Archive for August, 2008

If You Want To Become A Funny Speaker, You Have to Know This

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

by Eric Feng, The Public Speaking Blog

Why is humor so important?

Have you ever come across speakers who are downright hilarious? They make you laugh on cue, with extremely little effort. And after an hour of laughing out loud, the speaker leaves you wanting more. In fact, there is a tinge of disappointment when the speech ends.

Even when you are driving home, you can’t help but to play back some of the speaker’s funny lines so that you have an excuse to laugh again. Weeks after the speech, you still find yourself telling everyone about how funny this speaker is.

Sound familiar?

That my friend, is the unfair advantage you gain when you are a funny speaker. When you are able to make your audience laugh.

They like you more.
They learn faster.
They remember you…for all the right reasons.

In the professional speaking industry, your ability to make your audience laugh dictates how much more you will be paid.

So here’s the big question — how do you become funnier? And for those who swear that you have no funny bone, can you even be funny?

To the second question, my answer is a firm YES…and I speak from experience.

Humor can be learned. IT IS A PROCESS!. And there are many time-tested techniques that can help you become funnier. And in this article, I will like to share with you ONE. Trust me, just this ONE technique is sufficient to create 80% of your humor materials.

First, you need to understand this:

AUDIENCES LAUGH WHEN THEY ARE SUCCESSFULLY TRICKED.

So your job as a speaker is to trick your audience.

Let me give you a really simple example. Watch this video by Geoff Burch.

Downright hilarious isn’t it? And here’s why…coz half the time, you really thought that he was inspired by the boy. And he tricked you by telling you that this story is the reason why he is here today (which makes you think it is something really important). And he sounded so serious…even to the extent of being moved by what the boy said. And the surprise came when he fired the boy! That was something that you wouldn’t have expected…which is why we laugh. Unexpectedness. An element of surprise. Tada, you were successfully tricked by him!

The same princple can be applied to visuals as well. Check out this:

Got you laughing right? Why? Coz usually if you want to demonstrate how fast a runner is, you will show him out-run his fellow runners. But in this picture, you see how the runner out-runs his shadow. This is highly unexpected. Again, an element of surprise.

Let’s try one more.

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This is a no brainer. We laugh because we see Mc Donald buying a burger from his competitor — Burger King. It would have been funnier if it was a video clip. First we will see a man in trench coat ordering a burger. And when the camera pans in, you see that it was actually Ronald Mc Donald! Now that would have been funnier.

So guys, the principle is really simple. You have to successfully trick your audience in order to make them laugh.

And in order to successfully trick your audience, you need to first figure out what is your audience ASSUMING. And then you break that assumption. That will cause the laughter.

Here’s how.

A man and woman are making passionate love in the bedroom. Suddenly, the apartment door opens and a man walks in: “Darling! I’m home!” He walks into the bedroom, looks at the naked couple and says…

First, what are you assuming here?

We assume the man who walks in is the woman’s husband.

Or we assume that “darling” refers to the woman.

So let’s say we go with the first assumption. How we create a laugh is by inserting this line “Oh damn, I didn’t know your husband was home today.”

BUT…this is not going to be as funny as the second one : “What is SHE doing here??!!”

The 2nd one is funnier because it is more unlikely. The first one is highly possible. Get it? The more successful you are in tricking your audience, the more laughs you get. And in order to trick them, you got to first identify the assumption.

There are many more examples I could give you but I think you get my point. Here’s the bottom line, humor can be learned and it is a process.

To end, I shall share with this video. One of my favorites. It’s a tribute to Meryl Streep by one of the funniest guys in USA — Jim Carrey! If you study his lines, you will realize that he successfully tricks you which makes you laugh.

Here’s one without spoiling the entire video.

Jim Carrey (he was talking about his first encounter with Meryl Streep): “At first I was a little nervous. I don’t know what she was like. But lucky for me…she was open and willing to learn. (audience laughs).”

See the mechanics?  We assume that he was nervous because it was Meryl Streep! She is one of the best actresses in Hollywood…but the twist became apparent when Jim says “she was open and willing to learn,” making HIM the better actor.

Ok ok… I should just shut up and let you enjoy this hilarious Jim Carrey video. Happy laughing.

