The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘Entertaining Speaker’

Toastmasters – Make Them Laugh

I’m working on the Entertaining Speaker series for Toastmasters and I recently completed speech number three: Make Them Laugh. I ended up going a fairly different direction than what I wrote here … but I’m too lazy to re-write this for the sake of the blog. Just know that a large part of the speech was the terrible joke at the end, which I have NOT written out because: 1, I already knew it, and 2, if I ever meet someone in person and they make the mistake of asking me to tell this joke to them I will relish the opportunity. It is truly a terrible joke, and I love telling a very long version of it.

Enjoy the speech?

 

Make Them Laugh?

This speech is for ‘make them laugh’ from the entertaining speaker series, and frankly, I find that ridiculous. Make them laugh!? Make them LAUGH? As though that is not perpetually my objective.

As someone who strives to be funny more often than not, I can tell you that it warms my heart when I get a good laugh, it makes me happy in the moment and later. But, I’ll add, as someone who strives to be funny, I have been not funny … A LOT.

A lot a lot.

Part of that is sense of humor – it’s a subjective thing, and I have something of an odd one.

I can’t tell you any secrets behind humor, or how to make a speech funny, but I can tell you two things: first, times I have thought, ‘this’ll be good’ … and it wasn’t, and having experienced that particularly cruel silence after a failed joke MANY TIMES, I can also tell you how to handle it like a champ.

I

I had managed, somehow, to successfully interview for something called the Engineering Leadership Development Program at my last company. It was competitive, and a fair amount of work. The program lasted three years, and during that time you worked your regular job, and then took night classes, and got a master’s, and had a big work project that was all on your own time. One week every year we had a conference where all these type A high-strung, highly competitive people would get together, take classes, and size each other up.

And also, I was there too.

The program was oriented towards young engineers, I think you had to have less than five years of experience to join. In one of the conference classes the instructor was telling us how we really had more experience than we thought … I found the lesson corny.

He had everyone say how much experience we had and then he wrote the number on a flip chart. ‘Four years, 1 year, 2 years, etc.’ Up went the numbers. Then he asked, with the skills of a very unmotivational motivational speaker, ‘and how much experience does that add up to?!’

I immediately answered, ‘three?’ Because that was SO CLEARLY the wrong answer … and that’s the joke. Right? (big sigh)

Welp. Instead he replied, with the tone of voice you’d expect someone to use on the slow kid in class, ‘oh, it’s higher than that, keep counting, buddy!’

There’s a bright note, though. Which is that I find it very funny, now, that I told a joke that failed so miserably in such an annoyingly competitive environment.

II

And my failures at humor continue to this day. Toastmasters speeches have provided me plenty of opportunities to reflect, after I leave the stage, and think, ‘huh, no one laughed at that.’

My favorite example of that was my Tall Tales competition speech. I know that is a unique environment because everyone is competing and it’s a tense situation … but I really wanted people to, most of all, find my speech quirky and amusing. In my speech I talked about my grandpa and I spotting a bunch of aliens coming to Earth, us going to investigate, and then, what do you know, I’m involved in an intergalactic dance off. And part of that I ACTUALLY DANCED.

I thought, ‘this is so weird! And strange! And fun! The audience will really enjoy this change of pace!’

In the back of the room were Liz, Melanie, Jodi, and my wife, smiling and offering encouraging vibes. But eeeeeeeveryone in front of them? Not so much. I found myself dancing, doing the ‘string knees’ as I stared out into pair of eyes after pair of eyes staring blankly at me.

It was very strange, and I am happy I got to experience that.

III

Generally my failed jokes aren’t in classrooms, or during speeches. The vast majority are conversational. When I told my wife about this speech idea I said, ‘I’m trying to think of times I told a joke and no one laughed’ and she said, ‘oh yeah! There was a terrible one you told the other day!’ She said that excitedly. Love, eh?

The good news is – there are ways to handle these situations.

You could take a sort of … aggressive, quickly fading to a small, simmering self-pep talk approach … ‘That was funny!! That was funny. Right? That was funny.’

You can try to join in with everyone else in not enjoying the joke … even though you just told it. (Step to the side.) ‘Dude … lame joke.’

How about a diversion? (Point like you’re following a bird flying by) ‘Is that a change of subject?’

And of course any combination of weird noises … (Clear throat weirdly for a bit) ‘Hairball.’

IV

My point! If I even have one … Is that humor is ridiculous. ‘Make them laugh’ is ridiculous. There are tried and true ways to go for safe humor, any sitcom can show you that. A lot of those jokes rely on stereotypes and tropes that you’re already so familiar with that you can predict how a joke will end.

That’s not a bad thing, either. Sometimes it’s fun to go for a ride to the punch line even when you know it’s coming.

BUT! You also have to be true to yourself. If you don’t find your speech funny, how will others? Make them laugh is a gamble, make yourself laugh is much more fun. With that in mind, I’m going to close with a joke.

Let me warn you, I have told this joke a few times, and it has NEVER gotten a laugh. It’s gotten a few amused hmph’s … but no outright laughter. But I love this joke, and you all are stuck sitting there listening to me.

