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Public Speaking:
Audience Gags

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Audience gags are offbeat jokes that occur unexpectedly during a presentation. Dr. Joel Goodman, from the Humor Project, does one where a telephone rings during his presentation. He answers the phone that was hidden in the lectern and pretends to talk to his mother. The same joke would be called a running gag if the phone rang at several other times during the program.

Ten Wanted Men

I staged a gag at a seminar one time that was loads of fun and took less than one minute to complete. Before the program, I picked out about 10 fun-loving audience members to help me. I gave them secret instructions that were to be carried out on a certain cue during the program. To start the gag, I had my assistant interrupt the seminar to give me an important note. The note read (I used a serious expression):

"It appears that someone is in attendance today with another man's wife. There is a large and irate man on his way here right now. If you want out, there is a backstage door you can use to escape quickly."

At this point, 10 men jumped up out of their seats and ran keystone cop style out the door. Once they realized what was happening, several women jumped up and ran out too. It was great fun and the gag sure woke up everyone who had a heavy lunch.

Stone the Speaker 

Here's another gag I do when I really want to focus attention on an important point. Either before the program or at a break, I recruit audience members who are sitting near the front. I give each one a piece of crumpled paper and instruct them to throw it at me when they hear a certain word.

Some presenters tell me that is the dumbest thing they ever heard and that they would never do it in a professional presentation. They say that until they understand the rationale. I use this gag when I want to focus attention on an important point? Guess who is riveted on what I say until they hear the key word? Of course, all the recruits with the crumpled paper. Then, after they throw the paper and I make a big reaction, the rest of the crowd is totally focused in their effort to see what is going on. That is when I make my key point. I have virtually guaranteed the attention of each audience member.

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