Public Speakers — The Magical Performance

Looking back over my thirty-plus years as a humor performer.  I can think of three performances which stand out as my all-time-best programs.

There are great programs.  And then there are programs that are magical.  The first program that stands out in my memory was a comedy-magic program for a church group.  This was a program that raised the roof.  It was a combination of the right program for the right group.  My philosophy is that the quality of a program says more about the group than it does about the presenter.  A standing ovation says more about the audience than it does about the performer.  Any presentation is a two-way dialogue.  It’s never a monologue.  This church group was “in fun” and ready for a rocking evening.  It was what I call a cohesive group, where people know each other and like each other.  And I had done my homework, knew the group, involved them by writing custom humor and by bringing many of them onto the platform with me.  The pastor of the church received feedback from the staff that ran the children’s Day School in the same fellowship hall where the magic show had been held.  They opened the school the next morning and later that afternoon spoke to the pastor:  “What happened last night?  When we opened the school this morning we could just feel the energy in the room!” Amazing. Magical.

The other two top-of-the-memory programs were for retirement events.  Again, we’re talking about cohesive groups.  Both retirees were very well known and very well liked.  In both cases my contribution to the evening was the presentation of a testimonial slide show.  One was twenty minutes.  The other was a thirty-minute slide show.  The reaction to the first program was a laughter response rate of 50%.  During the 20 minutes slide show the audience spent half the time, 10 minutes, laughing.  I’ve never come close to matching that audience reaction to any program I’ve ever done.  The preparation time paid off.  The key was the customized, on-target humor.

The second slide show was magical as well.  Normally you’d think that a program showing 285 slides would put people to sleep.  I shot over 700 photographs and worked about 100 hours putting it together.  What an incredible experience.  Let’s look at some details on what it took to produce this magical retirement-slide-show experience.

1.  I knew the retiree really well.  I had worked for him for three years and spent the last six months as his second-in-command.  Knowing that his retirement was near, I spent 12 months preparing for the program.

2.  I had a mental map of what I wanted to do.  For a year, I carried a camera to work with me every day and collected the pieces I needed to put the program together.  The actual script was written two weeks before the event.

3.  To be top notch, the program need professional-quality audio-visual support.  This was in the 1980s, before the days of PowerPoint.  I wanted two-projectors with dissolve where one slide blends into the next without the jerky quality of a one-projector presentation.  But with nearly 300 slides, it meant changing trays in mid-program.  I practiced the narration with the help of a professional A/V guy.  He was prepared with back up projectors, back up bulbs, asbestos gloves to change the bulbs.  And the timing of the switch of trays went off without a hitch.  I couldn’t have done it by myself. And I needed the confidence of having a pro behind the scenes.

4.  The key to the entertainment value was the pace of the program and the humor.  Although 285 slides sounds like a lot, if you keep it moving and keep them laughing, nobody is counting. That’s about six seconds per slide.  Barely enough time for a punchline and a good laugh.  The last six minutes of the program was set to music, two songs (favorites of the honoree and his wife).  That provided a change of pace and set a mood totally different from the humor, making it a full emotional experience.  Laughter and tears.

5.  Pulling off something like this slide show isn’t easy.  100 hours over a year’s time and twenty year’s experience in the humor business.  But you could start with something on a smaller scale.  I’ve produced many slide shows of just three minutes and ten or twenty slides.  Start small and grow your skills.  The thing that really makes it click is that when it is so customized, it almost can’t miss.  Just like great observational humor to open a speech is likely to get some of the biggest laughs of your entire speech.  Give it a try the next time they’re looking for someone to help work on a retirement or a roast.  Find a humor buddy to work with and go for it.

Related ARticle:  Tips on how to build a customized Humorous Slide Show.