow-speaker.  And then linking that situation with implied low-content…self-deprecation…and the frustration that there is nothing to write down.  A great laugh.  This is a bit of a “thinking joke” which I sometimes call time-released-humor.  When you’re aware that a joke has that quality, you must be prepared to wait an extra beat for the laughs to give the audience time to process the joke.)

When I was young, a counselor told me: “You’ll never be funny.”
(A good laugh, but was delivered primarily to set up the following line.)

Then one day I was struck by lightening…while wearing a Timex.
(The punchline is implied…the event of being struck by lightening made me funny.)

I picked Glenna up at the airport yesterday.  On the way to the hotel we started to talk about Billy Graham.  Glenna said that she had heard that he is always accompanied to his hotel room to make sure there isn’t someone in the room.  So when we got to the hotel, I felt obligated to go with Glenna to the 13th floor to make sure Billy Graham wasn’t in her room.  When we opened the door to the room, I saw two 30-year old studs.  But I checked in the closet and under the bed.  And nooooooo Billy Graham.
(I really like this sequence.  The expectation is that I’d check the room for an unwanted man.  The absurdity of looking for Billy Graham makes the first joke work.  The second joke, is that two studs in the room were OK.  And then another topper bringing Billy Graham back into the picture.  I intentionally extended the vowel sound of NO to good effect.  An excellent laugh.)

Last night the board had dinner with Glenna at a really nice restaurant.  We feasted on Slime-Heads with Lemon and Capers.
(Linked the board-dinner with a call back to the fish Glenna had mentioned.)

Glenna talked about Quails falling out of the sky.  I thought she had said WHALES fell out of the sky.  That didn’t strike me as strange…since she had already told us she wasn’t a biblical scholar.
(The funny thing was that I really thought she had said WHALES.  So I wrote it down, thinking it was strange that nobody laughed.  Then as she continuted with the story, I realized she was talking about QUAIL, the bird.  I didn’t immediately have the joke, but jotted down the observation and played with it, eventually coming up with a good joke/topper sequence.)

Let me clarify what Pam told us today:  She fires her best employees because she can’t stand the thought of them throwing themselves under a bus.
(This combines two separate comments into one good joke.)

As a result of Glenna’s talk I’m going to “raise the bar.”  My back bothers me every time I bend over to pick up a drink.
(A literal interpretation of a standard expression.)

In closing, I’ve learned three things about humor:
  –  A great joke makes one organ squirt.
  –  A really great joke will dehydrate you.
  – If you tell a joke that doesn’t work:  Crouch down, lower your eyes, and smoke grass.

(This combines three observations and ties them into the humor theme of the monologue.  The triplet form works well to set up the final twist playing on the alternate meaning of grass.)

Top Ten Most Influential Blogs on Public Speaking

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Here’s a great post on The Ten Most Influential Bloggers on Public Speaking published by Eric Feng’s The Public Speaking Blog.

What’s really nice about the post is that he ranks the sites AND tells you why he ranked them the way he did.  After reading Eric’s reviews, you’ll know which blogs you’ll want to visit.

Here are the top ten:

1.  Garr Reynolds — Presentation Zen

2.  Life Hacker

3.  John Kinde — Humor Power

4.  Nancy Tierney — Unconditional Confidence

5.  Tom Antion — Great Public Speaking

6.  Paul Evans — Instant Speaking Success

7.  Steve Pavlina — Personal Development For Smart People

8.  Darren Fleming — Executive Speaking

9.  Gary Guwe — Connexion! Communication Resources!

10.  Bronwyn Ritchie — Pivotal Public Speaking

Visit Eric’s post for the full reviews of these sites.

Crossing The Line — Offensive Humor

Monday, September 24th, 2007

Sometimes it’s a fine line between keeping it clean and being offensive.  Sometimes is just a question of good judgment.

I received an email from a reader:  “I was delivering a speech and I had the audience in a great state until I said the word prostitution.”  Personally, words rarely push my buttons.  But for many people they do.  We need to be in touch with the yardstick the audience uses to measure good taste.

When you’re giving a speech, and not a stand-up comedy routine in a night club, you need to distinguish between corporate quality humor and comedy club humor.  In a comedy club almost anything goes.  It’s a place where you can present over-the-line humor.  Although in my book, the truly great comics tend to play it clean.

However, a talk for a lay-audience, Toastmasters group, or corporate event, calls for humor that is non-offensive.
 
