Thursday, April 19, 2012

Humor Spotlight: Learning from Brad Montgomery

April is Humor Month here in Speak & Deliver, so when I found out I'd have the opportunity to see Brad Montgomery "Funny Motivational Speaker and Meeting Energizer" speak for free, I jumped at it! Arapahoe Sales Pros brought him in to speak for their 42nd anniversary - the same group I got to speak for about six weeks ago (does that mean we shared the same stage? no - unless you're a truly slimy marketer).

He did a spectacular job in the 30 or so minutes he spoke, and gave me permission to share a few of his humor techniques I observed with all of you...

Scatter-Shot Speaking - Brad speaks a mile-a-minute, but was never too fast to be understood. The speed made his humor all the more humorous, because he wasn't sitting on any lines 'expecting' laughter, and he was able to quickly string together quip after quip. His rhythm seemed to mimic a comedian more than a keynoter, but his overall content was still keynote quality.

While you don't want to adopt a style that isn't your own, be aware of how your cadence affects how your message is received - and practice speeding up and slowing down during different parts of your presentation, based on the nature of your content.

Voices - Brad used several voices, from a southern accent to a serious 'boss-like' tone to a 'silly dumb guy' voice that all added to the humor in what he was saying, while simultaneously giving us a clearer picture of the situations he was discussing. At one point he even went into 'Yoda' mode, putting his hands on top of his head to form the long pointy ears of the legend living in a galaxy far, far away.

Magic - This is a talent I have seen many successful speakers use, to make both serious and humorous points. Today Brad targeted TSA, illustrating the game he plays (or says he plays) with agents searching through the mysterious and magical contents of his bag. No spoilers here, but he created quite the laugh to open his speech with this technique.

Magic might not be your forte, but consider visiting a local magic shop and learning a trick or two. You never know when the moment will be just right for you to pull a rabbit out of your hat!

Absurdity/Exaggeration - a staple of humor for speakers, he used this to contrast examples of the types of people in the workplace, at one point suggesting no one actually chooses to suck fellow employees into the vortex of despair and depression. Clearly, he hasn't worked at the jobs I have...

Observational Humor - perhaps his most powerful technique of all. The meeting is a networking function, and about 30 of us introduced ourselves and what we did before he spoke. I didn't see him taking actual notes, but he drew a tremendous amount of humor from what many of the members said.

Example: a charter member talked about how he never wears the same shirt when he teaches, leading Brad to comment on how massive his closet must be, followed by a suggestion that he team up with an organizer and a carpenter in the room to expand the one he has. Later in the meeting, he questioned the man's willingness to admit he'd had nothing to do on Thursday mornings for 42 years (charter member)!

These lines and the zingers Brad threw out at many of the others were all said in fun and delight, and received as such. They also provided a wonderful connection between him and his audience - instead offering a 'canned' speech, he paid attention to his audience, showing both respect and interest, and earning it back in spades.
Overall, Brad average a laugh every 90 seconds, called out almost of third of the group in one way or another, provided a non-intrusive plug for his book, "Humor Us", thanked the people who brought him in without wasting our time, and left the group feeling good about him because he made them (and me) feel good about themselves.

If you ever get a chance to see Brad - take it. I learned (and was reminded of) a lot from him in just 30 minutes. As a student of speaking, do everything you can to study those that are doing what you want to do - it can be both educational and encouraging, if you're willing to soak in the experience.

Thanks Brad, for making the meeting this morning a great success, and giving me great tips to help my audience Speak... & Deliver

Bonus - watch the video below to see Brad in action, and how he customizes to a high-degree. Are YOU paying attention to your audience, both before and during your presentation?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Speaking With Humor: Costuming

They say clothes make the man. They can also make the laugh, if you're giving a humorous presentation, or even simply making a humorous point within the speech. There are many pitfalls to costuming, but when used correctly, what you wear can make your speech all the more memorable, and all the more effective, for your audience.

The first thing to think about, in terms of any speech, is the audience. Is costuming appropriate at all? Do they expect it? Will it affect your credibility? Is your meeting planner OK with it?

