Great Technical Writing: The Two-edged Sword Of Reader Experience

Great Technical Writing: The Two-edged Sword Of Reader Experience

Overview

When we write User Documents we rely on our Reader’s/User’s experience to simplify our work. This can cause problems for the Reader. This article will discuss the effects of Reader experience and how to minimize the negative effects of incompatible experience, and how to handle the writer’s assumptions about the Reader.

Writer’s Benefits: Relying on Reader Experience

When we write, we rely on our Reader’s experience to give us a "starting point" for our User Document. Often we make hidden assumptions about our Reader’s experience.

Here are some examples where relying on our Reader’s experience makes things easy (and causes problems) for us as writers:

Example: Using a Computer’s Mouse

In writing User Documentation for Graphical User Interface-based computer products (such as the Windows or Mac User interface), we assume that the the Reader knows how to use a mouse to click on items, drag, etc. This saves much background writing.

Example: Cooking: How to Measure Ingredients; Terms

Cook books save space by (usually correctly) assuming that a Reader can perform basic cooking operations (such as measuring ingredients), and terms (such as puree or slice).

Example: Common Acronyms

We rely on "common" acronyms such as AM and PM to simplify our writing lives. However, many Readers use a 24 hour clock, and thus AM and PM are meaningless to them.

Beware of any acronyms that you assume that your Reader knows. It is best to define acronyms in line (perhaps in parentheses) when they are first presented in that part of the User Document.

You cannot define them only the first time they appear in the User Document. This assumes — incorrectly — that Users read your User Document from start to finish.

Problems Writers Cause When Assuming User Experience

Our assumptions as writers can get us into trouble.

Example: Unfamiliar Words

Here’s a gardening example: Acme’s (a fictitious company) Illustrated Guide to Gardening in Canada (1979) makes an incorrect assumption about its Readers:

In one of their definitions they use a term, "the axil of a leaf" to define another term. "Axil of a leaf" is not listed in the book’s index, and there is no glossary in the book. Clearly this book assumes that the Reader understands the term "the axil of a leaf." I don’t, and am therefore unhappy with the presentation.

Solution: Provide a glossary of gardening terms or a reference to a page in the book where the term is defined.

Example: Assuming Students’ Experience

Here is an example where an (unstated) assumption by a training company rendered one of their courses useless.

In order to do the exercises in a computer programming course, students had to be able to use an editor (a simple word processor) to program the system. The only editor available on the course machines was a UNIX editor known as vi.

Unfortunately, the students were not told that they needed to use the vi editor. The course presenters assumed that the students knew vi. The students did not, and they spent half the course time trying to learn and deal with vi.

The hidden assumption by the training company resulted in a failed learning experience (the students never needed to use vi again). It wasted two days of the four-day course time.

Don’t Present Assumptions in a Sneaky Way

If the training company had said that, "We train on UNIX systems," then they leave a way out for themselves when they disappoint students who do not know the vi editor. When confronted, the company could respond with, "We told you it was a UNIX system. You should know that vi is the editor available on that system."

This sneaky statement of the assumption is foolish. It will result in a lose-lose situation.

The Bottom Line

As writers, we to make assumptions about our Reader’s experience. However, if you make assumptions, then make sure that you tell the Reader what you assume about him/her.

Think about the assumptions that you make about your Reader. Are these assumptions valid (that is, can you really expect your Readers to meet your assumptions)? If there is any doubt in your mind, include information explaining the terms and procedures that you assume.

Make sure that when you state assumptions, that you present them in a way that the Reader (student) can understand what the assumption means to them. Don’t be sneaky about presenting the assumptions.

User Experience Can Cause Trouble for Writers

Your Reader’s experience can cause confusion. Here are some examples:

Example: Shampoo/Conditioner Product

One of my favorite examples is a combined hair shampoo and conditioner product. If a User has experience with the separate products, then their experience is to:

* Shampoo: Wet thenhair. Massage shampoo into the hair, then rinse it out.
* Conditioner: Wash the hair. Massage conditioner into the wet hair, leave in the hair for two or three minutes, then rinse it out.

