Archive for November, 2008

When Humor Mis-Fires (Part Two)

Thursday, November 27th, 2008

By Guest Author:  Darren LaCroix

Have you ever said something really stupid in the middle of giving a great presentation?


That’s exactly what I did while speaking at a District Conference in Columbus, Ohio.

I relearned a valuable lesson. Before I tell you what I said, it’s crucial you understand the background of why I said it.

First, who is Molly? Molly French and her husband Jamey are fellow Toastmasters who had a life-altering experience this year. At the end of February, Molly (a 39-year-old teacher) had a sore throat and cold-like symptoms. It was treated like a viral infection.

Three days later, with difficulty breathing, Molly was hospitalized. She spent nearly two months in the intensive care/trauma burn unit. Molly was suffering from sepsis, a severe illness caused by an infection of the blood stream. Her legs, damaged from the infection, were amputated.


Molly’s amazing attitude throughout this ordeal helped her to be in an amazing 5% who actually recover from this illness. Hardly anyone has ever recovered this quickly. Her husband Jamey took most of the year off from his business to be at her side. (His dedication to her is amazing!)

Jamey got in touch with me prior to the conference and asked if he could “pick my brain” about how to get their inspiring story out to more people. I was happy do whatever I could. They were both incredibly appreciative for the insight I gave them. We discussed many ideas that they never would’ve even thought about, and pin-pointed certain parts of her story that must be told.

At the conference, I spent as much time as I could with Molly and Jamey. The more I learned about them and their story, the more inspired I was. I was blown away–I knew I had to help!

Molly has an amazing sense of humor, too. We laughed…and we even cried a bit. (If you want to hear more about them, visit their blog.

During my How to Own the Stage “live coaching” workshop, I came up with a really great idea! With Jamey giving up his business, I knew money had been tight, so I decided to donate one of our DVD sets to them. They wanted so much to help others with their story, and I thought Own The Stage could help them do that. After I mentioned their story and gave them one of the programs from the stage, they broke into tears. It was a powerful moment. Everything was perfect in my presentation…up until this point.

Knowing Molly’s amazing attitude, sense of humor, and the bond that we had created over the previous 24 hours, I followed it up with the line: “I knew I had to give the Own The Stage 10 DVD Set to Molly and Jamey. I really want to help them get their story to the people who need it…and give them a leg-up.”

Molly laughed.

The rest of the audience didn’t.

I instantly realized that the audience didn’t understand the closeness between us. They also didn’t know that Molly appreciated the humor. At that point, I completely lost them.

But it wasn’t their fault. It was mine. I should have known better.

Have you ever said something stupid in your presentation?  Wow! As soon as the audience reacted, I knew I had messed up! I explained the background behind my comment, and then moved on.

Too many speakers–after making a major mistake like this–continue to beat themselves up for days. For me, it was an important reminder lesson. I know better. Either way, I let it go.

We will all continue to make mistakes for as long as we’re speaking. Forgive yourself for not being perfect. I NEVER want to be perfect. I want to be “present” and in-the-moment. When you do this, the connection with your audience can be magical, and it will also (on occasion) lead to mistakes. If your heart is in the right place, the audience will forgive you. If they do, why don’t you?

Darren LaCroix is a terrific speaker, an excellent disc-golf player, and a great friend.  You’ll enjoy his newsletter Stage Time and his Blog, In Between Stage Time.  Visit Darren’s web site and check out his Blog.

When Humor Mis-Fires (Part One)

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

If you’ve ever used humor, you’ve probably missed the target more than once.  I have.  And it’ll happen again.  It may result in less laughter, embarrassment, a lost promotion, a ruined relationship, or may just result in your kicking yourself for a bad choice.  If humor were a science, we could probably perfect the process.  But it’s more of an art.  And as imperfect beings, our humor creations are sure to miss the mark occasionally.

Humor can mis-fire due to poor judgment.  Humor can mis-fire due to Conditions. 


Youth.  Often, humor that is off target is caused by the impulses of youth.  We’re not talking always talking about growing older.  Sometimes it’s an issue of maturing; growing more sophisticated.  Juvenile humor is not linked so much to chronological age, as it is to emotional maturity.  Some people are slow to mature.  Some people regress.  Developing our humor sophistication takes awareness, desire, and growth.

Inexperience.  The development of humor skills is the result of trial and error.  The more we experiment, the more we stumble and fall, the smarter (and funnier) we become.  Skill comes from unskilled performance.