The second consideration is whether or not the costuming makes a significant contribution to the speech, humor, or significant point. If you just like wearing a Superman cape because you think it's cool, you're not doing yourself any favors. If you're using it during a specific point of the talk to enhance a character or add a dramatic/comedic flair, go for it!

Thirdly - does your costuming have to be seen throughout the entire speech? There's a big difference between wearing a cowboy hat or clown nose through an entire speech versus bringing them out at an appropriate time. If your costume involves an outfit, do you need a tear-away outfit over it, or are you willing to wear those marathon shorts on stage for 30 minutes?

5 Ways to Costume For Humor

A. Exaggerated Character: If you're coming out as someone other than yourself to entertain an audience, dressing the part is always appropriate. Unless you're trying to be an impersonator, however, taking the costuming to a level of exaggerated silliness - with makeup, shoes, oversize outfits with padding - will help cue the audience that you are lampooning a character, and encourage earlier and more intense laughter.

B. Out of Character Character: If you're in front of an audience that knows you one way, and you come out dressed in an unexpected outfit (CEO dressed as a basketball player, conservative older person in a decidedly non-age appropriate outfit), you can get the audience laughing before you say a word. Once you DO say a word, your costuming better make sense, though, or the audience will be lost.

C. Out of Place Character: If you're speaking to Disney, walking in as Shrek (a competing character) maybe exactly what a humorist needs to do. If you're just using Shrek to make a point, it might be better to simply have a Shrek mask you can remove immediately, once the laughter subsides. Sometimes less is more - a cigar, for example, can easily be used to reference many public figures, from Groucho to Winston Churchill to Pres. Bill Clinton.

Be careful how far you take a joke, however. Religious and political costuming is always iffy, and Ted Danson can attest to the perils of appearing in 'blackface' in the modern age (anytime after 1930, really), so racial costuming should not be in your repertoire. In all cases, research your audience.

D. Thematic Support: Talking about clowning around and taking life less seriously? Patch Adams made the clown nose an effective tool for humor and poignancy. A funny hat, sunglasses, offbeat shoes, or theme tie can all be subtle costuming techniques, especially if they become noticed only upon introduction, versus invading the speech from the start.

E. Hidden Costuming: Desperate to use the cape no matter what? Want to reveal that Yankees uniform at just the right moment? Wearing boxers with the company logo? Make sure that your timing is appropriate, your ability to reveal is flawless, and your ability to get your pants back on unfettered.

One of my favorite costuming effects was a speaker wearing a hospital gown for the entire speech, his bare feet and ankles apparent. It created tension for the audience as we wondered if he was wearing anything under it, and when he got to the inevitable joke about how breezy hospital gown are, he turned around, wearing bright yellow, silk smiley boxers, and took a bow. The laughter was loud and long.

Costuming isn't always humorous - sometimes it's used to create a character for serious purposes, to relive an event, to add credibility (wearing a pilot's uniform), to identify with local sports teams, or just to show individuality (Think Dennis Rodman/Lady GaGa).

When done right, your costume will help you hit a home run. When done wrong, it becomes worse than a wardrobe malfunction - it'll sabotage your entire presentation. Practice your costuming, run it by other speakers or your speaking coach, and make sure your meeting planner is prepared for it. Now, go get your spandex tights on and Speak....& Deliver!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Speaking With Humor: Irony

Humorous Irony - the juxtaposition of a statement with a reality that contradicts it in an unexpected, occasionally outrageous, manner.

Writers, comedians, cartoonists, advertisers, speakers of all kinds have been using irony for years - it's a fantastic way to create humor without being directly hurtful - while still communicating a point for your audience. Irony plays a huge role in the success of the Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert and Doonesbury. Shows such as Seinfeld, Fraser, and Community all use irony as their main source of humor.

Today, irony runs rampant on Facebook (TIP: FB can be a good place to test your ironic laugh lines before getting in front of an audience).

Pinning down the definition of irony isn't easy. The definition above is accurate, but its application is so broad, training people to use it is a very specific exercise. For your individual speech, you need to carefully look for moments irony will add to your message, or even lighten your message.

You can't force irony - it has to come naturally out of the scenario you're describing. Below are some quick examples of identifying irony from my own life:

A. I have a blog called RichAnyway - A Blog About Life With No Excuses. So far, I haven't done much with it, and every time I start a post, I have to actively avoid making excuses for not blogging enough. Sad, but true. And Ironic.

B. I just put my book Go Ahead & Laugh on Amazon. To do so, I had to recreate the files, and redesign the cover. Where's the irony? It says "compiled and Edited by Rich Hopkins" - a typo in the very line identifying me as the editor. Sigh. I've decided NOT to change it, and instead call it a "bonus humor tip"!

C. As parent, I continually find myself the victim of irony - such as telling my kids to pick up after themselves, and then being called out for leaving dishes, cans, or clothes laying around - usually because I have to get up in a hurry to make sure THEY are doing what they are supposed to. They call me out, and it's irony on two different levels, both what I did and WHY I did what I did.

The use of irony, as with any humor, carries risk. Pointing irony back at yourself is the first and best option, using secondary characters such as your family and friends is a close second. Using irony to poke fun at political or religious situations is dangerous, and even poking fun at the competition can put you in a bad light. Know your audience, with this, and ANY type of humor.

Best way to find irony in your speech? First, find the moments you talk about yourself, and see if you could be seen playing the fool without losing credibility.

Second, find the serious spots, and look at the situation with the eyes of an outsider - it may be serious up close (such as your truck bursting into flames), but bystanders may have a different spin on it.

Third - get a coach who edits for content, not just grammar - a creative coach. I work with my clients on discovering the humor in their speeches everyday, humor they overlook by being too close to their material.

Irony is the first of several methods I'll look at over the next couple of weeks. Play with it, practice it, and USE it. It's a great way to Speak...& Deliver!

Bonus Tip - Sarcasm is similar, but different. It can use irony, but isn't always pure irony. Consider it a slightly evil twin brother. Check out "Speaking of Sarcasm" for more.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April is Humor Month in Speak & Deliver

In honor of my FAILED humor on Sunday, April Fool's Day, I am declaring April HUMOR MONTH here in Speak & Deliver!

In case you missed it, my Facebook Status on the 1st announced that my wife was pregnant with our 7th child. This IS not true - but is our annual prank on our family, and I think we've even done it on Facebook in the past. It was meant to be funny, the ultimate Speak but NOT Deliver, but it was an EPIC FAIL, because so many people believed it, and didn't really find it humorous that we lied about it!

Why was it an EPIC FAIL?

1. Too Realistic - we already have six, so what's a seventh, right? If I'd said she was pregnant with triplets, the exaggeration would have tipped people off, perhaps. If you're joking about something that isn't obviously funny, it may just not be received as funny. 

2. Wrong Crowd - with over 2500 friends, most don't know me well enough to tell I was joking. Why would they risk offending me by challenging the joke? Since it was too realistic, and they didn't have enough of a knowledge base about me and my family, they did the logical thing, and congratulated us, leading more and more people in the wrong direction. Lesson - subtle, inside humor doesn't work on the wrong audiences.

3. Distracting - since it succeeded to fool so many, it actually became a distraction, requiring multiple clarifications by both myself and my wife. We didn't attend church that morning, and our study group actually prayed for the pregnancy! Its success made it a failure.

4. Delivery - on the internet, it's tough to determine tone without any verbal or visual cues to accompany the words on the page. I didn't add any emoticons or funny pictures to match the announcement, leaving people with less room to doubt the veracity of my statement. If you want people to laugh, give them clues and cues!

Ironically, Kristi pulled this prank back in 2004 on her father, who did not take kindly to it. I'm not sure who got the last laugh on that one, since it turned out she really WAS pregnant, and didn't know it yet!

So, humor doesn't always work, even when used by a speaker who uses it constantly on stage. Them's the breaks as they say. So I'm doing 'penance' by making all my posts this month relate to using humor properly, one way or another. Practice makes perfect, right?

By the way, my book, Go Ahead and Laugh, is back in print - and tomorrow will be available for purchase directly from me, and then on Amazon later this week. Stay tuned for details! Until then, watch your humor, as you Speak...& Deliver!


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