The problem arises with the combined product. Should the User leave the product in the hair for two or three minutes (as done with the conditioner), or rinse it immediately (as done with the shampoo)?

The User Document (product label) for a combined shampoo-conditioner should tell the User how to use the two-in-one product. Most such labels do not.

Example: Words Used in Unexpected Ways

Your writing can set the expectations of the Reader, resulting in confusion when words are used unexpectedly.

An article in the Technology Section (of a newspaper on June 10, 2004, page B14) described, "How the little guy can back up computer data". The article was about computers. When I came to the sentence: "Let’s face it: backups are boring and a hassle to boot." I wondered about the phrase "to boot."

In computer jargon, "boot" is the process where the computer starts up ("lifts itself by its bootstraps"…by a program originally called a "bootstrap loader"). Does the author’s quote about "hassle to boot" mean that if I do backups, then my computer will be slower ("boring") and require more work from me to start up ("hassle to boot")?

The use of the phrase "to boot" is inappropriate in this article, given that "to boot" has multiple meanings. The author used it as slang for "in addition to." Since the article was about computers, I thought of the computer meaning of "to boot." The sentence would be less confusing if the author left out "to boot," as: "Let’s face it: backups are boring and a hassle." We’ll return to this example shortly.

Example: Functional Fixedness

An object’s function is fixed in a person’s mind. For example, a hammer’s function is to pound things. Experiments have demonstrated that people have a hard time using a hammer for an unusual function, such as a paperweight, a prop, or a lever. This is called functional fixedness.

Functional fixedness can limit the usefulness of your product. Your User Document should attempt to overcome functional fixedness. Perhaps this example will show how critical I am of User Documents.

I have a wrist global positioning satellite (GPS) device that keeps track of my long walks. Sweaters and heavy coats, needed for walking in the winter, make it difficult to wear the GPS device on the wrist. But it is a WRIST device. Functional fixedness arises, causing me struggle to use the GPS on my wrist. But it turns out that the GPS works well when used in a pocket.

The GPS User Document should mention this (obvious?) capability, thus reducing the functional fixedness associated with the WRIST GPS. In my defense: I am not sure that putting the wrist GPS in a pocket is more obvious than using a hammer as a paperweight.

Example: Humor

Humor relies on:

. a subtle knowledge of the language (for example a pun)
. or a knowledge of an event (perhaps a current event or entertainment event)

on which the humor is based. Here’s an example, from an old joke:

"You’re so funny, you should be on a stage. There’s one leaving in 15 minutes."

This joke relies on the Reader’s knowing the two meanings of "stage": (1) a place for performing, and (2) transportation used in the western United States in the 1800′s. Most Readers might not know the second meaning, rendering the humor a confusing waste of words.

Earlier we examined the sentence: "Let’s face it: backups are boring and a hassle to boot." The author used the phrase "to boot" as some form of folksy talk or humor. It confused the Reader.

Eliminate Humor from Your User Document

. Humor will only confuse Users who do not understand it.
. Humor is difficult, if not impossible, to translate into other languages.

I suggest that you use a writing style that is informal and conversational, but with no attempts at humor. Remove attempts at humor when you review and revise your writing.

If you want to write humor, do it elsewhere (you should be on a stage). User Documents are no place to practice your humor.

The Bottom Line

Assumptions

Be careful about what you assume about your Reader. When in doubt whether or not a Reader knows something:

. State your assumptions about your Reader
State the assumptions in a way that the Reader can relate to
. When in doubt, add the information that you assume, or
. Tell your Reader where to find the assumed information
By providing or pointing to this assumed information, you increase your audience

Readers’ Experience

Be aware of how your Reader’s experience influences how he/she interprets your User Document or uses your product. If necessary add material to your User Document to counter your Reader’s incompatible experience.