Ignorance.  Sometimes we don’t know our audience.  Or we don’t really know the target of the joke.  It’s a problem when we don’t know the culture in which we are presenting.  The tricky thing is, our own familiar and comfortable culture changes.  There is no substitute for awareness, or for “walking a mile” in someone else’s shoes.

Apathy.  The people guilty of this sin just don’t care.  A response to a mis-fired joke is apt to be:  “They shouldn’t be so sensitive!”  Or it may be a joke directed to a group or person someone just doesn’t like.  Everyone deserves the courtesy and understanding that you and I deserve.

Laziness.  Humor which is in poor taste is often because we took “the easy road.”  Blue humor is a comedy cop out.  It’s an attempt to get a cheap laugh the easy way, rather than working to develop something more sophisticated.

Temporary Insanity.  You should have known better, but blew it anyway.  Welcome to the school of hard knocks.


Logistics.  A joke is likely to go wrong if you have poor staging.  Poor lighting.  Poor sound system.  Don’t handicap your humor.  Work to give yourself the best possible conditions.

Environment.  Humor can mis-fire if the wait staff is clearing the tables and stealing the attention of the audience.  If the band in the next room is booming louder than you are.  If the room is freezing cold, you may have a hard time warming up the audience.

Recent Circumstances.  If you’re trying humor just after the announcement of a death…think twice.  If you’re following someone who just gave an un-funny humorous speech, I hope your opening is REALLY funny, or you’ll quickly find yourself trying to climb out of a hole.  If the program is running long before you’re introduced to give your part, you’ll be funnier if you keep your remarks short.

The Audience.  If the audience doesn’t want to be there, it’s hard to be funny.  If the audience disagrees with your point of view, trying to be funny can backfire.  If the audience is drunk, let’s hope you declined the invitation to speak in the first place.

Target of the Joke.  Maybe the alignment of the planets is not favorable and the usually-jolly target of the joke is having a bad day.  Maybe ordinarily he or she would have loved the joke, but tonight the mood just isn’t right.

The PC Police.  Maybe the joke mis-fires not because the audience is offended, but because some audience members have assigned themselves to be the watch dogs of political correctness.  They are not personally offended, but refuse to laugh because of the possibility that a person or two in the audience might not like the joke.

Some of these factors are in your control.  Some are not.  Know the difference.  And work to gain the experience needed to keep you on the right track.  And learn to not beat yourself up in the process!

The posts which follow will look at some real-life humor failures.  Stay tuned.

Cartoon Caption Contest Results

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

It’s time for the November Cartoon Caption Contest results featuring the art of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

The next contest will be announced on December 1.

Check out our current joke contest.

Next, watch for our multi-part post:  When Humor Misfires.

Here are the top captions:


Now I know why my system was running so slowly.  My anti-virus software found this computer worm.
     Gary Bachman, Hagerstown, Maryland, USA


Is this one of those you tubes everyone is talking about?
      Tom Nee, Oak Lawn, Illinois, USA


I’m not going to let you off the hook again!
     Nancy Lininger, Camarillo, California, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – The doctor removed it yesterday–that’s how I’m able to bend my right arm like this.
  – What’s-his-name gave me this thingamajig to give to you-know-who.
  – I bought this off eBay. It’s Gary Coleman’s belt.
  – I worked my butt off for twenty years and what do they do–they give me the hook.
  – I only received part of my order.  I got the hook; I’m still waiting for the line and sinker.
  – How many times do  I have to tell you to leave the question marks in the dialog balloons?
  – If you keep chewing your retainer, you will never get your teeth straight!
  – I’m tired of talking your ear off!
  – I’m sorry, I accidently ran over your hash pipe.
  – I wanted the whole tea pot, not just the handle.
  – Senior Bush to Junior Bush:  “It’s time to leash you my son…you have done enough damage.”
  – Is this what happened to my connectivity?

Check Dan Rosandich’s web site for information on how he can add custom cartoons for your next book, brochure, advertisement, web site, T-shirt, or other project.

Alternative TV — Joke Contest

Friday, November 14th, 2008

It’s time for the November Joke Writing Contest.

We announce new joke contests mid-month.

And we announce new Cartoon Caption Contests on the first of the month.

The theme for this month’s joke contest is Alternative TV.  Your challenge is to come up with new takes on existing TV shows, blending two shows together, creating a show that doesn’t exist.  Create the title for the show.  And then create a short TV-Guide-style description of the show.

Here are three examples:

Mission Impossible–To Tell The Truth:  This week teams are challenged to write a political campaign ad.

