A Humorist Adapts Fripp’s Presentation Principles

An article on public speaking and presentations by John Kinde and Patricia Fripp

As one of my humorist speaker friends John Kinde, well-known for his Humor Power newsletter says, “Great speaking skills give you the illusion of competence. The flip side: Poor speaking skills give you the illusion of incompetence! If your presentation skills are weak, you will probably appear less than competent even if you happen to be a master of the subject matter.”

He is a master at observational humor and wrote some brilliant observations about the Fripp Presentation and Speaking School…from a humorist’s point of view! In case you are interested in attending any of the classes offered this year…or just want to learn from the highlights, here is what John wrote:

“Last November I had the amazing experience of watching a master in action. After a combined 55 years of National Speakers Association and Toastmasters experience, I have to say that the Fripp Presentation and Speakers School is the best speakers training workshop I’ve ever attended. Solid content, no fluff, and brilliant laser-focused coaching. Many of Fripp’s coaching suggestions blew us away, and several actually got gasps of amazement from the participants.

Although the primary focus of the two-day school was not Humor Skills, most of the concepts could be applied to make you a more humorous speaker. Here are a few gems from Fripp’s speaker school and some comments on how they relate to the design and presentation of humor.

  1. Never open a speech with a joke! Great suggestion. Everything in a speech should have a point and purpose. A joke, just for the laughs, is out of place in a formal speech. Yes, it’s great to open with humor, but do it with a humorous story that has a payoff which ties into the theme of your talk.
  2. Rapport covers flaws. When giving a talk, whether you’re getting laughs or motivating the audience, don’t worry about being perfect. It’s nice to be prepared, but perfection is not a requirement. In fact, an occasional stumble makes you a real person. Audiences identify with someone who is real. The audience likes someone who is real. And when people like you, it’s easier to be funny.
  3. Stand still at the opening of your talk. The eye goes to movement and not sound. In your opening you want the focus to be on your carefully-crafted words. Likewise, when you’re delivering your humorous punchline, it is best if you are not moving. Your set-up is likely filled with animation and gestures. And the space AFTER the punchline is delivered is often punched up with movement, your physical reaction to the punchline, called a ‘take.’ But the punchline itself is best delivered with no movement. Movement attracts attention and diverts focus from the key words which will activate the laugh.
  4. Eliminate unnecessary words. A basic rule of humor: The fewer words between the start of a funny story or joke and the punchline, the better. Keep your wording tight and you’ll get more laughs. A long, wordy story better have a huge laughter payoff or you’re in trouble. If the punchline is weak and the setup is long, the expression is that the punchline is carrying too much baggage. Trim and tighten for best results.
  5. When crafting the opening to a speech, ask yourself, “what are they thinking?” That’s also the key to good observational humor. If you can determine what people are noticing, and what they are thinking about what they are noticing, you have the seed for a good humor line. When you can tap a universal truth, in the form of a common thought, humor almost comes automatically. Often all you need to do is just state the obvious. They laugh, as they think, “Yeah, I was thinking the same thing!”
  6. When you have the right words, the speech is so much easier to deliver. And so it is with humor. A well word-smithed humor story will have the right rhythm and punch that the delivery will flow easily and naturally. You will find it easier to relax and enjoy the experience of sharing the story without having to stress over the word selection.
  7. Know your speech so well that you can forget it. Also with a humor story, know key parts of your setup and punchline so well that it comes to you without thinking. It allows you to be ‘in the moment’ and connect with your audience.
  8. Specificity equals believability. And specificity is funnier. A car is funnier than a vehicle. A Yugo is funnier than a car. A yellow Yugo is even funnier.
  9. When designing your speech, tie your closing back to your opening scene. Often, I open and close a talk with humor. I call the process ‘bookending’. I like to have bookends on each end of the speech. The bookends are similar, that is they match. I gave a speech where I open with a funny line involving an 800 toll-free telephone number. At the end of the speech, I close with a different 800 phone number story.
  10. Your audience remembers the mental images that you create. People think in pictures. Paint a funny picture and your humor stories will come to life.
  11. Speakers should avoid misusing technology. A speaker can misuse PowerPoint, thinking that the computer program is the key element of the presentation (instead of the actual message and delivery). Likewise, I’ve observed that speakers who want to include humor in their presentations often misuse props. They rely on the prop to create and carry the humor, just as a speaker could rely on PowerPoint to be the main focus of the speech. For example, when a red clown nose used to get a laugh solely for the sake of wearing a clown nose, a speaker is falling short of the humor potential the clown nose could have if it were blended into a powerful humor story.
  12. The pause gives people a chance to think about what you’ve said and to internalize it. In delivering humor, the pause is what lets people process the relationships and connections that trigger the laughs. Without the pause after the punchline, you don’t give the laughter a chance. You subconsciously tell people that there is nothing funny and that they’re not supposed to laugh. The pause is one of your most powerful assets when delivering humor.
  13. Use verbal shorthand to give your characters a back-story. Describe someone or something with a label that brings with it a rich combination of characteristics. I have a story about an 80-year-old man who gave me some unsolicited advice. I could say that I was approached by a ‘George-Patton-style WWII Colonel’, because as we talked I discovered that he was a retired Colonel who served in WWII, and that description accurately pictures his authoritarian style.
  14. Make them like your characters. As you build your characters, do more than just describe them. Give the audience a reason to like them. In a funny story, just as the audience needs to like you, they also need to like and care about the characters you include in the story.
  15. Your life is a comedy routine. Develop your own original humor. Your life is a goldmine of humorous experiences. Dump the jokes and tell your own rich, humorous stories.
  16. When looking for interesting stories from your past, ask yourself what questions do people ask about your job or past experiences? I realized that I have 17 years experience as a nuclear weapons launch officer and have never included any experiences from that part of my life in my speeches. I have homework. Certainly there are some story gems from those many years of working at such an unusual job that my audiences would find interesting or fascinating.
  17. A movie must have ‘five moments.’ What are the ‘five moments’ from your speech that people will be talking about afterwards. If you use funny stories, some of those ‘five moments’ will most likely be the laugh points in your stories. People remember best what they laugh about.
  18. If you want to learn something, teach it to others. She specifically recommended taking what we learned from the Patricia Fripp Speaking School and teaching it to others. I told her I’d write an Ezine article about what I learned and apply it to using humor. She said, ‘Great idea.’ So here it is.