The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘speech’

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 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.


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.


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.’


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>

Love is Blind(ing)

Recently I gave a Toastmasters speech, my first one in a long while. I started on the ‘Pathways’ path so it was an icebreaker. My second one! This speech went along with about 6 pictures, so … apologies on that front.


Love is Blind(ing)

A little more than two years ago I gave my first icebreaker speech where I described myself by describing my ideal weekend. It involved a long jog, some reading, hanging out with buddies, some downtime.

Now I’m giving my second icebreaker, and this time it’s not about my ideal weekend, but about the newest version of myself – me as a dad.

The speech is called ‘Love is Blind…ing’ and I’ll give you three cases of love being blinding. One from a physical perspective, one from an emotional perspective, and one from a somewhat literal perspective.


This is my son when he was born. He was born early, about 33 weeks, and was a tiny, tiny fella.

He is almost a year old now and looks a little different.

Before I had my son I was of the opinion that pretty much all babies look the same. They can have different skin tones, sure, but they were all just amorphous blobs of goo oozing liquids and solids. Romantic outlook, huh?

My outlook quickly changed to view babies as tiny little packages of adorability and love and snuggles … but then … as time went on … I’ve kind of come back to viewing newborns as blobs of goo.

My wife and I have a few different friends with kids a few months younger than our kiddo, and one day a friend sent me a picture. I responded with an, ‘aw how cute’ but in my head I thought, ‘man that is one weird looking child.’ With the ease of technology I pulled up a picture of my own son at the same page and, what do you know, he was a similarly weird looking child at that time. It was just the big, weird-headed phase of life for a baby. See, look at this little mobster. Adorable, yes, but a bit of a blob of goo?, also yes.

Love changed my perspective, blinding me and tricking me into viewing this pooping, non-sleeping machine as the greatest thing ever.


Now let’s talk about how love has blinded me emotionally.

When my sister had her son I remember visiting her and thinking – THE WORK. THERE. IS. SO. MUCH. WORK. We decided to head to the grocery store which, I think, took about 7 years to do. She had to get him dressed, and then he was in the car seat and he threw up on himself, so she got him changed again, and then car seat again, and on and on. All I noticed at the time was the hard work it is to be a parent. I didn’t notice any sort of love fest.

I dreaded that work. And there has been work.

<the kiddo> has not been a good sleeper. When friends talk about their younger children sleeping through the night my wife and I hide our looks of disgust and envy. How dare their child be such a good sleeper.

And yet, it’s also a bit of a gift.

One night, it was 2 or 3 am, or who knows what time, and our son began to cry. I went in to comfort him, so I picked him up out of his crib, held him close, sat down in the glider to wait for him to get into a good sleep and then listened to this tiny, adorable, quiet, sweet, soft voice cooing in my ear, ‘dah dah dah … dah … dah …’ The little fella was feeling chatty, and despite the sleepiness, despite the night after night of sleepiness, I couldn’t help but smile and give the gentlest little squeeze to this little creature.

There is still work, but there is so much more joy than I ever would have guessed at that the work quickly fades from memory but the love stays like a branding.


Last, but certainly not least, is the somewhat literal case of love being blinding.

I mentioned that <the kiddo> is not always the best sleeper, and about two weeks ago the kiddo woke up too early on Monday morning. I got him out of his crib, went downstairs, and sat with him while he started to play. He was a bit fussy, so I picked him up and sat down on a chair with him, thinking I would read to him.

His crazy, flailing baby arms had other plans. A hand came up and he managed to get me in the eye. It did not feel good.

I wandered slowly upstairs and handed the fighter off to my wife and sat with my eyes closed in the darkness for a while. After a little while of that I felt ok enough, so I got ready for work and drove to a doctor’s appointment I happened to have that morning. At the office I could hardly check in, I couldn’t keep my eye open and it watered non-stop. I went ahead and kept the appointment (a mole removed, don’t worry guys, it’s benign) and my wife came and got me and drove me to an eye doctor’s. We were fortunate enough to get an appointment first thing.

The doc started by dripping some numbing drop in my eye which was heavenly, and then looked at me with some very bright lights.

‘Oooh, he got you good.’ He showed my wife, ‘ahhhh! YIKES!’

Hmm. That’s all encouraging.

I am a wuss about eye stuff. It really freaks me out.

That week, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday … I went to the eye doc. He wanted to check on me frequently to make sure it was healing ok (it took a while) and I changed eye drops often. One of them was this thick, viscous substance which was soothing, but I made the mistake of seeing how thick it was and then that freaked me out that I was dripping that stuff onto my eye. Blech.

One thing I learned in all of this is that there’s no better person to inflict pain on me than <the kiddo>. If my wife had poked me in the eye, an innocent accident, you can bet I’d be very annoyed with her. But <the kiddo>? Eh, it’s fine.

The next morning <the kiddo> had a surgery to get ear tubes to address his frequent ear infections, the docs at the hospital probably found me strange, one eye leaking, not making eye contact, randomly putting on sunglasses … but when the kid needs comfort, I’ll do what I can.


As my wife once said, the pool of love is deep and intense. And I can tell you that my blinding love is a gift, and a joy.

I remember a number of math classes where the teacher or professor would explain a concept and it was no more than nonsense to me. Absolute gibberish. And then, poof, something would click, I’d get it, and now everything was translated.

That same idea could be said for <the kiddo>. Before him I saw amorphous blobs, hard work, and crazy people obsessed with a little bundle of fiscal responsibility … now, I see that, sure, but I am at once blinded to it and able to see so much more.