The Amazing Face:  In this episode a plastic surgeon moves to Beverly Hills.

The Price Is Right:  A behind the scenes look at power and influence in Washington DC.

Write and edit your best humor lines.  And then submit them to by November 30, 2008.

Winning a Toastmasters Speech Contest…Or Not

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Last night I returned home from the Toastmasters District 33 Fall Conference.  I competed in the Humorous Speech Contest.  I was happy with the content and flow of my talk.  I got big laughs in all the right places. 

The winner was Colin Saunders from Las Vegas.  I had him picked as the winner before the results were announced.  His speech was a work of art…word choices of a poet.  Great physical delivery.  And most importantly…very funny.

Second and third places went to speakers Jason Gordo (Riverbank CA) and David Hillshafer (Edwards AFB).  They both had very funny speeches delivered with high energy, both vocally and physically (totally different from my low-key delivery style).  There were six speakers and they announced the top three positions.  That’s nice because the three of us who didn’t place can each assume that we were in fourth place!

This was the best Humorous Speech Contest I can remember in my 35 years of Toastmasters.  What fun to be in a contest filled with big laughs for every speech.  Reflecting on my past competitions I’ve come to the conclusion that is was much easier to win a District Contest in the “old days.”  I’ve won eight District Contests and although I sometimes feel like I’ve been-there-done-that, there is still nothing like a competition to give yourself a little push to work harder.  I love it.

My first District win was exactly 25 years ago at the fall conference for District 48.  I won three years in a row.  And in those days the Humorous Speech Contest went to the Regional level, one level above District.  This week’s contest was stronger than any of the three Regional Contests I’ve competed in.  But that’s the way it should be.

Almost every type of competition has become substantially more competitive over the years: Figure skating, track and field, gymnastics, golf, basketball, baseball.  Can anyone picture Babe Ruth making it in today’s major league baseball?  But he WAS one of the greatest of his time and because of that has become a legend.

I was reflecting on the Gold-Medal record that Michael Phelps recently took from Mark Spitz.  Phelps with eight Gold Medals at the 2008 Olympics topped the record of Seven Gold Medals set by Spitz in 1972.  It crossed my mind, “I wonder if any of Mark Spitz’s competition times would have won a Gold Medal in 2008…or in fact ANY medal?”  The answer was what I suspected it would be.  The times from his record breaking Olympics would not have earned him a single medal of any kind in 2008. 

But Mark Spitz was the best of his day, dominating the competition with the equipment, training and coaching available in 1972.  He deserves his sports hero status and is every bit the champion that Michael Phelps is.

How much better the competitors have become, in the 36 years between Spitz and Phelps, is astounding.  Keep in perspective that Phelps won his individual events by an average of 1.32 seconds per event and that he won his relay events by an average of 1.84 seconds.  Spitz’s Gold Medal times from 1972, for individual events, averaged 5.52 seconds behind the BRONZE (third place) medal times in 2008.  And his relay times averaged 21.43 seconds behind the 2008 Bronze medalist times.  Yes, that would be over 21 seconds behind the third place finisher.  That’s an amazing level of performance improvement.

It wasn’t just Michael Phelps being better than the swimmers of years past.  The entire field has improved a staggering amount.  And a stronger field pushes everyone to higher achievement.

So it is with speaking.  Many of the old, legendary speakers of the past…as great as they were…would not be competitive in today’s market.  The formal oratory of the past just wouldn’t connect with today’s audience in the same way that it did in their time.  The knowledge and coaching were not what they are today.  The level of competition was not as demanding.  On the other hand, if the legendary speakers were dropped into today’s speaking environment, they would be even better speakers than they were back then, and the fact is that they would be competitive.  Knowledge, training and compeition spur us on to higher achievement.

And over the years, Toastmasters Contest speakers have also grown in quality.  It’s hard to quantify it, like we can Olympic events.  But I suspect that the degrees of improvement are similar.  Speakers today are better trained than yesterday’s speakers.  They better understand the art and science of speaking.  And they’re pushed to higher levels by their fellow competitors, who also have become more effective.  That’s a good thing.  It’s challenging.  It’s stimulating.  And the bottom line…it’s not about winning.  It’s about growing.  It’s about getting better.

So push yourself by entering your club’s next contest.  Challenge yourself to work harder.  And remember:  To succeed today and tomorrow, you’ll need to exceed the standards of yesterday.

Joke Contest — Creative Humor Writing

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

The theme for the most recent contest was:  Financial Crisis Book Titles.

