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Welcome to

The Standup Trainer Newsletter

February 2006

Brought to you by Ellen Dowling, PhD ("The Standup Trainer") and the fine folks of Dowling & Associates, Inc.



This newsletter is guaranteed certifiably useful as well as amusing. (If you are not completely satisfied, there are unsubscribe instructions at the end. But we're betting you'll change your mind by the time you get there.)

Welcome to all new and continuing subscribers!

[Note: Instead of my usual “Presentation Hall of Shame” section, this month I will share with you what I’ve learned so far about teaching in China.]

In this issue:

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

If you are suddenly attacked in class, divide and conquer!

2. Teaching in China: Research vs. Reality

An American and a Chinese person go into a bar . . .

3. Presentation Skills Book Review

Take my jokes . . . please!

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

How many web sites does it take to find one really funny joke?

1. Presentation Horror Story of the Month

[Editor's Note: Have you a good story to tell about the time SOMETHING WENT WRONG at a presentation you were giving (or attending)? We are soliciting submissions for this segment of our newsletter. If your story is chosen, you will receive a FREE copy of either of Ellen's two books, The Standup Trainer or Presenting with Style (your choice). Simply send your story (just a couple of paragraphs will be fine) to edowling@standuptrainer.com.]

The winner of this month's contest is Pat Sweeden, Training Manager for  L’Oreal USA (North Little Rock, Arkansas):

I spent months planning a new curriculum for supervisory training with the input of our senior management team. I involved them in every step and was quite proud of myself for getting their input and buy-in.

When the day arrived to begin the training, one of the senior managers sat in on the very first class. After about two hours, he interrupted me, saying, “This isn’t what I think the supervisors need to be learning.”

I was momentarily speechless and the supervisors were obviously embarrassed for me, but after a long, painfully silent pause I used the most common technique known to trainers worldwide—I called a break!

During the break I talked with the executive about his concerns, and we agreed on an immediate modification to the program. I also solicited his help and participation in the class. The rest of the day went smoothly and he and I became rather good friends!

(Note: I believe I learned this little technique in a class entitled, Dealing with Difficult Trainees by Dr. Ellen Dowling.)

2. Teaching in China: Research vs. Reality

As some of you already know, I (Ellen) am currently in Beijing, China, teaching a class called “Executive Communication” for students who are enrolled in the part-time “BIMBA” (Beijing International MBA) program, under the aegis of the Chinese Center for Economic Research (CCER) at the University of Beijing. The students attend class for three hours on Saturday and Sunday mornings (9 to noon) for five weekends.

My students are late-twenty- to early-forty-somethings, and all have full-time positions at a variety of Chinese/US companies. For example, several of my students work for Motorola, Siemens, and IBM China. Quite a few are in fairly high-level positions: Senior Staff Engineer, Solution Delivery Manager, International Business Manager, etc. They are very intelligent and (it goes without saying or they wouldn’t be in the program, which is very expensive) very ambitious. They all speak English, but with varying degrees of facility.

They are also very friendly and polite and they try very hard. But they haven’t a clue about working together in self-directed groups. I learned this the first weekend, when there was pretty much mass confusion when I put them into groups and asked them to “brainstorm” topics for their oral presentations. They couldn’t do it. So for the second weekend I gave them very specific directions (on PowerPoint slides for them to read as well), and asked them individual questions. This worked much better all around and they all seemed to be much more comfortable with the highly structured format.

(Of course, it put more pressure on me to “publish” the agenda for the class on a slide at the beginning and again at the end of the class, as that meant that I had to be sure to cover everything I promised to cover!)

My students also love to laugh and have very good senses of humor. I told the class that humor was important in their own presentations, but that they should avoid jokes at all costs. One student asked me why. I answered, “OK, let me tell you a joke in English, and then you tell me why a speaker should not tell jokes.”

Here’s what I told them:

Two cannibals are having dinner. [I had to stop here and make sure everyone knew what a “cannibal” was.] One cannibal turns to the other and says, “I hate my mother-in-law.” The other cannibal shrugs and says, “Well, just eat the noodles.”


Funny? Yes? No?

As you can imagine, the entire class just stared at me, dumbfounded. Then I had to explain that most English-speaking students have the same reaction! (Although later that day, when I told my colleague from the US and another American that same joke, they both laughed out loud.)

More to come on my adventures in China in the March issue of this newsletter . . . .

3. Presentation Skills Book Review

Speaking of jokes, this month’s review is of a book by Michael Iapoce, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Boardroom: Using Humor in Business Speaking (John Wiley & Sons, 1988).

In the preface to this book, Iapoce stresses that “Unlike many humor books, this one is designed to provide basic, how-to instruction in the use of humor, specifically in business or otherwise ‘serious’ settings.” The first part of the book, he promises, will “detail exactly how to deliver a joke, and to show how the key to being funny lies simply in using your natural sense of humor to be yourself.” The second half (more like 65%, actually) is a compendium of what the author assures us are “the funniest jokes on the most relevant topics.” Does Iapoce deliver the punch he promises?

