Humor for Speakers

Lessons Learned While Hanging Out With Bob Hope's Head Writer

by John Cantu ©

In a conversation with Gene Perret at my local National Speakers Association chapter, I was thrilled to get to tell him about a joke of his that had a profound influence on me.

He was speaking for a group of insurance sales reps and he started his talk, "They told me you were some of the best agents in the organization, but I didn't realize how good you really were until I got here today. I asked someone in the hall, 'How do I get to the men's room?' He said, 'You go straight ahead to the first hall on your right, go down that hall half way and it's the second door on your left - - - but God forbid, should anything happen to you on the way, who will take care of the family?' "

Now, to me that is one of the most perfect customized jokes I've encountered. It is slanted towards his audience, but it has three special elements.

One, it is setup as a compliment - - - "but I didn't realize how good you really were. . ."

Secondly, it uses their jargon. ". . . but God forbid, should anything happen to on the way, who will take care of the family?" is a line from Insurance Selling 101.

But most importantly he talks from their viewpoint. He doesn't take the consumer's viewpoint of this being an obnoxious sale rep trying to crassly sell him an insurance policy when all he was doing was trying to find his way to the rest room. Perret takes the approach that this is a REALLY good agent not missing an opportunity to try for a lead.

It is simply appalling how many speakers are booked to speak for a group of doctors or lawyers or CPAs or plumbers or whatever profession. And when they want to add some humor to their talk, they get a joke book out, look up some jokes using the profession as their topic, and pick one or two or three jokes. Without ever stopping to realize that most jokes are written from the client's / customer's / user's point of view, not from the professionals' point of view.

You want to make dentists laugh? Don't joke about pain. Joke about patients who take months and months to pay. You want to make plumbers laugh? Don't joke about expensive estimates or about plumbers with butt cracks showing. Joke about the homeowner who tries to save money by doing it himself and ruins every fixture so they have to be replaced and then complains about high charges. Joke about the pet peeves of the profession, not of the client/customer/users.

When you are trying to customized material to a special audience keep these points mind:

  1. Use joke in positive sense, not in negative sense. "Oh, I was just joking" doesn't cut it as an excuse when audience members are offended.
  2. Speak their language - use their jargon.
  3. And just as importantly, speak from their point of view.

In my opinion, the Perret insurance joke above is one of the most perfect CUSTOMIZED jokes I've ever run across. I virtually always try to compare any customized joke I plan to use for a particular audience with that joke as my benchmark.

NEXT: Three Basic Rules On Polishing Your Humor for an Audience

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