<high school prom joke>

Advertisements

Entertaining Speaker Project 2: Resources for Entertainment

Strengths and Struggles

‘Tell me about your biggest weaknesses?’

(cheesy confidence) ‘Sure. I work too hard. I care too much. Some people say I’m too much of a team player. And … this is embarrassing, but I’ve never lost. I don’t really know that’s like.’

Blech.

The whole weakness as a strength thing has been ruined by the typical interview question and answer. But in reality, discovering and working on your weaknesses really is one of the best things you can do. A general rule for myself is the less I want to do something, the more I need to go out and do that. Public speaking, anyone?

Today I’m going to share two stories of different people who turned what could be considered a ‘weakness’ into a strength.

 

For the first example, I’ll tell you about René Descartes. Some of you are likely already familiar with him, and may have heard this story before.

For those of you who don’t know, or in case you don’t know much about him, he was a philosopher and mathematician in the 1600s. Starting as a young boy, he struggled with illness and his teachers allowed him to stay in bed until noon.

Descartes got into the habit of staying in bed until noon and continued this for much of his life, but he used that time to think about his favorite topics – philosophy, and math.

One day, while laying in bed, he was watching the ceiling and a certain fly who was flitting about. He began to think to himself, ‘how would I describe the location of this fly to someone?’ Maybe he was thinking about yelling, ‘moooooom, will you come kill a fly!?’ He figured out a solution to his problem – he would use the fly’s location relative to the walls in the room!

That might look something like this (draw graph on board). You probably recognize this from … oh I don’t know, 3rd grade math til the last math class you took. It’s the coordinate plane, otherwise known as a Cartesian plane.

I don’t know about you, but I think this would create such an opportunity for someone to quit on him or herself. To be so limited in your activities, to be tied down and forced to be still, it would be hard to stay motivated and use that time productively. Especially if this starts when you’re a child and so full of energy. But Descartes turned this seeming disadvantage to his favor, using the time to engage his brain and creating something that every person knows and loves (or hates, depending on your relationship with math).

 

Next, my wife, and her alcoholism.

For various reasons that would be a whole different speech, my wife began drinking when she was young. Middle school. My wife is smart, and was able to get by in school, but outside of school her habits had gotten her caught by her family, and the police. Things were getting worse for her, and while her family had tried a number of things to help her – AA, NA, therapy – nothing had worked.

Her senior year she finally got caught at school. She was drunk, and had alcohol on her. The principal decided to send <my wife> to a sort of ‘second chance’ high school. The school represented a ‘scared straight’ approach (which is a terrible idea in my opinion). To get in every day you would go through a metal detector and a quick search, and then you would complete any school work from your actual high school. One of <my wife’s> teachers pulled her aside at the end of one day and said, ‘you don’t belong here.’

After leaving that school <my wife> began down the long path that actually proved effective. With treatment, a good, stable family that could afford treatment, and a lot of hard work on <my wife’s> part – she managed to get herself turned around. Her sobriety date is actually tomorrow, and she will have been sober for thirteen years.

Now for the turning this around aspect. <My wife>, approaching her senior year of college, realized she wanted a career where she would be helping people. She got her master’s in clinical social work and has been working as a therapist, specializing in … addiction. She rarely shares personal information with her clients, but when one of them shares about feeling overwhelmed or not knowing how they’ll make it past this or that milestone of sobriety, she lets them know that she personally understands how they’re feeling and that it is possible.

<My wife> was able to take her struggle with addiction, and turn it around into an ability to better help people cope with their own emotional struggles.

 

There’s an important point in both of these anecdotes, an underlying message. And that is the perception of the person who was presented as having a ‘weakness.’

Imagine hearing just the facts without the anecdotes … René Descartes, due to medical issues, had daily bedrest til noon. <My wife> began drinking as a young girl, became an alcoholic, and in case you weren’t aware, once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.

With just those facts it’s easy to imagine an awkward exchange. You might see <my wife> at a Toastmasters social, you’re standing there with a beer and feel awkward wondering, ‘is she thinking about my beer? Should I not drink in front of her?’ Or, let’s say ol’ René comes back from the dead and you see him and say, ‘oh man, I am SO tired. Can’t wait to get in bed tonight … ohh … uhh.’

But instead, knowing how they embraced a ‘weakness’ and turned it into a triumph, you might run across them and be delighted or impressed by what they have done.

If Descartes, or my wife, or anyone was still viewing something as a weakness it could create tension or discomfort anytime it is thought of. The key here is to find the supposed weakness, take it on, make it your own, make it something you own and are comfortable with and then you can make it a strength.

 

Today I shared two stories about taking on supposed weaknesses and turning them into strengths. We are fresh into the new year, a time that is rife with people looking to stop bad habits, start good ones, or change their perspective in some way.

I encourage everyone to think about these stories, think about yourself, and honestly look at what your faults or weaknesses are, because these could very well be amazing opportunities for you to learn, become a better version of yourself, and hopefully help others in the process.

%d bloggers like this: