Humor Lesson from Bob Hope

Today is the birthday of the late Bob Hope, who died a few years ago at the age of 100.  Bob Hope said, “I don’t feel old – I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it’s time for my nap.”

Hope was the master of the one-liner and he was funny.  He understood that humor requires speed.  The best jokes come quickly with little build-up.

I once took a class in stand-up comedy from Atlanta comedian Jeff Justice. He taught us that great jokes have a very short buildup and a quick punch.

He made the point that the audience shouldn’t have to invest too much time in the joke.  A quick buildup and payoff works best.

The Problem With Sports Analogies and Jargon

I’m going to have to start reconsidering my reliance on sports terms and analogies after my coaching session yesterday with a Banking technologist from Great Britain.

For example, he explained to me that you have to be careful if you use the phrase “We had better just punt on this one.”

For me,  “to punt” is a reference to American football. When a team punts, it’s giving up, turning over the ball to the other team.  You might say,  “Things aren’t going well on this project. I think we need to punt.”

But my British client explained to me that as a Rugby player, he would take the phrase “to punt” to be the complete opposite. In Rugby, he points out,  when you punt, the kicking team has the chance to run down the field and get the ball, unlike in American football.  So even though it’s a risky play, it can result in a long gain.  If Rugby is your frame of reference, then you might use the phrase “to punt” like this: “This project is having trouble but I have an idea that might really help us. I think we should punt and see what happens.”

Take care when you select analogies and jargon. Make sure that your “punt” is the same as your audience’s “punt.”

Public Speaking Lesson from My Cheapo Shaver

Sometimes, the best public speaking lessons come from the must unexpected places. Like last week, when I found myself at a Marriott Courtyard in Brentwood, Tn. having forgotten to bring a shaver.

One of the reasons I love Marriott is that they always have extra shavers for you. And they’re free. But when I went to the front desk to get my free shaver, I was disappointed to see that they were giving out one of those one-blade Bic razors. Who shaves with those anymore?  I use those five blade jobs made by Gillette. Sure you have to take out a mortgage to buy them. But what a shave!

I took my one-blade Bic back to my room and proceeded to take it out of the plastic wrapping. I lathered up my face and began to shave.

And I was stunned.

It worked fine. In fact, it did a very nice job.  All the whiskers were gone and I had a very nice smooth shave.

So what does this have to do with public speaking?

So much of public speaking today has evolved around fancy conventions.  We have PowerPoint with all its bells and whistles. We have templates that our corporate employers and convention hosts expect us to use. We have interactive systems that allow our audiences to talk back to us.

But all of that stuff is like the fancy razor. We have evolved toward it. But it really doesn’t help us much.  Ultimately, we don’t really need any of that crap.  All we need is a few ideas, some stories, some passion in our voice, and the understanding that our goal is to connect with our listener’s needs.

How Practical Are Edward Tufte’s Ideas on PowerPoint?

To hear Edward Tufte tell it, PowerPoint is a killer app that actually kills.


He points to a poorly done PowerPoint presentation as a cause for the space shuttle Columbia disaster.  An author and former Yale professor, Tufte argues that the imprecise nature of PowerPoint glossed over the true cause of the disaster.  The presenters who analyzed the foam debris that caused the disaster, Tufte claims, were too imprecise by virtue of the use of PowerPoint.

If you’d like to hear Tufte rail against PowerPoint on NPR click here.

I’m no lover of PowerPoint.

But Tufte’s claims probably apply best to presentations of highly technical information in visual form. Looking at his website, you’ll see that the visuals he loves are often highly complicated themselves, though perhaps they’re accurate.

One has to wonder whether the average business person can really use his ideas. Or whether we’re just supposed to send in our money and buy his beautiful graphs and illustrations, frame them, and put them on our walls.

My Beef with PowerPoint

My complaint about PowerPoint is different than Tufte’s complaint.  PowerPoint is a perfectly fine program. It’s just used improperly.  Most people use it as a presentation creation tool when it’s actually a tool to illustrate presentations.

To create a presentation, you should first decide what are your two or three core messages. Then you should fill out what you’re going to say to illustrate those messages. Then you should decide how you’re going to illustrate those points.

Instead, people create their presentations by opening up PowerPoint and relying on the templates that the program provides. As a result, most PowerPoint presentations are painful outlines with lots of bullet points.

So, if you’re watching a bad presentation, you don’t blame PowerPoint. Blame the presenter.

Auctioneers Makes Big Sales By Connecting With Bidders

Ever wondered what it takes to auction off a priceless Picasso or a rare Egyptian artifact?  The key to success is one word: connection.

Great auctioneers “connect more spontaneously with bidders,” says Jamie Krass, director of auctions at Christie’s in New York.

“You want to make everyone comfortable,”  he says in.  “Build a relationship with me. Don’t make me feel like a number.” 

That just one bit of sage communication skills advice from an article about how to become an auctioneer posted on

Of course, the same is true whever you’re trying to make a pitch.  Just like a great auctioneer, you want to speak in a personal, animated way, like you’re having an intense conversation with a friend. 

