Where to get your funny stories?

Look Into Personal Experience to Find the Moments of Humor

This article is an excerpt from the new book, Speaker’s EDGE …enjoy!

If you’d been sitting in the front row at our last Champions’ EDGE Summit (our biannual members-only event), you would’ve heard me say something that had never come out of my mouth before! As soon as those words left my mouth, fellow World Champion of Public Speaking for Toastmasters International, Craig Valentine, said, “That was gold!”

Wow! What did I say?

Sometimes if we’re speaking from our heart, we have moments of brilliance that we overlook. Sometimes we only notice them when we see the reactions of our audience members. As presenters, we need to capture these moments, and make sure we continue to deliver them in our future presentations. This is one powerful reason to record your presentation every time!

Here’s what happened: I was sharing the stage with Mark Brown and Craig Valentine, the 1995 and 1999 World Champions of Public Speaking. We were talking about how to add humor to a speech. I mentioned a brilliant quote by Craig, “Don’t add humor. Instead, uncover it.” Too many speakers say, “My speech is done, I just need to add humor.” To do that is truly like squeezing a square peg into a round hole. The audience will notice how artificial it is.

Mark, who was my coach when I was competing in 2001, mentioned to the Champions’ EDGE Members that when I was working on my championship speech, I drove two and a half hours each way to work with him — twice. This prompted a memory of my “process.”

In 2001, I struggled to find an idea for my speech. We had come to a standstill. After one of the run-throughs of my speech, Mark asked if I had any other stories that might fit.

I hesitated, “Well, I do have this one joke I used to tell years ago when doing stand-up comedy.” Mark said, “Let’s try it.”

So, I told my famous “doubled my debt” joke — although it was not so famous at the time. Mark’s chin — and pen — dropped. “That’s perfect!” he said.

“Really?” I replied. Because of his years of speaker coaching, Mark saw something that I didn’t. I did not understand why he was so excited.

The joke was delivered with an over-confident air: “After four years of business school, I went for the American Dream. I bought a sandwich shop. I don’t want to brag, but I took a $60,000 debt, and in just six months, I doubled that debt. That’s right, I turned my Subway into a non-profit organization.”

After years of coaching other speakers, I can now see what Mark saw. It’s quite simple and obvious. My “doubled my debt” joke was based on a true experience from a personal story.

At the Champions’ EDGE Summit that day, here’s what I said, and how I summed up that story:

“I didn’t add humor to my speech. Instead, I uncovered a concise personal story that was relevant to my main message.”

This may sound obvious, but if it’s so obvious, why do so few presenters use it? Why didn’t I ever understand this self-effacing joke when I was writing my speech so long ago?

Will you record yourself to capture your own brilliant moments? Will you search for your own funny, concise personal stories relevant to your main message?


Sharpen Your EDGE ~

1. Make a long list (at least twenty items) on any topic — then pick the  three with the most impact to use with the Rule of Three.

2. Make a list of highlights from your own background and the stereotypes that are connected to it.

• Your own nationality (French, Polish, etc.)

• Your serious hobbies (movies, disc golf, etc.)

• Your jobs (telemarketer, shoe salesman, etc.)

3. Go through your story file — twice. First, list the points you can make that each story might support. Then, go through the stories again. This time, watch for the moments of humor you can uncover.

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Darren LaCroix, 2001 World Champion of Public Speaking. Copyright 2009 The Humor Institute, Inc. www.DarrenLaCroix.com

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