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Dan Erwin

Swell post...I've always been intrigued--about who can and who can't use humor well. Obviously, it requires some sort of mini-story, but also a solid knowledge of a culture...immigrants often have a great difficulty understanding American humor...my ivory tower humorists (a quarter century ago when I was U faculty member), were few, but always had an in-depth knowledge beyond the Tower...and were willing to carry life a bit more lightly.

But plenty of people, including academics can't tell a story...whether fun or not. And that's a requisite for good humor...

Mary Jo Asmus

Steve, great advice. Speaking to audiences is fun for me, but only if/when I can include some audience participation. I find that although the audience may grumble about it a bit in the beginning,usually its a good experience for them, they learn more from their fellow audience members, and may even make a friend or two. Selfishly, the speaker can also learn things from the audience this way.

I once did a presentation to our local Rotary Club. I've belonged to this organization for six years. It's known for being very buttoned down and reserved (so it was a bitof a risk to even try it). I included an interactive exercise - what a surprise to them! They were used to speakers with powerpoint presentations. I still have people coming up to me, a year or two later, to talk about how much they enjoyed the chance to interact with each other in this way. Unfortunately, this kind of interaction hasn't happened since - even though we have a speaker every week.

Becky Robinson


I think you're spot on with your idea that speakers need to be themselves. The best speakers I have heard are the ones whose sincere enthusiasm for their topics has been unmistakeable.

You started your piece by saying that your tips apply to groups of 6 to 6000, but do you think it's possible that authenticity is more important with a smaller group? Or maybe it is more challenging for some speakers to connect with a larger audience?

peter vajda

Re: rebecca's question, authenticity starts with being authentic with one's self...really being honest with one's self, then it doesn't matter who's out there or how many...the discomfort or challenge has to do with one's relationship to one's self and if that's intact, harmonious, and balanced; if not, then one senses a greater discomfort or challenge and creates a story around it; when we're authentic within, allowing our True and Real Self, then one can show up authentically with others...unencumbered by how one is feeling...the feeling is not a psycho-emotional show-stopper, there's no story, no fixing anything, no need to "change" one's self...just being comfortable in one's skin...however that skin feels in the moment

Steve Roesler


The humor thing is unbelievably important. In fact, speakers who have products and services end up selling more--exponentially--if their presentation has made people laugh. That's a darned good reason for any speaker to find out where their innate funny bone is located.

You cited something that makes all the difference: having an in-depth knowledge of life beyond one's own environment. Without a finger on the pulse of the human condition as well as pop and local culture, people tend to tell stories that they don't realize are "inside" jokes.

The result: the laughter remains on the inside!

Thanks for that one...

Steve Roesler

Mary Jo,

You are the heroine of every Rotary meeting now being held worldwide. Why anyone would bring a PowerPoint presentation into one of those situations baffles me.

Much of my work is coaching and helping to design "presentations". As often as not my counsel is to either avoid the slides completely or use a few bold visuals as a backdrop to the story being told (financial types eschew this and often for legitimate reasons, depending upon the charge they've been given).

Also--you have brought back very fond memories. My initial foray into speaking was the result of being a member of the Rotary Group Study Exchange to South Africa many years ago. Made 59 speeches in 63 days, so that kind of repetition offers instant feedback and the ability to tweak on the go. When I got back and joined the local Rotary Club, I ended up getting the gig as the guy who had to book the 52 speakers for the next year. That's the last time I show up late for a meeting.

All the best...

Steve Roesler

Becky and Peter,

I think Peter lays out the underpinnings of "being real" with a great deal of understanding, so no need to add to that part. Thank you, Peter.

Becky, you asked about the small group/large audience thing. I cannot speak for everyone but will share my personal experience:

1. The issue is always authenticity, "getting real", regardless of the size of the group. People will spot a phony even from the mezzanine.

2. The issue with small groups is learning to interact with each person in the group. That is an unspoken expectation but makes sense when you think about it. If you were hanging out with a half dozen other people for an hour or so and only spoke with three of them, think about the impact on the other three.

3. Large audiences. The largest audience to whom I have spoken is 5,000. No one expects you to interact with them but everyone expects you to connect with them. The way to do that is to show where your heart is regarding the topic on which you are speaking.

BTW: I find 5,000 less emotionally draining than 6 for the very reasons mentioned above. The smaller the group the more interaction. When you are giving yourself to each person you are also listening to each person and connecting in ways that are more intimate, regardless of the setting. Your mind and heart are constantly shifting gears to really be engaged with an individual's question or concern.

Wally Bock

I'd like to tweak Mary Jo's "participation" point. For me it's not so much participation, but involvement that wins the day. How you do it varies with audience size, their knowledge of you and your topic, the time frame, etc.

And those Rotary-like speeches? They're all twenty minutes or less. If you need PowerPoint slides for twenty minutes you're an intellectual cripple and need professional help, perhaps in the form of presentation skills coaching.

Steve Roesler


I read Mary Jo's *participation* to mean *involvement*. There is, indeed, a distinction.

As for the PowerPoint/Rotary connection: I was taken aback. It never occurred to me--knowing the normal setting and purpose--that anyone would even consider punishing those good-hearted, hard-working Rotarians with PPT.

Perhaps they need to set some guidelines themselves to force people to stand up and be clear about their stories.

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