New joke writing contests are announced mid-month.

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

We received a lot of entries for this month’s topical subject.  Here are the results.  Enjoy!


Harry Potter and The Magical Money Printing Press
     Dana Richardson, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA


The Prudent Investor–Hidden Treasures in Mattresses
     Nancy Lininger, Camarillo, California, USA


The Paper Millionaire Next Door
     Jerry Smith, New Albany, Ohio, USA

HONORABLE MENTION (in random order)

  – Build Your Own Hot-Stove or How to Keep Warm This Winter By Burning Your Stock Certificates
  – Self Shock or How to Restart Your Heart After a Home Repossession
  – The Hyper-Inflation Diet:  Losing Weight Because You Can’t Afford Food
  – Fore-Closures, and Seven Bailouts Ago–Abraham Lincoln on the Economy
  – Decimal Points and You.  What They’re Not Telling You
  – The Fed Is From Mars, The Economy Is From Venus
  – Million Dollar Blanket Forts.  Making Money in the Real Estate Market
  – Do Not Pass Go.  Do Not Collect $200.  The Economy and You
  – Poor Dad, Poor Dad
  – Federal Government Management Manual:  Gasoline + Fire
  – Who Moved My Cheese–Seriously, I’m Starving
  – Chutes & Ladders–Home Improvement Manual
  – 1001 Ways to Cook an Onion–The Food Network Guide to 5-Star Depression Dining
  – Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous–And Where They Bury Their Money
  – This Ol’ Cardboard Box–Do It Yourself Home Improvement Tips
  – Ode to ’29:  How To Create a Depression 21st Century Style
  – Raiders of the Lost Banks:  Snakes–I Hate Snakes
  – Giving Our Financial Crisis a Shot in the Arm–And Other Uses for Two-Gallon Hypodermic Needles
  – A Case for Dramamine: Following the Markets In 2008
  – Success The Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac Way:  A Management Style Guaranteed to Make Someone Rich
  – How to Swim with The Sharks in Congress and Not Be Eaten Alive
  – Living Under the Bridges of Madison County
  – God’s Little Acre (But We’re Having a Devil of a Time Selling It)
  – Rising Unemployment–Who Will Be the Next American Idle?
  – Tuesdays with Worry
  – Regulating the De-regulators
  – 1001 Ways To Lose Money
  – Take Stock in America–They Now Own the Banks
  – A Penny Saved is An Exercise in Futility
  – A New Perspective on the Stock Market–Standing On Your Head
  – Rich Dad Poor Dad–How To Ask Your Dad for a Bail Out

McCain on Saturday Night Live

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

John McCain appeared on Saturday Night Live last night.  The show opened with a terrific five-minute parody of QVC (Shopping Network).  McCain teamed up with Sarah Palin look-alike, Tina Fey.

It’s a very well-written skit using a variety of humor techniques.  Here are three of my favorites:

1.  The element of surprise.  Cindy McCain made an appearance as a jewelry model.  My favorite moment in the skit.  Backstage she joked: “It’s what I do best.  I just stand there.  I’m a pro at that!”

2.  Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) went Rogue…Palin 2012.  And a great topper (the Oprah line).

3.  Sarah Palin (Tina Fey) hinted at her $150,000 wardrobe using the trigger of a small gesture instead of a punch word.  Less is more!

Also, note that the humor went both directions.  Obama/Biden took some hits:  Ayers, Town Hall Meetings, Joe Biden, to mention a few.

Why would McCain make multiple appearances on SNL?  McCain is right on the mark when he says:  “The appearances on Saturday Night Live humanize you.”

Link to SNL parody.

Creative Humor Writing — Cartoon Caption Contest

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Here’s our November Cartoon Caption Contest featuring the artwork of professional cartoonist Dan Rosandich.

We announce new caption contests on the first of the month.

New joke contests are announced mid-month.

I wrote a handful of captions as I prepared this post.  Rather than sharing any of them, I’ll leave the interpretation of the cartoon totally up to you.  It’s not clear who the two characters are, where they are, or what the object is that is the center of attention.  Often the humor comes from defining the objects or characters in the drawing.  Challenge yourself to think outside the panel.  See what you can come up with.

Write as many captions as you can.  Set them aside.  The next day write some more new captions.  Sleep on them again.  Then edit and sharpen the humor.  Select your best lines and submit them to by November 15, 2008.

For information on how Dan Rosandich can create custom cartoons for your next special project, book, newsletter, web site, T-Shirt and more, visit Dan’s web site.