Laughing all the way to the guest speaker’s A list

Let me share a humiliating personal experience I went through early in my speaking career.

I was one of the keynote speakers at the Electrical Contractors’ Association of Queensland annual conference. My presentation was well received by the members – I could tell by the volume of books sold during morning tea. This told me they bought into the message on how to grow a more profitable business. I was a happy, glowing lady. Until lunch was over, that is, and the next speaker took the stage.

Where my presentation was content-rich, filled with ideas and how-to’s, the next speaker didn’t follow the same strategy. His subject matter was equally important, but with no “how to do it” answers. Nothing for the electrical business owners to take back and put into action.

However, he was funny. He had them rolling in the aisles. Right after his presentation he had almost every supplier and sponsor running up to him, brandishing their cards and saying he must speak at their conference. They didn’t do that to me.

This slap in the face highlighted an important and unforgettable learning experience back in 2004 and it’s equally relevant today. Audiences don’t want lots of content.

Yes, you must have practical take-home points. But equally important – or perhaps more so – when preparing and presenting information is this fact: to be more memorable and have better impact, you must be funny and entertaining.

I didn’t go home crying to mama. From that moment on I started my quest to add more humour to my presentations and stories. By the way, I’m not talking jokes. They’re dangerous. In fact, this weekend in Adelaide at a mortgage broking conference, two presenters told the same joke about running shoes – albeit with a different beginning. The audience’s reaction immediately told presenter number two that something was wrong.

If you are not naturally funny, you’ll crumble at the thought of adding humour. I’ve read umpteen books on the how-to side of the process. However, as my daughter Samantha so aptly said in an exasperated breath, as I stopped to look through just one more book at Borders “What’s the point, Mom?”

It’s easy to read books, listen to tapes, watch comedians. The problem is, you can know the how-to information, but if it’s not naturally in you, the how-to still won’t put the one-liners and quips in your head.

Props work, such as funny graphics. Parodies such as making mock book cover titles work. Laughing at yourself works, poking fun at your oddities or shortcomings. Highlight the things your family or kids tease you about. Another area to exploit is problems in common with your audience. Throw in something about the partner, pets, teens … When giving examples, work in threes, but make the third one unexpected and funny. One that I use is, “Have you ever heard something life changing? ‘Will you marry me’; ‘the job is yours’; ‘shoes, 50 per cent off”‘.

I used to show a picture of our six children, then launch straight in to the business point of not treating all customers the same. Now I ask first, “Why did I show you this picture?” After a pregnant pause, I answer: “To make you feel real sorry for me.” Instant laughter. Then I launch into the business point.

Google Images are great for humour. Unexpected, funny graphics are an easy way to add a laugh. Go directly to You can narrow your search by content and image size. When you find the image you want, don’t select it from the thumbnails you see. Click to go to the original source, where you’ll get the higher quality original image itself.

You’re probably thinking: I can’t rely just on being funny. Here’s another important point learnt from top American speaking coach Patricia Fripp. You intellectually connect with your audience by having a structured and logical organisation of your content. To do this well, form your presentation/speech/sales pitch with the following four points in mind.

Who is your audience?
Define their age, attitude, industry and gender.

What does that person want to know from you?
How can you help them?
What questions might they have?

Answer objections up front:

Why you specifically? How are you qualified? Why should they take your advice and make a change?

Give your premise up front:

This is the main point you’re making – how your audience will benefit from what you ask them to do. This can be your opening statement. If you are doing a presentation on how to save money, you could open with: “By adhering to the following four points, you can save x amount of money”.

Then, lay your points out logically, and give at least one example for each point.

Four ways to save money: Point 1, example, example; Point 2, example, example; Point 3, example, etc.

This way, you’re structured, logical and easy to follow.