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Posts Tagged ‘theme’

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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Driving the story

“Once upon a time Jack and his mother lived in a tiny cottage. They were very poor…”

That’s the opening of the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale and already, in less than 20 words, you can see what drives this story. Whatever version of the story you know (and there are many) the driver of the story is Jack’s attempts to overcome dire poverty. Everything that happens is driven by this one focused quest. When this story was first told many of the listeners themselves would be extremely poor – it was a condition of life a century ago – and they would feel strong personal empathy for Jack and his mother.

In today’s world very few of us in First World countries suffer from dire poverty and yet the story still remains a popular one for children. Why is this?

It’s because the story has strongly drawn characters that are driven by their one over-riding need – their need is to escape from poverty. The story does not wander off in any other direction. It’s all about escape from poverty.

It’s as if the original writer sat down and said to himself “I’m going to write an exciting story about how an innocent lad managed to take himself and his mother from deepest poverty to great riches. Let me see, I think I’ll call the main character Jack and he will be kind of innocent and trusting, but ready to take a chance. He’ll be quick-witted too and fast on his feet.”

“And who will be his enemy? Hmm, I’ll make it a giant, very fierce and mean. A strong enemy that will seem impossible to overcome, just like poverty seems impossible to overcome.”

So the story’s inventor clothed his theme with strong and vivid characters. This led to lots of action in the story, plenty of suspense and a climax and resolution that were satisfying and encouraging to the listeners. But all of this is just the clothing on the bare bones of a strong and consistently maintained theme. The story never deviates from that drive to escape poverty. It is always there, always driving the plot onward.

The theme drives the story. It is the basis of the characters, the conflict, the action and the climax. It never falters, never wanders off to visit some other interesting theme. It remains the one focus. For the original listeners it must have been tremendously powerful. Imagine the satisfaction and comfort it gave them to know that miraculously somebody, somewhere emerged from poverty just like theirs.

The person who told this story originally knew his audience and gave them a theme that spoke to their deepest needs. He also developed that theme and remained true to it from beginning to end of his story.

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