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Exaggeration

This is the most wonderful post you have ever read!!!

You’re thinking that’s an exaggeration? Especially when you see all the exclamation points? You’re probably right, although I can always dream.

Not only is it an exaggeration, but it’s very vague. What, exactly, does ‘wonderful’ mean? If I told you it was a useful post I’d have a better chance of being right. Wild exaggeration usually puts people off and creates a lack of credibility. You will be disbelieved right from the start and then you’ll have an uphill struggle to gain your reader’s trust.

The only time exaggeration works for you is in a humorous speech or piece of writing. Precisely because of the lack of believability it enhances the humor.

In your humorous speech the exaggeration should be very large and then larger than that. Humungus. It isn’t funny if it is small and restrained. One of my favourite examples is “My aunt carries a purse the size of Texas.”

I could have said that she carries a very large purse, or the largest purse I ever saw, or a purse the size of a suitcase. The suitcase mention is slightly funny but Texas is out of the ball park funny. That’s what you’re aiming for – out of the ballpark funny.

‘The size of Texas’ is a measuring stick that has been used often, in many contexts. People are used to hearing it as a synonym for huge. It has built-in recognition. People are comfortable with it and are ready to respond to its familiarity.

What also helps is that ‘Texas’ is a short word. Short, tightly focused words work better than longer ones. You might say ‘the size of a shipping container’ or larger than an ocean liner or larger than the Empire State Building. The listener tends to get lost in the syllables.

Another factor is that Texas is linked in many people’s minds with largeness. Saying ‘as big as Rhode Island or Florida’ is almost equally exaggerated but the connotation of size is lost. The Pacific Ocean is even larger but ‘Texas’ still works better because of that connotation. Also because of the syllables.

What also makes Texas funny in this context is that listeners or readers expect a reference to something of the same type. A purse carries personal items. Saying this purse was the size of a suitcase keeps that linear thinking going along happily in its straight line. Saying ‘Texas’ grabs the attention and knocks the heck out of placid, linear thinking.

The unexpected word almost always brings a smile. It’s a recognition that the speaker isn’t buried in the obvious. An unexpected simile, exaggeration or not, commands attention.

Give thought to your exaggerations. Please, no ‘wonderfuls’. Especially no wonderfuls followed by exclamation points if you’re a writer!!!! Use your exaggeration to attract focused attention to your precise point.

 

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The story in your speech is more than just words.

Especially in your humorous speeches, allow your body, your voice and your movement around the stage to carry the meaning. With the words you tell the story; with the body you drive home all the implications that make your meaning deeper and funnier.

One speech I heard recently brought this home to me. The speaker’s theme was the frugality of her old country parents – how she hated it as a teenager and how she appreciates it now she is mature.

She opened with a scene of herself as a teenage girl washing her dad’s car. Along came the cool guy from school. She exhibited lots of teenage girl/teenage boy body language. She tossed him a rag so he could help her – only to find the rag was an old pair of her dad’s underwear. Major teenage embarrassment, acted out on stage. Hilarious.

What followed was dialog with parents quoting old sayings like “A penny saved is a penny earned” and her doing the teenage huffy thing with rolling eyes and shrugged shoulders.

Rather than explaining their frugal habits she made the dialog do the work and punctuated it with teenage superiority – the swing of the hips, the turned away shoulders, mouthing “As if…”

She varied it with the exaggerated sigh, the hands on hips, the head shaking. Consistently she acted the turning away, to drive that point home.

This changes to show her maturing, marrying and finding it necessary to be frugal herself. Now she is the one with the adages, trying to teach the value of saving. She is exaggerating the teaching posture and her exasperation at someone who is not listening.

In more modern terms she says ‘Reduce, re-use, recycle’ and mimes it. The lesson is there to be learned but her humorous take on the turnaround in her attitude gives it a different twist.

The story is basically simple and direct but presented with body language to give it spice as we identify with the character and her changes.

Look at how your speeches can be enhanced if you let yourself go and put your body into it.

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You get this terrific idea for a humorous speech. You write it, hone it and practice it. Then you practice it some more, build in the gestures, practice it some more with longer pauses. And practice it again.

A funny thing happens along the way. All the humor seems to drain out of the speech. That strong funny conclusion you were so pleased with? Now it feels like just an exercise in body language, enunciation and pausing. The part you thought was so brilliant when you started? Flat.

You need to practice, especially for a contest, to refine the humor and bring out every little nuance in the stories. However, it does tend to leave you feeling overdone and flat. What to do about that?

