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Posts Tagged ‘laugh’

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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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, 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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I was part of a humorous speech contest last week and I was all ready to write a blog about what constitutes a winning speech. The contest I attended had a clear winner – a woman who looked back on a couple of incidents from her life. She turned a humorous eye on them and made them very funny for the audience. Technically her speech was good, but not brilliant. It just made people laugh. A lot.

It was, after all, meant to be a humorous speech. It achieved its objective.

I was all ready to blog that the key to a humorous speech is the personal story, one you yourself found funny. And indeed, that can be powerful.

But, big but. Yesterday I attended another humorous speech contest. One of the contestants told stories about the funny things her pets had done. It fell flat.

Now I love animal stories. My own pets have kept me smiling and laughing through many a difficult time. I’m a sucker for animal stories. So what made this speech fall flat, to me and (apparently) to the judges?

The first woman FELT her story. When she told about her joy, as a teenager buying her first skimpy hot-pink bathing suit, you could feel the thrill of the moment for her. But you also felt the undertone of ‘somehow it is going to embarrass her terribly’. Throughout the speech, her examples of her swanning around feeling so ‘with it’ and cool in this hot-pink skimpy suit, you laugh with her at her naive pleasure but you are holding the thought of what might be coming.

The second contestant told her anecdotes with very little feeling. She could have been reading a grocery list. The dog did this, and yes, it was quite amusing. She got smiles and along the way, a couple of small laughs. The cat did that. Another few smiles. Another dog did another funny thing. Wrap up, exit stage right.

Both speeches were personal stories, but no matter how much I like animal stories it was hard to have a really big laugh at the second one.

The speaker lacked two essential ingredients. The first was feeling. There was no sense of personal delight or even real involvement in the moment. To be funny the speaker has to FEEL the humor they are portraying. They can’t just say it, they have to feel it.

The second lack was the feeling (there’s that word again) that this story is going somewhere. Somewhere ahead is a great big laugh; the audience is waiting for it. Without it the speech falls flat. Even if the speech is a series of anecdotes they need to lead to a climax, an anecdote that tops the lot. An emotionally satisfying climax – preferably a big one.

Putting these two elements into your humorous speech will bring rewards in the form of more and bigger laughs from your audience. Even if you don’t win the contest, the knowledge that you have made people laugh – made them forget the problems of their day for a moment – is a unique and hugely satisfying reward.

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“Yes” she said. “I love your posts on humor. But how do I put humor into a speech?

That’s a tough question. It’s like being asked, “How do I make a joke funny?”

To start with, you have to think that it’s funny yourself. Whether it is a joke, or a humorous speech, you yourself have to see and believe the humor. There’s no point thinking “This isn’t very funny to me, but maybe the rest of the group will like it.”

If you yourself think it’s funny, then  you will present it in a way that says, “I really enjoyed this and I can’t wait to share it with you!” Your enjoyment and enthusiasm comes across to your audience carrying the humor and the laughter with it. That alone will get you to first base.

Humor usually depends on the set up and the punch line. If it is a story it’s possible you might have 6.5 minutes of set up and thirty seconds of totally hilarious punchline at the end. I don’t advocate this unless you can make the set up really, really funny. It would be better if your story built along a series of funny events so there are some laughs along the way and one great burst of laughter at the end.

Humor doesn’t have to look  or sound like punch lines, in fact it’s better if it doesn’t. You build your story in a certain direction with characters carefully presented and then something happens to them. Something innately funny. Your dog shakes mud all over Aunt Priscilla’s pristine living room. You’ve shown Aunt Priscilla as a rigid woman and a fanatical housekeeper. You’ve mentioned her white carpet and cream colored upholstery. You’ve shown your dog, the lovable energetic Labrador puppy. Really, you should have remembered to close the door more quickly.

Now it might have been, in truth, that your dog shook that mud all over your own living room that is no big whoop for cleanliness. Story building puts it in Aunt Priscilla’s living room, even if you have no Aunt Priscilla. It’s just funnier. Imagine the expression on her face, imagine yourself trying to minimize the damage and making it worse. Imagine the dog, jumping up on Aunt Priscilla to invite her to play in the mess.  Imagine…

Well, that’s the point, imagine. Think of similar incidents you’ve experienced that are quite funny. How can you bring them in, build them, focus them to make them fit here and be very funny? How can you build in sideline humor – say two or three examples of Aunt Priscilla’s cleanliness.  (She’s the one who sanitizes her outside mail box because you never know who’s handled the mail.)