Eric Feng, The Public Speaking Blog
Eric is a energetic, young speaker and coach from Singapore.  Visit his blog and web site for lots of great information on becoming a powerful speaker.

Cartoon Caption Contest Results — Barber Shop

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

Here are the results of the August cartoon caption contest selected by our panel of eleven judges (speakers and improv players).  Our contests feature the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

Look for our next caption contest on September 1.

Our joke writing contests are announced in the middle of the month.

Here are this month’s top lines.

** FIRST PLACE **

You should of told me she was your wife!
     Jeanette Diss, Cowes, Phillip Island Victoria, Australia

** SECOND PLACE **

This is one expensive haircut.  In fact, I think I’ll be paying for this haircut for the next couple months. 
     Gary Bachman, Hagerstown, Maryland, USA

** THIRD PLACE **

No! I did not want a style that looked like the Chicago skyline.
     Jerry Smith, New Albany, Ohio, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – I thought the sign that said 50% off referred to the price of a haircut.
  – I know I didn’t tip you so well last time, but did you have to do this?
  – I’d like to see you try cutting someone’s hair during an Earthquake!
  – The Last of the Mohicans?  Sure, I saw it….why?  Acckkkk!
  – I didn’t know your only previous experience was a landscaper!?
  – Have you been drinking that green stuff the combs are kept in?
  – I hope you aren’t expecting a tip.  The only tip I have for you is to go back to barber school.
  – Are you sure I look taller with this hair cut ?
  – If I wanted to be scalped — I’d call my bookie!
  – Now watch me shave a little off your TIP!
  – When I asked for a shave, I didn’t mean my head!

Visit the web site of Dan Rosandich for information on professional custom cartoons for your next project:  Book, T-shirt, Brochure, Web Site, etc.

Finding Your Signature Story

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Professional speakers who are at the top of their game are often known for their “signature stories.”  These are original, compelling stories on which reputations are built.

Signature stories are usually funny.  Often they are VERY funny.  But in spite of the power of humor, a signature story of the highest level must have more than just funny lines.  And they need more than a significant message.

The art of improv comedy teaches us that good scene work is
centered around characters, relationships and objectives.  So it is
with great stories in speaking.  In a great story the message is
built around drama, challenges or obstacles, relationships, strong
characters. 

A story which is relatively simple and predictable is less likely
to strike it rich as a signature story.  And a story which belongs
to someone else will never make YOU famous.  You want to work for
the original and compelling stories which have substantial real
life drama.  A bad relationship turned into a good relationship.  A
life-and-death situation survived. A dramatic or embarrassing
situation coped with.  A story with a strong colorful character
which teaches a great life lesson.

Here is a story which I really like.  It’s a true life experience.
But it lacks nearly all the critical elements of a GREAT story.  So
I rarely use it:

I was waiting at a red traffic light and my mind was wandering.
The car to my left started to go, so I automatically figured the
light was green and I started to go.  Then I looked up and saw the
light was still red.  The car next to me was turning left on a
green arrow.  So I slammed on my brakes. Unfortunately, the car
behind me, seeing that I was going, started to go.  And the driver,
not expecting me to stop suddenly, crashed into the back of my car.

A pair of assumptions caused an accident.  I assumed that the
person on my left was going the same place I was…and he wasn’t.
My assumption was wrong.  The driver behind me assumed that I knew what I was doing…I didn’t.  He was wrong.  We often make assumptions in life that lead us down the wrong path. We assume that what is right for someone else is right for us, when it may not be.  And we assume that someone else knows what they’re doing or possesses the truth, and sometimes they don’t.  We need to be awake and clear thinking in our choices and judgments or life will teach us hard lessons.

A good story.  Good lessons.  The lessons could probably be
expressed in a hundred different ways.  But it’s not a great story.
There is little humor. There is no drama.  There are no colorful
characters.  There are no substantial relationship situations.
There are no challenges or obstacles.   It’s a simple story and
some may say it’s predictable. 

