Humor with a Purpose: How to Hire a Funny Speaker Who Can Still Deliver a Powerful Message

Connie Podesta 12-17

Humor helps. That’s for sure! In a market that has most organizations and their employees feeling the twists and turns of our economic rollercoaster – one key ingredient that companies and event planners look for in their keynote speaker is the ability to make people LAUGH. Yes, they want results. Yes, they want change. Yes, they want motivation. But they usually understand that before any of those things can happen – they’ve got to get their team members or audience to sit up, take notice and trust the person on the stage and one of the best ways to do that is through humor. To learn more about why humor works and how a funny speaker can still deliver a powerful message, I sat down with powerhouse motivational speaker – Connie Podesta.

Julie: Connie when did you first know that being a funny speaker was one of your talents?

Connie: That’s easy. I started doing comedy at 14 and never looked back. I remember coming into a new high school when I was 14. It was pretty lonely and I really wanted to make new friends. One day, out of the blue, one of the head cheerleaders asked me to a party at her house. I was surprised that she had even noticed me. Later that day I was changing clothes in the girls' locker room towards the back where no one could see me and a bunch of girls walked in. They were talking about the party and someone mentioned I was coming.. None of them even knew who I was. But then one of them said, "Oh, Sharon is in a few of her classes. She told me that Connie is so funny, she will have us laughing all night long." I knew then that I had NOT just been invited to a party-- I had been “hired” for my first comedy gig! And from that moment on, I have made the term "funny speaker" part of my resume.

Julie: Connie, that's a great story – and I’ve heard you -- you ARE funny, so I’m glad that title stuck! Maybe being a “funny speaker” is in your DNA! Now, tell me a little more about why humor is so important. Don’t you think that most organizations today are dealing with serious issues and might think that humor would distract from their desire to get people motivated and

Connie: Yes, I would agree with that—however, many organizations totally underestimate the power of humor. They sometimes feel it will dilute the message and take away from the seriousness of the issues that need to be discussed. However, my research shows that humor—done right of course --does exactly the opposite. I cannot even imagine trying to tackle some of the tough issues I am asked to address without my ability to bring humor into every situation.

Let’s face it—audiences can only take slideshows, statistics and graphs for so long – right? Humor is the vehicle through which I can get an audience to relax, open up, think more clearly, and let down some defenses that are standing in their way of growing and learning new things, staying competitive, increasing their sales, leading more effectively and living the life they want and deserve. I believe that HUMOR is an absolute KEY if an organization wants their powerful messages to have long-term results.

Julie: How can an organization ensure that when they’re hiring a “funny speaker” – they’ll also be able to have their audience come away with powerful action items, strategies, insights and tools that will help them achieve more long term. Your thoughts?

Connie: First, take a look at their website. If “funny” comes up first—then you might not have the right speaker to deliver the long-lasting powerful messages you want. And, don’t get me wrong, there are times when funny is all someone wants such as an after dinner presentation. And I am fine doing that. But I always want my humor to have so much more bang for the buck! I want it to be the glue that holds the take-away tools and strategies together. Second, pick up the phone! I always recommend having a great open dialogue with any speaker you are considering for your event. Be sure that when you speak to them that you are communicating ALL of your organizations needs and expectations. Go ahead and tell them that you want a funny speaker to help lift your team’s spirits or motivate, but let them know that you want much more than that. As I said, comedy can be an extremely powerful vehicle to deliver an incredible message if used in the right way. I always tell my clients and prospective clients that while my humor is a terrific component to a great speech – my humor has a purpose. I know that when people laugh they LEARN more, REMEMBER more, COMMIT to more, and are more WILLING to tackle the tougher issues that stand in their way of achieving the results they want. Isn’t the whole purpose of delivering a great message that it stays in the minds of the audience to be used later so they can use their new ideas to influence others in a positive way? That trickle-down effect is amazing.

Julie: I love that – “humor with a purpose.” Clearly not everyone subscribes to that though they should. I know sometimes meeting planners are afraid to hire someone who is considered a funny speaker. They may have had some bad experiences with speakers who were inappropriate or less than politically correct. Can you share the fine line between being funny and being inappropriate or uncomfortable from the platform?

Connie: I don't think there is a "fine" line--I believe that there is NEVER a situation where even a “funny” speaker should use humor in an inappropriate way. If people want to pay money and go to comedy clubs where that type of humor is prevalent, that is their business. But in a corporate, business setting humor has to be professional, appropriate, entertaining, meaningful and comfortable for everyone in the audience. That’s why I chose “corporate comedy” over “club comedy”. I love showing that it is possible to do an hour of comedy without saying or doing anything inappropriate or uncomfortable. That, to me, is TRUE COMEDY!

Julie: I agree! What do you feel is the secret to doing all of those things at once?

Connie: The secret really is to be a master at the type of comedy where people are laughing for one reason--because they are saying to themselves "I've done that!" or "I've said that!" or "I've been in that exact situation!" I don’t know about you—but I hate comedy where people are laughing, but inside they are thinking “But this really isn’t funny at all.” My psychology background certainly gives me a huge advantage. Knowing what makes people tick helps me to better help them laugh while they learn, relate to the stories or strategies I’m sharing and see themselves in the solutions I offer. They are laughing because what I am saying is “oh so true!”

Julie: What about people who do presentations themselves? What advice do you have that would help them incorporate more humor into their content?

Connie: First, let me say this -- copying cartoons onto slides and showing them to the audience to get a laugh is NOT humor. Humor comes from within. That’s why I have always loved Seinfeld. He is NEVER inappropriate. He doesn’t tell jokes. He simply tells stories that make people laugh because we can relate to them. If people want to integrate humor into their presentations, then they have to be very open and vulnerable. They have to be able to make fun of themselves. There is no room for EGO when it comes to great humor. And humor isn’t just in the content—it’s all about timing. A great funny speaker can make people laugh by the way she talks, tilts her head, or by her facial expressions. And there is nothing funnier than the right pause at the exact right time.

Julie: Connie it sounds like you absolutely love what you do!

Connie: There couldn’t be a better job in the world for me. To be able to give people the knowledge and tools they need to succeed. Motivate them to have the confidence and fearless attitudes necessary to be empowered to change. And then be able to make them laugh—and some of my audiences haven’t laughed in a long, long time—that is pure heaven.

Connie, thank you so much for sharing. Your life experience and recognition of your talents at an early age and putting them to good use is inspiring. It is obvious that not only were you born to be a funny speaker but you have used your comedic talent to motivate and empower others. I’m sure that’s why audience after audience say that you are not only an amazingly motivational speaker—but a laugh-out-loud funny speaker—and so on target about life, relationships, business and human nature.


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