One solution is not to practice the whole speech every time. Have shorter practice sessions where you practice one segment. Practice it not to become word perfect, but to reach into and develop the essence of the humor in it.

Practice making each little humorous anecdote or one-liner a tiny perfect masterpiece of humor. Practice it with its introduction and its bridge to the next part, so you keep the continuity in your mind.

As you do this – bearing in mind the essential humor of that particular segment – you will come to feel the essence of it more deeply. That deep feeling of humor is what you must carry over to the audience.

Humor is appreciated at many different levels. There’s the quick laugh but there can also be a deep appreciation of the human foible being held up for examination. There are fast belly laughs as well as smiles and nods that say “Ain’t that the truth!”

You will hear giggles and you’ll see rueful smiles that they “Oh yes! That happened to me once. I made that mistake. Now I can see the silliness of the situation. I never saw the funny side before. Now I can laugh about it.”

There’s a whole gamut of humor between introspection, belly laugh and clever topical one-liner. As you work on your speech feel the quality of the humor. Sense how the different levels might hit home in the mind of the listener. Can you add in another level?

As you polish each humorous moment feel the way it might reach its target. Then expand it. If it’s a quick belly laugh, can you add depth? If it’s a deeper reminiscence can you add a quick laugh to back it up and carry it one step further?

When it comes time to deliver your speech these feelings and insights that you have built in will come across to your audience. You will have full-value humor and a multidimensional speech.

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OK, You’ve delved deep into your memory and all the events, stories and characters in your life and come up with a theme. In your head you’ve cobbled together a reasonable outline. So now you have a healthy skeleton to flesh out. Then comes the fun part: dressing it up.

Your carefully chosen anecdotes have people in them that are larger than life. They have qualities that most of your audience can easily identify with – impatience, talking too much, exercising too little. But the characteristic you choose to develop is going to be larger yet again. How big can you make it? Good! Now make it bigger.

And while you enlarge it in words, in word pictures and in anecdotes, rehearse it so that your whole body expresses this characteristic in all its ridiculous glory. Is the person hyper? Up the ante, make it more hyper than that. and bigger again, so hyper that…

How is your body conveying hyper-ness? You have to show it to get full value for the humor. How does it look if you pace in all directions, short steps, hands going, arms going, head in movement. As you list off all the major tasks this person completes before breakfast can you represent them with your body language?

Put the person in a setting where hyperactivity is either inappropriate or highly visible – a solemn church service or kindergarten at nap time. What might the consequences be? Now make the consequences worse. Logical in a topsy-turvy way but worse to the point of being ridiculous.

Make your character do something against all reasonable judgement – a serious person (math professor?) who does something incredibly flighty. Show someone defying common sense – enjoying to the hilt an experience that might be thought negative, or vice versa – struggling to escape he miseries of a happy situation.

Write the unexpected, and twist it again, but make every person, every setting, every word vivid so the audience gets the picture.

Jot down one liners that made you laugh. You might not want to copy them, but you can use  them as a basis for your own unique one liner.

Pack your humorous speech full of all the humor you can collect, invent or devise. Then write it a bit shorter than your usual speech – allow people time to laugh.

Making people laugh is such a gift. Do it well and the rewards are huge.

 

 

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We often call this ‘the string of pearls”. The speaker has selected a theme and strung together a series of anecdotes and one-liners to illustrate it. You can, of course, use this structure with a non-funny speech, but it works very well to keep an audience laughing throughout your humorous speech.

You’ll find five useful secrets to this string of pearls structure:

1. Select your theme with care.

Try to find a theme that all the audience can identify with. If your audience is 50/50 men and women you’ll lose half the audience if you choose a huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ theme and the other half if you choose a ‘how to buy shoes’ theme.

Useful themes for humor can be related to family, workplace or just plain human dynamics. Almost all of us have odd little quirks and putting two or more of them together with the behaviors you have observed can be highly entertaining for your audience. Most people relate to interactions in a family or between people in the workplace. A neat wife has to co-exist with a slob of a husband, for instance. Or maybe you’ve watched an uptight micro-manager stuck supervising a popular slob  And it’s even funnier if you put yourself into the anecdotes as one of the protagonists.

2. Observe behaviors

Some of the funniest speeches demonstrate that the speaker has a sharp eye for the nuances of ordinary, every day living. They pick up on, say, the unusual response to a simple question. They start to notice other odd responses. Then they tweak and exaggerate each of them and look at possible results of the off-the-wall interactions.