Your aim with your humorous speech is to draw people in with your own enjoyment, keep the laughs coming through a series of anecdotes within a main story, building to a big final laugh in your conclusion. Sidelights – similes, metaphors, sharp observations of human foibles keep the humor coming moment after moment in your speech.

How do you know if your speech is funny? Having your audience laugh time and time again is a really good clue.

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First, the big idea! The speech should be funny. The audience, judges included, will forgive a lot if you make them laugh.

Let me repeat the big idea. The speech should be funny.

There are different kinds of humor – anything from fat-lady-slipping-on-banana-peel to that quiet, understated British humor. What makes people in your club laugh? You have to win at your club first so you need to consider the type of humor that will appeal to your own people.

Yes, but mine’s a corporate club, you say. We’re all techies. What makes our guys laugh might not work at a higher level.

You have to win your club first. Go for the techie humor. Go for what you know works with this audience. You can change the speech later if you win that first one.

Second. Facts are hardly ever funny. About the only exception is when two completely different statistics are put together in a way that makes one or both sound completely ridiculous.

Stories are (or can be) funny. So can anecdotes or metaphors (my mother’s purse is the size of Texas) or even vivid word pictures (…so there was pompous Uncle Henry running down the street with his toupee flapping down over his left ear).

Third. Selection of detail makes a difference. …”his left ear”. Was it really his left ear? Who cares. It is funnier than a simple ‘hanging down’.

Fourth. The basic idea of the story can be funny, or it can be an unexpectedly funny take on what might have been a serious topic. One perennial favorite is the differences between men and women. It appeals to just about everyone in the audience. We’ve all been on one side or the other, we’ve all felt the frustration, we all buy into the humor.

Stereotypes are fine in a humorous speech. Of course the husband is lying on the couch with the beer and the potato chips. Of course the wife is nagging him to take out the garbage. Want to change it up a bit? What about the wife with the beer and the husband trying to clean the house? The unexpected can be twice as funny.

Fifth. Be very aware of political correctness It goes without saying that you don’t pick on any age, sex, creed, physical characteristic or ethnic origin. In your battle of the sexes you pick on men and women equally, otherwise half the audience might be heckling you.

But enter the contest. Give it your best shot. You’ve got everything to gain from the experience.

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Humor Me

I think back to the movie “Mary Poppins” where Julie Andrews sang a song with the line “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down”.  In a speech or a story let your humor be the ‘spoonful of sugar’.

Let’s suppose that your story carries a message – one that you think is important for your audience to hear. A few touches of humor make the audience listen more carefully. They don’t want to miss what you say next because it might contain that delicious taste of sugar.

You don’t have to lay the humor on thick. Your audience doesn’t need to be rolling in the aisles. Your humor doesn’t have to be actual jokes – in fact it is often better that jokes are saved for another time.

So if it isn’t jokes, what is it? It could be just a funny comparison- ‘she had a purse the size of Texas’, ‘He’s so cheap that when he opens his wallet moths fly out’.

It could be an odd way of expressing a concept -‘There are lots of Russian women in tennis today. I counted fifty of them in the top ten.’

People notice these unusual turns of phrase. They smile and see others in the room smiling too, or maybe think they are the only ones in the room that ‘got it’. Either way that spoonful of sugar prepares their mind for the message.

You can also make your whole story amusing. Not funny as in a joke, but maybe with a twist at the end that makes the listener smile because it is unexpected or because the picture that has been painted of this person ending up in this situation tickles the imagination.  You don’t need to point out a moral – the listener comes to his or her own conclusion.

When you are using humor in a speech put thought into the presentation. You might want to dead pan it, trusting your audience to hear the humor with no visual cue. More likely you want to present it with a smile or a twinkle in your eye that cues your audience to anticipate something enjoyable.

Giving your audience a smile or a laugh is one of the finest gifts you can give. For some, it might be their only smile or laugh of the day. Whatever medicine you might be concealing, make that spoonful of sugar be the sweetest you can make it.

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