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Public Speaking: Alliteration

When you are speaking in public, humor need not be knee slapping funny to be effective. Here is a mild form of humor to add to your public speaking engagements. Alliteration is the repetition of the same first sound or the same first letter in a group of words or line of poetry.

You find alliteration used in advertisements and titles all the time because it tends to catch your eye and ear. One of my humorous public speaking topics is titled ‘Pranks for Profit: Confessions of a Paid Practical Joker’. It has four ‘p’ sounds.

Here is an example of a positive message delivered with alliteration:

‘We (B)agged the (B)aldridge award (B)ecause our (B)rainy, (B)eautiful (B)usinesspeople are the (B)est.’

In a negative message you can soften the blow of the message without appearing frivolous or uncaring. Example:

‘The strike by one of our suppliers has put a (C)runch on our division. Even though we are (C)runched, we are still (C)reative. We are still (C)redible. And we will (C)onquer this problem.’

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Tom Antion: Say It With Fewer Words

You’ve got a great, major public speaking presentation, and suddenly you’re asked if you can get your message across in five minutes! Don’t panic. For today’s television generation, sound bites can be more powerful than lengthy dissertations. Here’s how to compress your speech without losing impact.

Don’t apologize or mention that you usually have much more time. Be confident that you can communicate in five minutes. Begin fast. Start with a an attention-getting statement such as, Your job won’t exist five years from now, or In the next 5 minutes I want to convince you the best action you can take is … Use a strongly visual story. Illustrate your points — how it is now, how it will or could be — with a story so vivid that the audience can “see” it. Divide your 5 minutes into three parts. Present a problem, a payoff, and your point of view: The number one piece of advice I can give you today is…, your story illustrates your idea and your walk away line could be what will happen if they do what you suggest!

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Tom Antion: Proverb Fortune Cookie Humor

(Note: Determine if this is politically correct for your audience.)

You can throw in a cute diversion to a boring public speaking engagement by attributing a saying to an ancient Chinese philosopher. Since these sayings are not attributed to anyone in particular, feel free to change or update them to fit your situation and to enhance their humor.

(The term ‘original’ here means as original as something can be after being recited and translated for several hundred years.)

Original: You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from nesting in your hair.

Update: You cannot prevent the birds of sadness from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from pooping on your Gucci blazer.

Original: He who walk on eggs should tread lightly.

Update: He who walk on eggs should find out the price per dozen.

Original: People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Update: People who live in glass houses should pull down the blinds.

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Tom Antion: Serious Q & A Sessions

One of the biggest mistakes I see presenters make during public speaking engagements has to do with the handling of question-and-answer sessions. The presenter does a good program, has a powerful close, opens the program up to questions, answers them well, and then fades off the stage into oblivion.

The lack of a second powerful close after the question and answer period could negate much of the impact that was created throughout the program. Make sure you have two good closes whenever there is a possibility of a Q & A session.

Trick: Purposely omit material that you know will evoke certain questions. When the questions come, give a preplanned answer that appears spontaneous. They’ll think you are a genius.

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Tom Antion: Parody


Parody is a humorous imitation of a person, event, song or serious piece of writing. I have a great time when I use this technique in a presentation and so do the audience members.

The way I use it is to change the words of a recognizable song. I get the audience members to sing along with me by putting the words in their handouts or giving out a song sheet. (The latter method keeps the whole segment hidden so I can surprise them.) I get the words to customize the song from my pre-program research.

Simply take any recognizable tune, change the words, and sing it yourself or get the audience to sing along.

*Parody is generally protected from copyright infringement, but get competent legal advice before using this technique.

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Tom Antion: Deadpan Expression

Recently I attended a professional public speaking meeting of the National Capital Area Speakers Association. The presenter was not funny, but got laughs from the crowd.

He seriously began speaking, . . . presented slowly, . . . and kept a low tone of voice. I thought to myself, ‘this is going to be a long day.’ Then, without cracking a smile, a totally out of character line came out of his mouth. He was going over his material which talked about thinkers, doers etc, and said, ‘A thinker is a person who is thinking about something.’ The whole room cracked up. This is called ‘deadpan’ expression.

Deadpan expression is the technique of combining a serious demeanor with a funny line. The line typically gets a bigger laugh than the same line delivered with a lighthearted expression or smile. The contrast and surprise is what stimulates the laughter.

The most recent and famous example of this is the comedian Steven Wright who NEVER breaks character to smile. He says lines like, ‘My dog is confused. I named him STAY. . . .Then I say come STAY.’ A more animated and cartoonish version of this is Rodney Dangerfield who pretends to be serious about his goofy life. He says, ‘I am an earth sign and my wife is a water sign . . ..Together we make mud.’ hahahaha If it fits your character when speaking in public, try a little deadpan.

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Tom Antion: Nicknames

You can have lots of fun with nicknames for people in the crowd
— as long as you absolutely know they are OK with being teased.

I was recently a guest speaker at Randy Gage’s speaker’s
institute. Randy is well-known for being a snappy dresser and he
has no trouble letting you know that his clothes are expensive
and custom made in France, Italy, etc. I, on the other hand,
dress plainly with nothing too fancy or overly expensive.

We ended up bantering back and forth on various points of
professional level speaking and marketing and when one critical
point of contention was coming to a head I said, “Now listen
Armani boy.” This brought down the house and became a running gag
throughout the rest of the event.

At another event Lynn Rose the fabulous singer, opened up the
convention right before I came on to speak. Late in my program, I
played a recording of a parody song with me as the singer.
Everyone loved it and I said, “Eat your heart out singer lady.”

This doesn’t sound very funny as you read it here, but I can
assure you it was at the time. Why? Because she was obviously a
top professional singer and I was a barely passable parody singer
that couldn’t hold a candle to her excellence, yet I was acting
like I was a hot shot. Also, by using “singer lady” a nickname I
gave her, instead of her name I was further portraying my false
excellence and pretty much dissing her.

Note: For the above to work, I had to make it abundantly clear
that I was teasing and not serious.

You can also tell about your own nicknames you had as a child or
that you have now — especially if they sound funny like “choo
choo” or have a funny story about how you got the nickname.

See the system Tom uses to create a humor home-run every time!