Twenty-five years ago, I gave a Toastmasters Regional Level humor speech (the fifth level of competition), to an audience of 350 people.  My speech was THREE TIMES funnier than the closest competitor, measured by a stopwatch.  And I didn’t win.  I was second.  The subject material was risky and on the edge.  Excellent for a comedy club.  Funny.  But apparently hit and miss with some of the judges.  When a judge writes you off the ballot, you’re out of luck, even if the majority of the audience loved it.  And if some of the judges didn’t like it, some of the audience also didn’t like it.
 
The challenge is to figure out what works and to be funny without crossing the line.  Body part references are risky.  Body functions are risky.  Sexuality is risky.  Even innuendo is risky.  That’s not to say that they should or should not be risky topics, they just are.  Topics that push buttons are risky; gun control, immigration, gay rights, doctor-assisted-suicide.  It’s a judgment call when you can approach the risk-line and when you dare cross it.
 
If a risky speech topic is important to you or has great humor potential, the challenge is to come close to the edge with crossing it.  When you cross the line you lose the audience and your speech loses its impact…whether it be to entertain, inspire, persuade or motivate.  Good judgment often comes from the experience of falling flat on your face.  I’ve occasionally learned the hard way when I should be more careful and conservative.

I gave a humor contest speech two years ago on the subject of going to work naked.  It won the district contest.  Many seasoned Toastmasters would think that could never happen.  Just the word naked, by itself, pushes buttons for many people.  However, in the entire speech I never mentioned body parts, sex, or body functions.  What’s left?  A funny seven-minute winning speech.  Some of the funniest lines I came up with, I couldn’t use. But it forced me to work harder at coming up with great lines that were funny not just for the sex/shock/blue value.

Always avoid going for the easy and cheap laugh.  Work on your craft and become funny because of your comedic skills and not because of your “bleep” content.

Related Articles

Blue Humor — A Comedy Cop Out

What People Find Offensive

Responding to Offensive Humor

Speaking To An Audience That Doesn’t Laugh

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

A reader sent me an email:  “I gave a speech last night.  I’ve given this speech a few times and it never failed to get good laughs.  But last night the audience just sat there.  They laughed a little, but not much.  I’m not sure if it was the audience or if it was me!”

For starters, take a look at the Special Report #2:  When They Don’t Laugh!  It’s a 1300 word piece that will give you some ideas on how to handle laughter-challenged audiences; the techniques and a mind-set that will keep you on track.

I gave a talk about six months ago to a group I thought might be non-responsive.  When the introducer read my speaker introduction, there was absolutely no response to the two built-in laugh lines.  Whenever that happens my first thought is often, “This is not good.”  I immediately recalled a talk a two months earlier where the lines in my speaker introduction received very light laughter.  It affected the rhythm of my opening and it took me 20 minutes to get back on track and connect with the audience. 

I made a better choice this time.  Even though there was NO laughter response to the introduction, not even a titter, I assumed that it was just fine.  It was a signal to me that they might also not laugh at the humor lines in my talk.  It’s actually nice to know that in advance.  I made the assumption that it was a great audience that just enjoyed their humor in silence!  And I delivered it as though they were loving it.  Yes, the laughter was less than normal.  But the feedback after the talk proved to me that they loved it.  They were a terrific audience. 

When you find yourself in a similar situation, the primary thing you want to AVOID DOING is to begin the autopsy of your talk WHILE you are giving it!  That’s a sure way to guarantee your speech WILL die.  Analyze later…after the speech is over.  During the speech…be totally present, perform and connect.  Even if the feedback isn’t what you expected.  Assume that they are loving the talk and that will help you maintain your energy, passion and enthusiasm.

Cartoon Caption Contest Results

Monday, September 17th, 2007

Here are the results of our first Cartoon Caption Contest. Our caption contests feature the artwork of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.  His site features a new cartoon every day and thousands of cartoons listed by category.

Look for future cartoon contests on the first of the month.  And look for new joke contests on the 15th.

Bug Cartoon

**FIRST PLACE**

Yes, I know Kung-Fu.  And stop calling me Grasshopper.
     Frank Roth, Dumfries, Virginia

**SECOND PLACE**

What! She left you for a Volkswagen?
     Les Harden, Brisbane, Australia

**THIRD PLACE**

It’s okay.   It’s a common misconception; but no, I’m not always praying.
     Carey Dyer, Fredericksburg, Texas

HONORABLE MENTION (In random order)

I’m telling you I’m worn out from these free summer concerts; every night from dusk until dawn.

