FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
|“Are You Laughing???”||
|By: Ron Brounes||
During our lifetimes, we are all entitled to 15 minutes of fame. Mine came at a recent pre-wedding rehearsal dinner that I attended last month for an “old” college buddy and his fiancée. Now, I had performed at such functions in the past to less than favorable reviews, and was actually somewhat hesitant to give anything but a simple toast. Yet, as I sat and painfully listened to the “opening acts” of the evening, I realized that the audience was primed to laugh at anything marginally funny.
We first heard a rather lame Three Stooges imitation that brought a few forced chuckles from the presenter’s immediate family members. (Perhaps, Curly would have been a better choice than Schemp.) Then, some relatives belted out a rousing rendition of original lyrics set to the tune of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” (Most likely, it was cuter when they were practicing in their hotel room.) Finally, some longwinded lawyer-type engaged in a rather lengthy poetic recitation of the collective works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (that would have even put Emerson’s wife to sleep).
My turn ultimately arrived. I rose to speak, knowing that even Al Gore on his worst day could bring this restless house down. With such presentations, it’s all a matter of timing. And this speech could not have been timed any better. Without boring you over the gory details of the talk (or embarrassing my friend in print), let’s just say that I felt a bit like Jerry Seinfeld, or maybe Jerry Lewis (or at least, like Jerry Mathers) at the top of his game. I had this crowd in the palm of my hand, slapping their knees, and begging for more. Each line seemed funnier than the line before. (I actually chose to believe that they were laughing “with me” rather than “at me.”)
Long after the second standing ovation had ended, I was constantly greeted by wedding guests offering praise for my humorous remarks. (Did I mention, there was an open bar?) Invitations to meet countless granddaughters and nieces and friends of friends followed. Unfortunately, they all live in Birmingham, Alabama. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Birmingham; I just happen to live in Houston.) All in all, my talk was really not that hilarious; the audience was simply waiting for an excuse to laugh, an opportunity to be entertained. Timing was everything.
ANY TIME WILL DO
I am a firm believer that humor is appropriate in virtually every social and business setting. People deserve to laugh even in the most somber and serious of times (especially in the most somber and serious of times). I’ve been to funerals where family members have shared humorous anecdotes about wonderful memories they have of their loved ones. I’ve been to important board meetings where colleagues have broken the ice with a funny story or even a joke relevant to the topic at hand. (And later found a pink slip in their in-box.)
While others may claim that such scenarios are totally inappropriate, I wholeheartedly disagree. Humor should be used as a means to the end; an effective method of getting a point across in a manner that the audience would most enjoy. Laughter can liven up a presentation better than anything, encouraging the audience to anticipate the next funny comment and, thus, listen more closely. Therefore, in most every speech or presentation I have written, I always try to begin with an interesting, humorous anecdote. Rather than lecturing the audience with a series of boring lists and “how to’s,” tell an entertaining story as an example of the important message.
Often we seem to forget the primary purpose of any business communication. Whether it be a speech, newsletter, article, or other presentation, the initial goals are simply to get the audience’s attention and to be remembered. Bear in mind, though we may like to believe otherwise, the target audience will certainly not remember every little detail of your educational/informational presentation. At the very least, they will hopefully stay awake long enough to remember your name. If they enjoyed it, they will have reason to call (or accept your call) regarding future business. They may even share the positive experience with others who may potentially become new business contacts as well.
While humor can be appropriate regardless of the setting, you must always know your audience and tailor the material directly to them. Stay away from inside jokes that will only be understood by a handful of people. Most importantly, in this politically correct world in which we live, avoid any comments that could be construed as discriminatory against one’s gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or political ideology. (Then again, Aggies are always fair game.) Even the most seemingly harmless jokes can be taken out of context. (Right, Fuzzy Zoeller?) If possible, target your material at a more good natured prey. In fact, make a joke or two at your personal expense. Everyone loves people who can laugh at themselves.
KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS
Please don’t misunderstand and turn every communication into comedy central. By all means, do not overshadow the true spirit of the overall message. While a carefully placed joke or anecdote can go a long way to improving the presentation, not every well intended humorous comment is well received. Even the best comedians get heckled from time to time. Additionally, not everyone is funny (as is often witnessed in these newsletters). Pick your moments; choose your spots; carefully script your appropriate humorous lines. Remember, timing is everything. Your 15 minutes of fame is forthcoming.
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FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH is a publication of Brounes & Associates focusing on business marketing and general communications strategies. Please call Ron Brounes at 713-432-1910 for additional information. For now, please continue to direct all communications to the Houston office until the satellite branch is established in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am more appreciated).