Testing One Two Three Writing Humor for Speeches

The Closest Most People Come To Humor Performance is when they're called upon to deliver a speech. David Brinkley commented that we may be reaching the point where there are more people willing to give luncheon speeches than are willing to listen to them.

But that's only a joke. The fact is that speechmaking continues to be more popular than ever. In this electronic society, where so much information comes to us via radio, television, newspapers, and specialized newsletters, office computer, telephone, and direct mail, there still seems to be a need to get out from behind our desks and communicate with groups of other people person to person.

We make the time for it. The number of luncheon clubs, service clubs, and a myriad of social, political, and religious organizations—all looking for speakers—continues to grow. Activities coordinators still think of speeches first when they're assigned to schedule entertainment.

I feel very much more at ease speaking here than I did at the last luncheon. They had a sign there which read: "Do not photograph speakers while they are speaking. Shoot them as they approach the platform."

The saying goes that all of us are ignorant, just about different subjects.

Translated to speechmaking, each of us is an expert about something—at least we know more than the other people in the room - so we're qualified to talk about it. But that's only half the story. Speakers are selected as much for their ability to know how to say things as they know what to say.

Whatever the reasons, humor speechwriters for politicians, businessmen, newspaper editors, and entertainers are in such tremendous demand that there are not enough qualified to fill the demand. A ghostwriter with humor material has become a businessman's status symbol, like a chauffeur. For full-time business employment, the salary runs high. Consider that Lee Iacocca hired one for $90,000 per year.

Few modern politicians write their own speeches. Ronald Reagan had a team of twelve speechwriters and one was a specialist in gag writing.

When President Lyndon Johnson was in office, reporters had a difficult time knowing when this Texan was telling the truth. Then they figured it out. They learned that when he pulled his ear, he was telling the truth. And when he rubbed the bridge of his nose, he was telling the truth. And when he took off his glasses, he was telling the truth. But when he opened his mouth — Robert Orben

Speechwriters for important executives, like the President, work in teams. This is sometimes hard on humor, because it's so subjective. ("If a committee had written the Gettysburg address," wrote columnist Mike Royko, " 'four score and seven years ago' would have to be written as eighty-seven or rounded off to ninety for fear the less sophisticated would think that scoring has something to do with sexual prowess. And 'our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation' would have had to be reworded because it left out women.") Despite the fear of creating camels instead of horses, humor collaboration is highly recommended.

Since there are many excellent books on public speaking techniques, we'll concentrate her on the humor ingredient. (See Appendix A for a list of books for a humor writer's library.) Speeches are a good place to test comedy material, and many humor writers will accept small speaking engagements just to test public reaction to material before it's presented to their clients. In any speech, there are six special areas where humor is important.

1. Preparation: "Getting ready, getting set."

2. Title: "Getting 'em into the hall."

3. Introduction of speaker. "Hold on to your seats, folks."

4. Introductory remarks: "Relax, this'll be great."

5. The speech: "Everybody's entitled to my opinion."

6. Getting offstage: "Exit lines that will earn a standing ovation."

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