Similarity Breeds Comedy

Similarity Breeds Comedy

My last piece I talked about associating or pairing up opposites to produce funny ideas. Now we associate SIMILARITY or CONGRUITY; by puting the same or similar objects, person or animals together to engender laughter.
One good example is a pair of identical twins or two person wearing the same clothes. They naturally appear "odd" or "funny" to others. People will stare, giggle or whisper some cheeky or unkind remarks uder their breath. It’s a very normal response.
For cartoonists, this association of similarity can spawn lots of funny doodles. They can draw a person looking like an animal or two unrelated objects which are visually alike. The most popular is the garden hose partly hidden by the foliage and mistaken as a snake.
Caricature is a visual art form that employs the technique of congruity. It doesn’t look exactly like the actual person being drawn, but just a distorted or an exaggerated impression of the person and it looks kind of funny, doesn’t it?
Aside from visual art form, many verbal humor derives from this technique too. The most obvious form of verbal humor is the puns. A pun is a play on words, usually humorous based on several meanings of one word, or a similarity of meanings between words that are pronounced the same or the different in meanings between two words pronounced the same and spelled somewhat similarly. Following closely is another form verbal humor, called the double entendres. It can be a word or an expression having a double meaning, especially the second meaning is risque.
So, similarity breeds not only contempt, but comedy too!

Fun Ideas For The Holidays

Fun Ideas For The Holidays

The holiday season is a great time to share some smiles and laughs! And holiday humor helps you develop a well-tuned humor radar.
1. Have a humorous gift exchange at your holiday party. This works great if you have a healthy humor climate where people use humor in a positive way.
2. Just before the holidays, encourage people to bring some of their favorite ethnic holiday treats to work or one of your group meetings. Coming from a Norwegian background, I’d bring rosettes, fatigmand and lefse.
3. Decorate a tree for the holidays with a humorous flair. For example, a car dealership could decorate a tree using car parts. If you travel a lot, collect fun trinkets from your trips to brighten your tree.
4. Save the holiday cards you receive this year and "recycle" them next year. Just cross out the sender’s signature, sign your name, and mail it back to the person who gave it to you. You’ll start a humorous tradition. I do not recommend sharing this humorous exchange with everyone you get a card from. Be selective!
5. Look for opportunities to take a funny photo of yourself, your staff, or your family. Then use it on a photo holiday greeting card. I’ve sent a photo card sharing my Halloween costume as a power-nerd.
6. Create your own customized gift wrap. For example, on a large-sheet photo copier you could make personalized wrapping paper decorated with family photos or pictures from your office.
7. Wrap a holiday gift in a "nest of boxes" (a small box in a larger box, in a larger box, etc). When the large box is opened by the recipient, the box inside is addressed to someone else. And the next box is addressed to someone else! The final box indicates who really receives the gift; a "musical chairs" style of gift exchange. A nice touch is to give a gift in the final box that can be enjoyed by the whole group. For example, in a family situation, the final box may have Mom’s name on it, but contain a trip to Disneyland for the whole family. This is fun because everyone shared in opening the gift.
8. Make extra effort to guarantee that your holiday party is FUN. People won’t remember a chicken dinner a year from now. But they’ll always remember when they’ve had a great time and spent the evening laughing together. Your investment making sure the event is entertaining gives you great returns in goodwill and valuable experience in the planning process.
9. Assign a committee to prepare some holiday fun. Write a script filled with humor about your company and people you work with. Write a song parody of one of your favorite holiday tunes which is a tribute to your staff. Present it at a holiday party, or post it on a bulletin board in your office.
10. Remember the true sprit of the holidays. Tis the season to be jolly! Decorate your face with a smile and share it with others.

