In Hollywood, it takes hundreds of talented people in front of and behind the camera, all working together to create a great movie. What works in Tinsel Town can also bring big benefits for speakers.
I often brainstormed with David Garfinkel, copy-writing genius and budding screenwriter, and late, great John Cantu, the San Francisco comedy legend. John could find something funny in anything. Garfinkel has a great mind for inserting a sales message or a dramatic
Hollywood scene. My talent is creating a talk out of a conversation, adding a great opening line, highlighting the key points, and adding structure to it.
The three of us got together one Boxing Day (that’s December 26th, for you non-British.) John was just out of the hospital after serious cancer surgery. We asked him to describe his experiences. He told us about his first symptoms and going for a blood test. John, who is over 6 ft, said, “The first thing I noticed was that I was the shortest man in line. I was also the only one not wearing high heels and lipstick.” “That’s because Tuesday is transgender night,” the doctor said.
Two minutes into John’s account, we were laughing so hard that I stopped him. “John, this is going to be your next speech. Let me get the tape recorder and start all over!” As we listened, David Garfinkel kept adding dramatic effects. When John finished, we had the foundation for a speech called “Laughing All the Way to the Hospital.” It was full of human interest, funny and poignant. John Cantu is the “everyman” in movies who takes whatever life hands him with good humor and no complaints.
John told about lying on a gurney, waiting to be wheeled into surgery. “I’m a street-smart blue-collar guy,” he said, “and I’ve never been in a situation I couldn’t talk my way out of or run away from. Then a woman comes up and asks if I’m okay. ‘To be honest, m’am, I’m a lot more apprehensive than I thought I would be.’ She took my hand. ‘Don’t worry. We’re going to take really good care of you.’ Suddenly, I felt better.”
“Whenever you give this speech to health care workers,” I told him, “call it ‘The Touch of Her Hand’!”
In his talk, John created 62 different individual characters, a whole busload of people, a hospital full of medical workers, and a hallucinatory spaceship full of aliens in green hospital scrubs. And his lesson learned: Nothing is so bad that it can’t be funny!
Our collaboration on John’s speech was so exciting that we transcribed the tape and turned the experience into an NSA seminar. We built a set on stage, replicating my living room with hotel furniture. Then we re-enacted the whole thing, freezing the action every now and then so moderator Janelle Barlow could point out what techniques we used in an incredible learning experience.
Another National Speakers Association star, Hope Mihalap, is one of the most brilliant natural humorists I’ve ever met. She’s Greek, married to a Russian, and her audiences adore her down-to-earth, everyday insights. She had been asked if she could tie a sales message into her humorous talk. (Hope is the first to admit she doesn’t have a business bone in her body.)
So I asked her to tell me her hilarious story about buying a girdle. As Hope spoke, I pointed out eleven spots where she could tie in a customized client message. For example, she could repeat the saleswoman’s humiliating comments, and then ask, “What could you say to keep your customers from feeling like I did?” Her audiences would be learning a valuable lesson while laughing. I suggested she collaborate with a sales trainer. He or she could do what I had done through the entire talk. From a sales standpoint, tie in sales and marketing questions and observations that could easily be added to Hope’s talk. Hope in return could write some funny lines for his/her sales presentation. Go Hollywood!
All of us have our unique strengths and shortcomings. When you collaborate with other talented people, you can make your presentations big box-office winners!