I’ve seen this done with a husband-wife scenario following her simple request “Would you please take out the garbage?” Oh, yes, she said it with attitude. Build the attitude in all along the way. Attitude and the physical gestures that go with it, are important in building the laughter.

3. Chronological steps in a process

This can be simple steps in a short-term project (putting together a piece if Ikea furniture)  all the way to looking back on one humorously recurring aspect of your life. I’ve just finished one on 20 years worth of efforts to have a mid-life crisis.

The process could also be trying to persuade someone to do something. It  might be that you are unrealistic and the person is incapable of doing it. Or maybe they resist doing it and you have to overcome all the unreasonable obstacles they place in the way.

4. You

Poking a little fun at yourself pulls the audience in towards you. It takes the edge off your sharp-eyed observations of others if you can be equally sharp-eyed when look at yourself.

5. A dynamite opening and conclusion

Now you’ve established your theme and found all the short anecdotes and one-liners to go with it. The final step is to wrap up the package with a truly intriguing opening and a memorable ending.  Spend time editing these up from good to excellent. They are the frame within which your humor is displayed and they can make or break the entire speech

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Every once in a while an ordinary, simple task or event turns into what has been called a ‘comedy of errors’. It’s probably  annoying at the time, but it’s excellent humorous speech material.

This is one story about one event, not the string of pearls which has a series of linked anecdotes. But while it is one story you can certainly build into it events that happened on other similar occasions. If your story is about a camping trip to the mountains two years ago you can include a happening from a different camping trip to a different place at a different time. You just write it in as if it happened on this specific trip.

Your story can start off as if this is going to be an ordinary event but it should escalate very quickly to the humor. Don’t wait too long for that first laugh.  Your ‘ordinary’ camping trip should degenerate into its humorous chaos if not immediately then step by step but promptly.

No-one in your audience should be thinking “When do we start to laugh?”

Make the people funny. Have contrasting types – you a heavy-duty outdoorsman ready to chop firewood, your wife trying to decide which swimsuit and what shade of make up to bring along. Give at least one person unrealistic expectations – as you revel in the solitude of the wilderness they are asking about Internet access.

Exaggerate the disasters. If you ran out of gas on the freeway coming home, move that to running out of gas while you’re still in the wilderness. Have it be pouring with rain. Have everyone so fed up of each other that they are arguing nastily BUT arguing wittily. The dialogue should be developed with care for maximum humor.

What’s that? You didn’t run out of gas at all? Then you had better have had at least one other ‘disaster’. It’s hard to build a humorous speech if everything flows smoothly and everyone gets along happily.

Not getting along is another source of humor. Being crammed in a tent in pouring rain, besieged by mosquitoes does not bring out the sweetest natures.  Spend time on the attitudes and arguments that develop. Have them build using your insight into human nature and what will make people irritable, what they say when they are getting to the end of their patience, and how they say it.

Build your speech to one final, concluding laugh. It’s your story climax, the funniest of the funny moments. Stand for a moment to enjoy the laughter. your story has been a success.

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One of the issues with putting together a humorous speech is getting all the funny stuff organized. so your first task is to find a theme to hang your humor on. One useful structure is The List.

The List can work one of several ways:

1. The Top 10 list (You know, like Letterman)

  • The top 10 results of…
  • The top 10 ways to….
  • The top 10 reasons for…and so on.

You could make the list appear initially to be serious issues but you give each one a funny twist, building from slightly silly to downright ridiculous.

Or they can be funny right from the title “The top 10 ways to annoy your mother-in-law.”

Just remember that 10 is a lot of points to cover in seven minutes. You don’t have much time to comment on each one, especially as you need to allow time for the audience to laugh..

2. A short list of three, five, or seven “how to” points. Think of the on-line ads you see –

‘three secrets of…’,

‘five best ways to…’,

‘seven proven ways to speed up your….’

You could think up wild and wonderful secrets as well as crazy topics that people might want dissected in your own inimitable style.

3. A list, again of  three, five or seven points (odd numbers work better than even numbers) of steps you took to achieve….. Often the goal itself is humorous and part of the title “Seven essential steps when giving a cat medication”, “five ways to prevent your children from getting a puppy”.

As long as you have points lined up and developed to be even funnier than they seem at first you will have a well structured speech.

Arrange your points from mildest to funniest and within each point build so that your punchline comes at the end.

Once you’ve got your list of points decided, develop an opening that draws your audience immediately into the humor of your speech. Link this to a conclusion that is the grand climax – the biggest laugh of all. Leave people laughing so hard that they will always remember you.

And enjoy the laughter – you’ve earned it.