I love the country; none of the restaurants here serve chocolate-covered ants or fried grasshoppers.

I was so tired the other day, Larry the beetle told me I looked human-eyed.

Your leaf or mine?

Let’s name our music group The Cicadas.  If we hit it big, we can make a come-back every 17 Years!

Cheer up. I hear the lady bugs are in town.

I saw a spider with glasses the other day. He wasn’t too happy when I called him 16 eyes.

I was flippin though Ladybug Illustrated and they were all wearing the same red with black polka dots they wore last year and the year before that.

I think God programmed my brain to think about ladybugs every 5 seconds.

Well, last night I took care of husband #3.  Why go through a long, costly divorce when you can just eat them?

Sorry, can make play poker tonight. Last night, my wife nearly bit my head off.

A couple Hail Marys, a few Our Fathers and I’m over my last husband.
 
Hey, are you ok? I heard from big boss that you are on leaf?

I tell you, that’s the last time I’m goaded into playing the balloon toss game at the company picnic!

Let’s just hope that the lawnmower has dull blades.

I don’t know what’s wrong with Madge.  Every time I try to show her some affection she tries to rip my head off.
 
And the barman called me by my name.

Just cause I’m green doesn’t mean I agree with Al Gore.

So Doug, did you get your rug back?

I’m so sick of stereotypes that I quit Kung Fu.  
 
Colin, what the hell did you say to that Genie? 

Kenny! Whacked by a newspaper roll! What a terrible way to go.

 So there’s this elephant beetle, a fruit fly and a lava…

I know that bug and she’s no ladybug!

Creative Humor Writing — Quirky Paychecks

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

This month’s joke conest was suggested by my funny friend, Sol Morrison from Santa Barbara, California.

The theme is Quirky Paychecks!

The form of the joke will be something like:

(Profession) gets paid in (punchline).

Here are some examples:

Librarians get paid in hush money.
Deer hunters get paid big bucks.
Refrigeration technicians get paid in cold cash.

This is a great writing exercise because if focuses on coming up with connections and relationships which you had not previously thought of.  The more you sharpen this skill, the better you become at creating all forms of humor.

One way to approach this contest is to make a list of professions and go searching for the “money” connection.

Another way to work on the challenge is to start with a list of “money terms” and go searching for professions to match.

TO ENTER THE CONTEST:

1.  Write as many lines as you think of.  Coming up with a great line is a numbers game.  Write a large quantity of lines and then weed out the weak ones.

2.  Sleep on it.  Re-write.

3.  Bounce your best lines off a humor buddy.

4.  Be selective.  Pick your best lines and submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by Wednesday, September 26, 2007.

5.  The best lines will be posted early in October.

So You Lost a Toastmasters Speech Contest?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

A Toastmaster and blog reader wrote to tell me:  I was in a Toastmasters Division speech contest and the judging was totally messed up.  My speech, to quote the District Governor, was “the obvious winner.”  I got third place.

If you’ve ever been frustrated by speech contest judging…join the club.  It’s a big one.  You’ll meet lots of friends.

Here are some factors to think about the next time you’re unhappy with the results of a speech contest:

It’s subjective.  Judging is not a precise science.  It comes down to the subjective opinion of the judges.  The opinion of each judge is as good as the opinion of anyone else in the room.  Any one judge will not likely agree with the opinion of every audience member, nor will he or she agree with the opinion of every other judge. 

The job of the judge.  The judges don’t pick the best speech or speaker.  They pick the winner.  Sometimes the winner is the best speaker.  Sometimes not.  That’s life.

Bias exists.  So be it.  A judge may have a favorite speaker or a bias toward the content of a speech.  But then so do the speaker’s friends and family.  I was chief judge for a non-Toastmasters speech contest with nine speakers.  After the contest a spouse came up to me and shared the disappointment that his/her spouse didn’t win but that the spouse certainly must have been in second place (which was not announced).  The spouse was, in fact, in ninth place.  Dead last.  I did not share that information!  A problem of judging?  Or a problem of bias on the part of a family member?  As a speaker, your bias or opinion of your own speech will quite likely blind your objectivity when it comes to analyzing how you did.  We tend to love our own speech.  The judges may have a bias, but so do you.