I would certainly agree with Iapoce’s main premise: “It all comes down to knowing what the audience wants to hear and saying it funny—in their language.” [Note: This is a little trickier, maybe, when your audience’s language is Chinese!] Of course, Iapoce is talking about the concept of “tailoring” your material to meet the needs (and context) of your audience. Here’s a good example of this from the book:

The joke: A man rushed into a clothing store and said to the owner, “I understand that my son has owed you for a suit now for the past year and a half.” “That’s right,” said the owner hopefully. “Have you come to settle the account?” “No,” said the father. “I wanted to buy one on the same terms.”

You can tailor this joke, suggests Iapoce, for the following audiences:

·        Computer programmers: An executive went into a computer store and said to the owner, “I understand my office manager has owed you for a computer system . . . .”

·        Carpenters: A foreman went into a hardware store and said, “I understand one of my carpenters has owed you for a set of tools . . . .”

[OK, so maybe you haven’t had the opportunity to address an audience of carpenters lately, but you get the idea.]

Another useful point that the author makes is the importance of telling a joke that actually contributes to the point of your presentation. Here’s Iapoce’s example (from a speech on the importance of good customer service):

“Being customer oriented should be inseparable from producing a quality product. There’s no point in maintaining high production standards if we can’t follow through with quality at the point of sale. It’s like the man who went into a very exclusive Beverly Hills clothing store to buy a suit. The salesman asked him for his name, occupation, hobbies, educational background, religion, and political party. The customer said, ‘But all I want is a suit.’ The salesman said, ‘Sir, we don’t merely sell you a suit. We make a suit that’s exactly right for you. We analyze your personality and your background. We search the world for the kind of sheep that produces just the wool your character and mood require. The wool is processed according to a special formula that reflects your personality. Then it’s woven in a part of the world where the climate is most favorable to your temperament. Then, after a series of preliminary fittings, we style a suit. But then . . . .’ ‘Wait a minute,’ the customer said. ‘I need this suit for a wedding tomorrow afternoon.’ The salesman shrugged and said, ‘Okay. You’ll have it.’”

DING! DING! DING! DING! Anyone who has read either Presenting with Style or The Standup Trainer should now be hearing those warning bells. What’s the inherent problem with trying to tell a joke like this? (Look how long it is; look how complicated. How will you ever remember all the details without having to read it? And what if you forget the punch line?)

Still, the basic idea of making the humor relevant to the purpose of the presentation is a good one. It’s just that a funny story (especially a true story) will be so much easier to tell.

More useful, I think, are the “ad libs” that Iapoce provides for when things go wrong:

·        When you lose your train of thought: “Sometimes we say the most with silence . . . not this time, but sometimes.”

·        When you garble a sentence: “Sorry, these are rented lips.” [I think this is really terrible, but it made me laugh anyway.]

·        When you get feedback from the microphone: “That concludes the musical portion of my program.”

Lastly, as I mentioned above, the second half of the book is a collection of jokes. Here are a few of the funniest ones (you decide how/where/when and for whom you would use them):

“Middle age is when, if you have a choice between two temptations, you choose the one that’ll get you home earlier.”

“She asked the boss if she could have a day off because it was her silver anniversary. The boss said, ‘Do I have to put up with this every 25 years?’”

“A speech is like a love affair. Any fool can start it, but to end it requires considerable skill.”

“I remember the airline passenger who found a bug in the food he was served on the plane. After arriving home, he wrote an angry letter to the airline and got a quick reply. It said, ‘Dear Sir: Your letter was a source of great concern to us. We have never before received a complaint of this nature and will do everything possible to guarantee that such an incident never happens again.’ The man was satisfied with this until he noticed another slip of paper fall out of the envelope. It said, ‘Send this guy the bug letter.’”

4. Useful Online Resource of the Month

I searched all over the internet to find some joke sites that were both free and included material potentially appropriate for public telling, but found mostly slim pickins. I did, however, find a somewhat useful site (Humor for Speakers by Tom Antion), which contains a collection of what Tom calls “test humor”: “humor that is placed in your written introduction. It is to be read by your introducer, not by you.”

In the following examples, I have substituted my own name as the presenter:

·        Ellen is one of the greatest speakers ever and that's just not my
opinion, it's hers too. Let's welcome Ellen!

·        The woman I am about to introduce is so full of ideas I have heard her described as a manic EXPRESSIVE. Let's welcome Ellen!

·        Ellen’s discussion of (subject) will be very enlightening. She says that after her talk you will still be confused, but on a much
higher plane.

Had enough?

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If you have a suggestion for something we could do to make this newsletter even MORE useful as well as amusing, please contact us:

Dowling & Associates, Inc.

Ellen Dowling, President


(505) 307-1700