There is no greater challenge than speaking before a group, large or small. As a 30+ year professional Humorist, I find that each audience is unique. Each presentation poses a variety of expectations. Each brings unexpected circumstances that a speaker must react to, overcome, and circumvent. When I speak, many things happen that remind me of my dear Mother who always said, “One never knows, does one?” I have found that to be true. Just when I think and feel that I have seen it or experienced it all, something always seems to pop up that creates an exciting challenge.
Take the introduction, please! Good speakers need good introductions. It is the first contact with the audience. First impressions are usually the most important. A good introduction is tantamount to success on the platform. Alas, however, sometimes you not only don’t get a good introduction, you don’t even get a fair one. Once I was speaking in Hawaii to a large global company. The introducer gets up and says, after a long evening of food and drink and company speakers, “We have a very funny man from Birmingham, Alabama who is going to make you laugh.” This was an international group, half Japanese and half from New Jersey. Most had never heard of Alabama or me. It was clear to me in that circumstance that the group had already decided mentally that nobody was going to “make them laugh.” For the most part, they didn’t laugh. It was a tough situation and I called upon all of my training, experience, and skill to pull it off.
Speaking at a lake house one evening, a big storm blew in right when I was introduced and the electrical power went out. It was pitch black, and the air conditioning was off too. Since the show had to go on I decided to be clever. I got a flashlight and used it as my spot light. I went on to speak for 45 minutes. The audience appreciated the innovation and we all had a delightful evening despite the difficulties.
While I was speaking at a luncheon in a Dallas civic center, a loud noise and a flashing light flew past the back of the stage. It was a maintenance worker driving a motorized floor sweeper. He stayed behind the stage for 35 minutes or so oblivious to the meeting going on and he never went away. Nobody told him there was a meeting going on. I told the audience that it was just one of their competitors trying to sweep them out of business. I made other jokes about it and went on to have a successful speech despite the interruption.
Like that TV commercial for Vonage, life comes at you fast and so do things that cause difficulty in your speaking. Things happen frequently, in fact, more often than not. You have to make the best of it. It pays to be prepared on the platform with a pre-planned quip or a terrific ad lib. Like Scouting, speaking before a live audience where you must stand and deliver, no matter what, being prepared for the unexpected is to be expected.
I would surmise that the most beneficial thing about being a professional Humorist is the fact that preparation is essential for success. We always look for the punch line in every situation. A speaker friend of mind is fond of saying, “It’s not “IF” something strange will ever happen to you while speaking, it’s “WHEN” will happen again?” So being prepared is the rule of the day when you are at the podium. Life and circumstances come at you fast. Strange things happen. Stay loose, and pray that your preparation is sufficient for every unexpected opportunity. Mom’s philosophy is accurate; “One never knows, does one?”