Good intentions.  I’m a firm believer that most judges honestly try their best to be objective and fair.  If their vote is swayed by bias or favoritism, it’s not normally intentional.  Believe in the goodness of people.  It’s easier to be happy.

Growth.  The primary goal of entering a contest is to grow.   If you lose and grow…it’s been a good contest.  If you win and don’t grow…you wasted your time.  My slogan is that I learn more when I come in second place.  It’s true, you tend to think you were pretty good when you win.  The analysis goes deeper when you lose.

Amateur or professional.  Let’s face it, your average contest is being judged by volunteer amateurs.  Quite likely, the judges probably couldn’t do what the contestants are doing if you pointed a gun at them.  Take, for example, a District Contest where contestants are trying to win the fourth level of competition.  How many judges are past-District-Contest winners?  Probably none. If you’re lucky, maybe one judge.  That doesn’t make their opinions less valid, it’s just a perspective to help you not to take the results too seriously when you lose…OR when you win.  It’s simply a subjective opinion of a small group of people on a given day.  If the same judges voted on the same speakers the next day, the results could likely be different.  Different moods, different alignment of the stars.

Let it pass.  If you feel frustration with the contest results, that’s normal.  I’ve been there.  I’ll be there again.  And if you compete, so will you.  The key is your bounce-back-ability.  Your resiliency is a measure of your strength and character.  Be disappointed and then get over it.  There’s another contest just around the corner.  And if you were truly the best speaker, you don’t need to announce it to anyone, most people already know it. 

Have fun.  Enjoy the experience.  The goal of the contest is to get better…not to get bitter.  If you’ve grown in the process and have become a better speaker, you’re a winner.  The only losers are those who never entered the contest in the first place!

Public Speaking — The Power of Authenticity

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

I’ll give you a link to a terrific video which is a study of the power of authenticity.  The link is provided at the end of the post, because I’d suggest that you read the entire post before watching the video.  The video segment is about 6 minutes in length.  This post is only 500 words and will take you only two minutes to read.

In this video clip you’ll see the late Mr Rogers (creator of children’s TV programming) speaking before the Senate Subcommittee on Communications and Chair, the late John Pastore (D-RI) in 1969.  At stake was a $20 million grant for the Corporation For Public Broadcasting.  In the video, Mr Rogers was 40.  Senator Pastore was 61.  The clip shows the impact of authenticity.  While the effect of authenticity is not instantaneous, it is powerful.

In this post, I will not examine the content of the testimony; word choice, metaphors, comparisons, poetry and more.  I offer the segment solely as a study in style.  Observe how Mr Rogers sticks with his authentic style.  Study the change in body language of Senator Pastore.

Also note that I’m not suggesting that anyone’s specific style is universally appropriate for all people and all circumstances.  I would encourage you, however to study the style of someone whose style may not be a fit for you and ask yourself, “what is good about this style and what can I learn from it.”  And I would suggest that you develop your own authentic style which represents the real you.

Right from the beginning, Mr Rogers begins with his authentic Mr Rogers style.  And he maintains it.  Gentle and deliberate pacing.  Soft-spoken.  Non-threatening.  It’s clear during the testimony that Senator Pastore had not previously known much about Mr Rogers.  His opinions are totally being shaped by the content and style of Mr Rogers in a six minute testimony.

Mr Rogers testimony begins with the Chairman Pastore (a self-described tough guy) playing the role of Guardian of the Public Money.  The spotlight is given to Mr Rogers with “All right Rogers you’ve got the floor,” spoken by Senator Pastore in an impatient tone that almost said “OK let’s get this over with.”  That introduction by the Chair is accompanied by light snickers from some of those in attendance.

Mr Rogers does not match or mirror the tone of the Senator and within the first 20 seconds essentially says “I trust you.” Thirty seconds into his testimony, Mr Rogers is interrupted with an almost sarcastic “Will it make you feel better if you read it?”  More snickers.

Mr Rogers sticks with his steady, non-confrontational style, “I’d just like to talk about it, if it’s all right.”  He continues in an effective conversational style.

About a minute later, Senator Pastore’s attitude begins to shift as his body language says “OK, I’m listening.”

Less than four minutes after his gruffly spoken “feel better if you read it?” comment, Senator Pastore admits to having goose bumps.  And in less than six minutes he’s totally sold:  “I think it’s wonderful.  Looks like you just earned the 20 million dollars.”

This clip is a powerful example of the disarming power of authenticity.  Click here to watch.