Toastmasters Speech Four

Speech four in the Toastmasters Competent Communicator Manual (yes, it’s really called that) is “How To Say It.” The focus is choosing the right words to communicate your message effectively, using rhetorical devices to enhance and emphasize ideas, and finally to avoid jargon and unnecessary words.


You know that feeling when someone says something awful, or shocking, or heartbreaking, or flattering even – and you know the EXACT way to respond … about 40 minutes later.

It’s just funny to think about how many words there are to choose from, and yet I could spend all day thinking about the times that I failed to say the right thing.

BUT. I am in luck. I have good friends who are willing to listen to me tell long stories and then applaud me on what WOULD have been the perfect response. Knowing how to say something is best – being able to communicate something clearly and concisely – but sometimes for your own mental health, it’s also good to know how you SHOULD have said something.

Today we will time travel to three times, and you all will help me right past wrongs.


The time? One week or so until school lets out for winter break, my freshman year of high school. The place? West Point, New York.

What I said: “Mom? … … … My shoe? Is … in the basement … in the ceiling.”

Now, how about some context. I had gotten upset after talking to my folks and stomped down to the basement. For reasons known only to my high school brain, and maybe not even then, I decided to kick my shoes off to hit the far wall in the basement. I tried first with my right foot, my good foot, and I had the perfect mix of lift and distance and SMACK, the shoe hits the far wall. Next, my left foot, and the success was not duplicated. My shoe went STRAIGHT UP, through the cheap-y tile ceiling we had and sticks out … a trophy of my ignorance.

If I were to try this again, I would maybe say something like,

“Mom. Dad. I have to admit, I’m struggling. In just a few weeks we’re going to be moving to Georgia and I’m scared, and nervous. A move in the middle of the school year? Everyone will already have their social circles and routines and I’m supposed to be cool enough to get embraced? You guys know I like books about magic and knights and stuff like that, right? I’m not exactly ‘cool’ freshman material. And on top of that! I’ve got finals this week! I need to do well on all of these tests so my grades are good! I guess I’m saying all of this because I want to say sorry in advance for how moody I’m going to be while I deal with a tough move …

Oh, and, speaking of mistakes anyone could make, I tried to kick my shoe off to kick it against a wall, which was dumb of me, I know, but I sorta kicked it UPWARDS and it pierced the ceiling. We could head to the basement to take a look … Please let me know what I can do to help fix this problem.”

I asked my mom recently if she remembered this and she had NO memory, clearly it impacted me more than my parents. Although I think the most impacted of all was … the ceiling.


Now we will travel even further back in time.

The time? One week or so before the end of 6th grade. The place? Leavenworth, Kansas, specifically, East Middle School.

What I said: “…Sure? … I guess I can be your boyfriend?”

Did you notice how that could be improved?

First, of course, some context.

I was confused by this girl asking me out for a couple reasons … 1, someone liked me?, 2, I was moving in about two weeks so why would someone want to date me?

Here’s how I might approach that now.

“Wow! I am so flattered! I didn’t think anyone liked me … But … In case you don’t know, I’m moving in about two weeks. To New York. That’s pretty intense for a couple 6th graders. I can get your address though, and I can mail a letter when we get there and I know what my address will be?”

Not ideal, but better than the eventual phone call we had where I casually mentioned my upcoming move, only to find out she had no idea. Whoops.


Last but not least, we travel to just a few years ago.

The place: my favorite grocery store, HEB, in Houston, Texas.

What I said: “…….WHAT?”

I was in line at the grocery store with two people in front of me. Checking out was a woman wearing a burka, and behind her was a woman in workout clothes. The woman in workout clothes was CRITICIZING! the woman in the burka for wearing a burka, and based on the body language of the woman in the burka, this had not just started … she seemed calm, neutral, and ready to be done with her grocery shopping as soon as possible. The workout clothes woman said that it was a disgrace that she was wearing a burka, she didn’t need to be persecuted and she had the freedom to wear whatever she wanted so she should not wear a burka.

The workout woman turned to me, apparently assuming I would be on her side, and she said, “don’t you find that offensive?” ‘That’ meaning the choice of clothes.

This led to me less than ideal response, a shocked “WHAT?”

Sometimes debate is pointless, people are so entrenched in their beliefs that attempting to pull them out only leads to them digging in deeper. Like a car stuck in mud. I have a feeling I would not have been able to convince this woman to open up her mind to another viewpoint, but perhaps there was someone else thinking quietly to him or herself a similar, if less aggressive, thought. For that potential person, I wish I had been able to find better words.

“I understand that sometimes if you look at someone who looks very different, or acts in a way that is strange to you, or dresses in some new way that can be scary. And that might make you want to hold on even tighter to what is comfortable and known. But those differences could also be looked at and seen as potential. What ideas, what way of thinking, are typical to that person that you or I don’t yet know? We should ask questions, not questions asked as a form of judging someone, but questions asked to learn.”

Now, I know that is a pretty unlikely little speech for someone to give at a grocery store. But like I said, sometimes you do the right thing for an unknown audience.


I’d like to thank all of you for joining me in time traveling.

Ah, to be a freshman in high school again … kicking shoes into ceilings. Or a sixth grade Romeo, stumbling through being a boyfriend. And finally to Texas, righting social injustices one ice cream and cereal run at a time.

I’d like to think that, as I get older and hopefully wiser, I will have more times where I need to think about how to say something, and less times where I will think about how I SHOULD have said something … But, come on. I can however take comfort in the fact that I have kind listeners for when I need to rewrite the past.

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