But finding a great signature story is easier said than done.  It
may take years of searching and then experimenting from the
platform until the right story clicks for you.  My recommendation
is that you focus on your life’s experiences and primarily look for
situations which have obstacles to overcome, relationship problems,
and lessons learned.  Your story doesn’t need to be as significant
as surviving a hostage situation or a plane crash.  Life’s everyday
problems with interpersonal relationships can be just as dramatic.
You just need to tune in to your experiences so that you can
capture the magical story and put it into your speech.

12 Elements of a Professional Quality Speech

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

What are the elements that make up a professional-quality speech?  What are the elements which would cause someone to watch a DVD recording and say, “I’d pay money to have that speaker talk to my group.”  What elements make a speech appeal to a business or corporate buyer.  There are many.

Some elements are significant.  Some are critical.  All are
important.

A significant element is a “Heart-Attack” element.  It’s something
that has a significant impact on the quality of the speech.  But a
shortcoming in this area COULD be survived.  It’s risky, but you
could live to tell about it.

A critical element is a “Cardiac-Arrest” element.  When your heart
stops, you’re in big trouble.  It’s critical.  A shortcoming in
this area screams Non-Professional.

Here are 12 important elements for delivering a professional-level
speech.  In my opinion, half of them are significant and half of
them are critical.

SIGNIFICANT ELEMENTS

1.  Be human.  Don’t sweat the mistakes.  Realize that mistakes
make you real.  A small mistake, here and there, isn’t going to
kill you.  Slick isn’t in.

2.  Be organized.  Have an easy-to-follow speech structure.

3.  Be energized.  Have a high-energy opening. 

4.  Be funny.  Humor is a terrific tool on many levels.

5.  Be silent.  Use the power of the pause.

6.  Be changeable.  Avoid sameness.  The key to vocal variety, for
example, isn’t WHAT you do with your voice, it’s how you CHANGE
what you do with your voice.

CRITICAL ELEMENTS

1.  Be connected.  Eye contact is the critical factor.

2.  Be conversational.  Speaking in a speaker’s voice, or with
sing-song delivery, or being on auto-pilot are the signs of an
amateur.

3.  Be yourself.  Trying to be another speaker is a mistake.
Trying to match the content or style of Les Brown, Suze Orman,
Anthony Robbins or some other successful celebrity speaker is
un-professional.

4.  Be original.  Do not give a book report.  Don’t share wisdom
that everyone has read in same best-seller books which you have
read.  Mine your own wisdom.  As Patricia Fripp would say: “Be
profound.”

5.  Be compelling.  Your talk must draw people in.  It should not
be a chore to listen to you or to stay awake.  Use stories to make
your points.  People will pay attention to stories and remember the
pictures you paint in their minds.

6.  Be clean.  Never use suggestive or off-color humor.

Let’s put this in perspective.  Both significant elements and
critical elements are very important to your success.  In my
opinion, it’s unlikely you’ll meet the measure of professional if
you’re missing a critical element.  On the other hand, missing a
significant element is not critical. 

For example, if you’re not naturally a high-energy speaker, having
a high-energy opening is probably not a good idea.  Although it
would be a good idea to put a touch of energy somewhere
in your speech!  The same with humor.  If you’re just not a funny
person, force-fitting humor into your talk may be a bad idea.  But
you should continue to work on developing your humor skills so that
you can eventually add a bit of humor into every talk. 

A speaker who is missing a significant element can often compensate
by being stronger in another area.  It’s difficult, maybe
impossible, to compensate for the lack of a critical element.

Good luck and happy speaking!

Observational Humor — Case Study #27

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Here is another example of an Observational Humor monologue presented at a Toastmasters meeting:

THE SET-UP (What happened and what was said during the meeting before the monologue was delivered.)

1.  The meeting started with music reminding us of the Olympics.  The first speaker opened with:  “The music made me want to jump off a balance beam.”

2.  A speaker, who was presenting a humor contest workshop, asked who had heard his contest speech before.  About 80 percent raised their hands.  He said, “Well you’re going to hear it again.”

3.  A presenter referred to speakers who pace as having “happy feet.”

4.  A speaker offered the wisdom, “There’s no such thing as a perfect dairy cow.”

5.  After a break, the Toastmaster (emcee) said that there was so much information delivered in the first half of the meeting that he needed a break to do a quick dump to make room for more information.

THE MONOLOGUE

I was planning on opening with a back flip on a balance beam…but the ambulance hasn’t arrived yet.
(This joke has an element of self-deprecation, poking fun at my height, age, and lack of gymnastic ability.  The structure is a weaker set-up joke, followed by a stronger topper.)

How many people here have not heard my Tall Tale speech about Area 51 Space Aliens?  Well you’re not going to hear it this afternoon either.
(What drives this joke is a reversal of what the other speaker had said earlier.  The punchline is the opposite of what would be expected.)

I’ve got Norwegian happy feet.  I mention that, because it’s unlikely that you’d notice.
(My normal delivery is the opposite of someone with a habit of pacing.  My laid-back style makes the joke work.  The structure is a set-up joke followed to a topper.)

And I have a lot of information to share with you, but none of it will be more profound than “There’s no such thing as a perfect dairy cow.”  Which means that Bill won’t need to take another quick dump.
(This is a call back of the dairy-cow quote which had earlier gotten a big laugh.  It’s followed by a topper.)

Joke Writing Contest — Favorite Entertainment

Monday, August 11th, 2008

Our Joke Contest for August challenges you to identify a group of people and then find their favorite form of entertainment.

From a creativity approach, you can start with the group first and look for the entertainment.  Or you can start with the entertainment and work backwards to figure out what group would supposedly be attracted that entertainment.

The group actually could be an individual.  The entertainment could be a rock band, comedian, TV show, movie, sport, or a wide assortment of other entertaining pastimes.

Here are three samples:

Vegetarians like Carrot Top.
Javelin throwers like Shakespeare.
Clock makers prefer 48 Hours to 60 Minutes.

Create as many lines as you can.  Select your best ones and submit them to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com by August 31, 2008.

Joke Contest Results — The Big House

Sunday, August 10th, 2008

It’s time for the results of the Big House joke writing contest inspired by Steve and Erin Pavlina.

Our Cartoon Caption Contests are announced on the first of the month.

Our Joke Contests are announced mid-month.

Here are the top lines from this month’s contest, selected by a panel of four judges.

** FIRST PLACE **

A condition of my house arrest is that I can’t leave the state, which of course makes it very difficult to go to the bathroom.
     J.D. Haack, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

** SECOND PLACE **

My house is so big, I wake up every morning to my wife’s fifth echo.
     Ken VanDrese, Escanaba, Michigan, USA

** THIRD PLACE (tie) **

My house is so big that we have You Are Here signs every 10 yards.
     Arun Ramkumar, Chennai, India

My house is so big, there are two toll booths in the east hall.
     Michael Cortes, Erie, Pennsylvania, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – My house is so big, it has it’s own gravitational field.
  – My house is so big, it replaced Pluto as the ninth planet.
  – My house is so big, it’s not the Holiday Inn, it’s the Rest of the Year Inn.
  – My house is so big, a walk through it will take you through two time zones and three climates.
  – My house is so Big, Tom Hanks wanted to be in it.
  – My house is so big, in my den are 6 miles of Route 66.
  – Rain had threatened to ruin The National Drag Racing Finals so they ran it indoors in my house.
  – My house is so big, that bankrupt airlines are storing their unused 747s in my hall closet.
   – My house is so big that, when I went bankrupt, it wouldn’t fit into “for”closure.  They had to do a “five”closure.
  –  My house is so big, the backyard is just beyond the horizon.
  – What do you mean you can’t install a cell tower in our kitchen?
  – My house is so big, you need Google maps to get around it.
  – My house is so big, that we have different time zones in the west wing and the east wing.
  – My house is so big, that we have our personal border security force
  – My house is so big, you can see it from the moon.
  – My house is so big my carpet is shampooed with a crop duster
  – My house is so big my wife thinks she’s a Queen and doesn’t have to make me dinner.
  – Other families have a swing set in their backyard, my kids have a Six Flags.
  – My house is so big an asteroid could destroy 99% of it and my world record house of cards would still stand in the closet.
  – The Loch Ness monster has reportedly been sighted in my jacuzzi.
  – If all the toilets in my house were flushed at once everyone showering in New York City would be burn their naked behind.
  – If the Chinese dig past the waterline in China they might hit my septic tank.
  – I like to race monster trucks with my friends in my bedroom and my wife doesn’t seem to care since she sleeps right through it.
  – My house is so big my wife bulldozes the rooms that get a little dusty.
  – My house is so big that I have a different bedroom for each day of the week.
  – On the bright side, our house is in five different school districts.
  – My house is so big, I have to use my GPS to find my way to the master bedroom each night.
  – My house is so big, a life guard is always on duty whenever a guest takes a bath.
  – My house is so big, all the maids get travel expenses, inside the house.

Responding With Humor — Paris Hilton For President

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

The Funny Or Die web site features a parody of John McCain’s ad where he uses the image of Paris Hilton to make a point.  Paris Hilton appears in the parody responding to the original campaign ad with humor.  Regardless of whether you’re going to vote for McCain or Obama…or Hilton…it’s a good example of responding to an attack with humor rather than angry words.

Book-Ending Your Speech — Opening and Closing a Talk

Wednesday, August 6th, 2008

To explain the concept of book-ending your speech, consider the role of book-ends on a shelf.  Although they may look wonderful and accent the decor of the room, their job is not just to look nice!  Normally, their job is to support the books and keep them from falling over.  So it is with a good opening and closing for your speech.  Their job’s are to support the body of the talk and keep it
from falling apart. 

Although you could use non-matching bookends on your shelf,
MATCHING book-ends are much more striking, have more class and
provide their support with more flair.  Here are some ideas for
using matching book-ends for your speech.

1.  Humor.  I often open and close a speech with humor that
matches.  It may match in subject content.  The humor-closer may be
a delayed topper for the opening joke (not normally the placement
for the topper, as it would normally be placed immediately after
the primary joke).  Or, it may just match the theme of the opening
humor.  Let’s say you opened your talk with a funny line about
dogs.  Then close it with something funny about dogs.  I once
opened a comedy routine with a joke about 800 toll-free numbers.
So I closed it with a different joke about 800 telephone numbers.
Take a look at Observational Humor Case Study #6 for an example of
opening and closing a humor routine with the technique of
book-ending.

2.  A story.  You could open a speech with a story.  You could just
tell part of the story, not the whole thing.  This is actually a
good speakers technique:  “Let’s interrupt the story for a moment
while we take a side trip.”  In this case, you could choose to
complete the story at the end of your speech.

3.  Music.  You may open and close the speech with the same song,
maybe using different verses.

4.  Magic.  You may open and close a talk with magic.  I’ve often
used this as a technique with my comedy-magic.

5.  A quote.  You could open and close with the same quote.  Or a
different quote from the same person.  This could be an especially
effective way to support the central theme of your talk.

6.  The Past/The Future.  You could open with “this is what our
association used to look like” and close with “this is what our
association will look like in the future.”  Or using this technique,
make reference to the talk which preceded yours and how it relates
to your talk.  Then at the end of your speech, make reference to
the talk which follows your talk, and how they both relate to the
central theme of the conference.

7.  A Prop.  Use a prop at the start of your talk.  Come back to
the prop at the end.  Or maybe at the closing of the talk, give the
prop away as a prize to someone in the audience.

8.  A Challenge.  Open with a challenge or problem facing the
audience.  Close with the solution and call-for-action.

9.  Tie The Ribbon.  Get the idea?  Relating the opening and
closing of the talk is like wrapping your speech in a nice ribbon
and tying a bow to make it a total gift for the audience.  It looks
professional.  It’s memorable.  It helps you to deliver a message
that connects and makes a difference.

Creative Humor Writing — Cartoon Caption Contest

Friday, August 1st, 2008

It’s time for our August (can you believe it’s August!) Cartoon Caption Contest. 

We’re featuring the artwork of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.  Visit his website for information on creating custom artwork for your next special project.

We announce new caption contests at the first of each month.

Our Joke Writing contests are announced mid-month.

Here is this month’s cartoon:

August Cartoon

That’s not what I meant by “a little off the sides.”

Write as many captions as you can and submit your best ones by August 15, 2008 to HumorPowerTips@HumorPower.com.