 

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So now you’ve won a couple of contests and things are getting serious. You know you’ve got a good speech. You ‘ve proved that it’s funny. People laugh and tell you how much they enjoyed it. But now you’re competing against other speakers who also have very funny speeches. They have won contests too.  Here are ten ways to give yourself that little extra edge.

1. Tighten up your jokes or humorous anecdotes. Would they work better if they were shorter? Longer? Had more detail? Less detail?

2. Check the transitions between jokes or anecdotes. Can they be tightened, made shorter, more relevant, make stronger links?

3.  Check the relevance of your title. Is there a funnier title or one that is closer to your topic material?

4. Does your speech fully pay off on the promise of the title?

5. Work on your pauses. Where do you need to allow your audience ‘laugh time’. Where do they need an extra moment to ‘get it’?

6. If you add pause time, check that this does not take your speech over the allowed time.

7.  Look at your gestures and movements. Can you make them stronger or more relevant? Don’t hold back with the movements

8.Try your speech out in front of friends – or anyone who will listen and give you feedback. Listen to feedback – you don’t have to incorporate all of it, but pay attention to it. Try out new ideas, to see if they work for you.

9.Dress as jazzy as your personal style allows. Now is not the time for appropriate dark suits.

10. Enjoy your speech. Enjoy the pleasure it gives the audience. Enjoy the laughs – you’ve given the audience the gift of laughter and it’s a precious gift. Share your own pleasure in the fun you have created. Give your speech as if it is the first time you’ve presented it.

Break a leg!

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I attended an Area humorous speech contest yesterday. The woman from my club won. Yay!

Her speech was so much better the second time around. I knew she had found an expert in humorous speeches and got advice and coaching. It really paid off for her.

So my first tip is – if you want to move on get advice and coaching from someone who wins humorous speech contests. Listen to them and work at what they say. Most people love to help a newer speaker. We’re all in this to improve and to help and support each other.

But while I was pulling for ‘my’ club’s contestant, I also began to pull for the young man who came in second.

He had what was basically a good speech. It relied a lot on him getting phone calls from really batty people wanting to tell him about sasquatches and other imaginary creatures. The concept was funny. The batty people and their ideas were even funnier.

But….he didn’t milk all the juice out of the batty ideas. He made a few dabs at the telephone hand gesture, but he didn’t hold it and ‘talk into the phone’. He could even have had a phone as a prop. And what an opportunity to do a Bob Newhart type phone conversation, with him responding to unspoken comments and questions.

It came down to the old saying  ‘Show, don’t tell’. He told us what odd things he heard in these phone conversations. He didn’t show us the incredulity and disbelief on his face as someone tried to persuade him that sasquatches were in league with aliens.

We never got his feeling of  ‘OMG! Now I’ve heard everything!’ We didn’t get feelings at all, just the recounting of facts. Imagine what Bob Newhart could do with batty ideas like that.

It was still a funny speech, but showing it would have got him first place and a berth in the Division finals. Telling it – well, he’s new. It was good practice.

Next time.

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So, by now you’re facing the Area contest or even the Division contest. Good for you! Congratulations! You’ve done well to get this far.

Now you’re starting to feel the pressure of the competition. How can you bring your speech up a few notches so you can stay ahead?

Here are some ideas, based on my observations as I judge contests:

– look at the structure of your speech. Is it logical or does it jump around? Make sure that the ideas follow logically

– make sure your jokes or humorous lines build so that the strongest comes last, as a climax

– hone those anecdotes and the transitions between them so that every word is exact and carries strong meaning

– sell yourself and your speech to the audience with your first words. At this level many of the people will not know you and they may not be pulling for you the way your home club members do. Give them an immediate reason to like you as a speaker and to find you funny

– start people laughing early in your speech, and keep them laughing. Don’t rely on a humorous theme that only has one good laugh at the end

– a humorous theme is not enough to carry your speech past club level unless the anecdotes that illustrate it are themselves funny. If they are stand-alone funny that’s good. If they are support-the-theme funny that’s even better.

– poking fun at yourself almost always works well. Try to make the mistakes be your mistakes, show how you bumbled your way through, going from bad to worse, trying to correct, just getting further into the glue.

– smile, share the joke with an open face, invite the audience to laugh with you

– go for big gestures, movements, wide voice variety. It doesn’t matter if you overdo it a bit – it’s all part of the humor.

– build a really strong ending. I know, I’ve said this before. And I’ll probably say it again – it’s so important.

And Good Luck! Break a leg! You’ll do great!

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