As a public speaker, my client is not the audience. My client is the conference producer.
This may seem a little counterintuitive, but it's true. Educational opportunities are a dime a dozen these days, and most wedding pros don't have the budget to attend every single one. Because of this, every conference planner worth their salt keeps an eye on the competition.
This means that what conference producers need from me is that I deliver enough value to the audience that the attendees sign up to attend their event again next year. Not someone else's.
My number one goal when speaking is to deliver enough actionable insight combined with enough inspiration that at least 25% of the attendees go home and actually implement what they learned.
The implementation is where the attendees will earn their conference dollars back. When people consider where they spend that money the next year, they will opt for the conference that gave them the most value for their business, measured in dollars generated by executing on what they learned, not necessarily the one that offered the most Instagrammable moments.
The days of signing up for conferences because of FOMO are coming to an end. Economists are forecasting that another recession will hit mid-to-late 2019, and people have already begun to tighten their wallets. Wedding pros will spend their time and money at events that are both enjoyable and offer them a true ROI from a business perspective.
This means that if you're a speaker, your competition will also get more intense as conference producers look for people that don't just glam up a lineup, but bring financial results by driving repeat attendees.
Fortunately, getting people to remember what you said long enough to implement it is funny business. Literally.
If one of your goals from giving a talk is to have people learn something, it's best to make them laugh. Scientific studies have been done on this: when people laugh during a presentation, they remember more of what was said. When people remember what you said, they are more likely to implement your advice and insights once they're back in their office.
There’s actually a proven formula you can use: you want people to laugh at least once every seven minutes. So for a 30 minute presentation, you'll tell four jokes or share four insights in a funny way — this can include videos.
I personally follow the seven minute rule for larger laughs and then, because I have a dry sense of humor, tend to sprinkle “throw away comments” in between. These tend to be less broad and some people in the room will get them and some won’t. A word of caution here: be very careful with sarcasm. Even if it's clear to you that you're being sarcastic, it doesn't always translate well in large group settings and often comes across as arrogant instead.
Laughter is also bonding. It makes the people in the room feel like they’re in something together. It gives them a sense that the conference fostered community. This is good both for them, and of course for the conference producer, as a sense of community and belonging causes people to come back.
Selfishly, it also feels good for you as a speaker. When you’re on stage, it’s motivating to hear people laughing because it shows audience interaction and helps remind you that at least some of what you’re saying is landing.
Here are two quick tips for writing humorous content:
- Know who is in the room. Go beyond "wedding pros." Ask for the attendee list ahead of time and do some research. Something funny to people working in the wed tech start-up scene (currently the fastest growing segment of the wedding industry) will not necessarily be funny to a group of caterers or stationery designers.
- Never, ever plagiarize jokes. Do not copy a joke from Twitter or Instagram. People make a living from joke writing, especially comedians who use Twitter as a way to get in front of TV showrunners and hiring managers. Stealing a joke is no different than someone stealing your photo or knocking off your design and taking credit for it. Copyright and good manners still apply, even if it's just 280 characters.
Laughter is the best medicine. It's also — assuming the rest of your content is good — one of the best ways to get hired again.
The original version of this post was published January 2015.