That connection is what separates the great auctioneers from the rest, says Krass. “It’s not just about eye contact. To make the bidder go one more, you have to convey that you know his bid matters to him, and that it matters to you too.”

If you want to connect well during your business presentations, one key is to think of your presentation as a series of “mini-conversations” with your listeners. 

Look at a single audience member and chat with her for about eight seconds.  Then randomly move to another audience member until you’ve made eye contact with everyone in the room.  Then make the rounds again.

That way, everyone will feel that you’ve connected with them personally.

Do that well enough and you’ll be the kind of communicator that, like a great auctioneer, always makes the sale.

Use Testimonials To Persuade Your Prospect

To add persuasive power to your next pitch, consider using a testimonial. 


I received an odd lesson in the power of testimonials the other day on a drive down to Birmingham.  I had stopped to fill up my gas tank and buy a drink.


I was in front of the drink cooler in the gas station’s convenience store reading the ingredients on a bottle of Vitamin Water. There were lots of ingredients and I wanted to make sure that it contained no caffeine. The long list of ingredients on a bottle of “water” gave me pause.


At that moment, a man wearing blue jeans, a t-shirt,  and several tattoos approached the cooler and reached down to get a bottle of blackberry flavored Propel.


“Don’t drink that stuff,” he said, referring to my Vitamin Water. I looked up a little surprised. He was far better spoken than I expected. “That has too many ingredients. I read about this stuff in Men’s Health Magazine. Blackberries are great for your colon. You should consider this stuff.” And then he went to the front of the store to pay for his drink.


I thought about his unsolicited testimonial and went with the Propel. I mean, who doesn’t want a healthy colon?

Public Speaking Tip from a Large Mouth Bass


This weekend, my buddy Robert Charles caught this large mouth bass in the 35 acre lake behind our house. He and I had been fishing for about two hours and had caught about 20 smaller bass.

We were about to call it a day as it was about to start raining. I said, “Hey Robert, why don’t you cast that diving lure over there under that dock.”

He did it and this monster bit his lure.

“Joey,” he said, “I think this is a world record fish!”

It didn’t beat the world record, which is 25.1 pounds. But we estimate it was about 15 pounds because it was much larger than the one I caught a couple of years ago that was 8 pounds.

We decided to let it go so it could live to fight another day.

I can’t think of what this has to do with public speaking. But I was so excited when he caught it that I had to write about it.

If anyone  can tie this to public speaking, then let me know and I’ll post it.

What a fish!

Public Speaking Tip from Malcolm X

Today is the birthday of Malcolm X who was known for his ability to move an audience with his passion. He said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything.”

And it’s a good point about public speaking. All this talk about public speaking is for nothing if you don’t use it as a tool of leadership.  We speak because we’re trying to connect with people and move them somewhere.

So when you’re speaking, take a position and defend it. 

I once heard a Senior Vice President for a large company rehearsing for a presentation. He was laying out the reasons why a particular program for a company needed to be cut off.  But he was avoiding saying “Let’s end this program.”

I said, “I sounds like you think they need to end this program.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But you never explicitly say, ‘Let’s end this program.'”

He said he was worried about the political implications of taking such a stand. He wanted to lay out the problems with the program and hope the audience members would reach the conclusion on their own.

I understand how he feels. Leadership takes courage. Good speaking takes courage.

Malcolm knew that.

Public Speaking Tip from a Karaoke Bar

Last Friday night, I enjoyed the music scene in Nashville and went to both a Karaoke Bar and a blues bar.   While the Karaoke bar was an interesting novelty, I left after about 30 minutes.

By contrast, I didn’t want to leave the blues bar and only did so when I remembered that I had to get up early the next morning. Of course, a major part of the reason why was the quality of the performers. Performing at the blues bar was Josh Garrett and the Bottom Line, a magnificent blues band. The joint was rockin’.

But comparing them to the Karaoke singers, you really got a strong sense of the importance of connection with the audience. Even the best Karaoke singers had no connection with the audience. They were up there reading the words from the Karaoke machine. More importantly,  the experience was for the singers.  It like they were on an “American Idol” ride at a theme park. The goal was for the singers to have a great time.

Contrast that with the professional blues performers. For them, it was all about the audience. They were connecting with the audience from the start, doing everything they could do ensure that everyone in the audience had a good time. Of course there was eye contact. But more than that, there was an audience-centered attitude that everyone in the joint appreciated.

And we were all happy to pay for that connection.

How Do You Make Eye Contact Over the Telephone?

In a workshop the other day, a participant asked “How do you make eye contact over the telephone?”

I love that question.

Of course, you can’t make eye contact over the telephone. But in today’s “conference call” business environment, connecting with your listeners in a personal way can be a challenge.

The most important key to connecting on conference calls is energy.  You need to make sure that you’re projecting energy into the telephone.  The technology can mute your enthusiasm and make you sound flat.

We tell people to gesture and smile as they speak.  In fact, many people put mirrors on their desks to ensure that they’re energized.

I’ve said it before and I suppose I will again. “People can hear your smile.”