Always Leave Them Laughing

Always Leave Them Laughing

One of the major objectives of any trade show exhibit is to create a lasting impression in the attendee’s mind. After all, if a visitor can’t remember you, how can he give you his business? You also want to create a positive impression, and unfortunately, that’s harder to do than the negative equivalent.
Which brings us to humor. People love to laugh – and they like other people to laugh with them. Witness the almost constant flood of jokes and cartoons that flit across the internet: Proof that humor cannot be stopped. You’ll often find that people go out of their way to remember great jokes, where they’ll never, ever stop to jot down the details of an eye-catching graphic. This makes humor an invaluable marketing tool -–if you can make it serve your corporate objectives.
Some of you are dismissing this idea out of hand. “There’s nothing funny about my product!” I can hear you saying. Well, what’s funny about rental cars? Beer? Car insurance? None of these items are inheriently funny, yet companies in all three sectors have effectively used humor to fix their products in the public eye.
It is important to remember that your trade show campaign should be fully integrated into your marketing plan as a whole. If you are using humor in your television and print media, bring it to the show floor. However, if you are known as a stoic and conservative company, playing for laughs at the convention center will fall flat. Consistency in corporate image is key.
What can we learn from companies that have successfully used humor? There are four key lessons.
Avis Rental Cars “We try harder” campaign centers on humorous scenarios highlighting what would happen if a rental car company wasn’t willing to go the extra mile. They film ridiculous situations, such as an attendant handing out books to customers waiting in long lines, and contrast them with the bright, efficient service a customer could expect from their company. It gets a chuckle – but you’d better believe that when a weary traveler is eyeing the rental car company kiosks at the airport, an image of that book-toting attendant flashes through his mind.
Key #1: Exaggerate the norm.
Contrast exaggerated examples of industry ‘norms’ with how your company excels. A restaurant chain that serves large portions could highlight the much smaller servings to be had at the competitor’s. Wendy’s did this very effectively with the “Where’s The Beef?” campaign in the Eighties. Be careful not to explicitly or implicity identify your competitors, or you’ll be hearing from some very angry lawyers.
Remember the Budwiser frogs? How about the lizards? Or the donkey that wanted to be a Clydesdale? Each of these campaigns was phenomenonally successful, yet only tangentially related to the product at hand. Each approach was slightly different. Frogs croaking Bud – wis – er can be inheriently funny, especially if you’ve already had a few brews yourself. It also appealed to the coveted young drinker demographic, as studies have shown an intense brand loyalty among drinkers, generally established in the early twenties. The lizard campaign capitalized on the wry, sarcastic humor enjoyed by Budwiser’s target audience. The donkey campaign tied into the traditional Clydesdale imagery, a strong if staid marketing tool.
Key #2: Know your target audience.
Jokes that appeal to one demographic may not work with another. Gen Y shoppers have especially sharp funny bones, and may appreciate dry wit. Tie in your classic marketing efforts whenever possible.
Geico and AFLAC have recently done very well with their talking animal ads. By using the same animals over and over to reinforce the marketing message – after all, that poor duck could surely use some disability insurance of his own by now! – both companies have created a brand awareness second to none. Ask the random person to identify a disability insurance company, and chances are that they’ll tell you about AFLAC. Ask them about another disability insurance company, and you’ll be lucky if they can name even one.
Key #3: Create a character.
Create a ‘character’ as part of your brand image. This character should show up EVERYWHERE – including television commercials, on the literature you distribute at the show, in your signage and graphics, and potentially as stuffed animals. The Serta Sheep toys have taken on a life of their own, and each and every one of them goes out with the company name blazoned on the side. That’s humorous marketing at work. Consumers buy these secondary products because of the laugh-factor, and bring a constant advertisement into their home. The influence on subsequent purchasing decisions may be minor, but it is in fact there.
Humor can be a great way to convey your marketing message. Geico has done this very well with the “I saved money on my car insurance by switching to Geico!” series of commercials. Exercise equipment salesmen, politicians, animated characters – all have been pressed into service to recite those ten words. Using different settings keeps the audience engaged, while constant repitition drives the message home.
Key #4: Repetition counts.
Remember, consumers need to hear a message at least six times before they’ll recall it easily. The trick is to keep the presentation fresh while the message remains constant.
Comedians world-wide will tell you that humor is a tough business. It’s hard to tell what will make one person laugh and another roll their eyes in disgust. However, if a joke falls flat for a comedian, they simply move on to the next joke and keep moving. If you’ve invested tons of time and money in your humor campaign, you need to know these three things:
1. It must be funny. Test the campaign on objective people. Lots of objective people. If the majority laugh, you’re golden. However, if less than half the people get the joke, drop it.
2. It must be quick. There are great funny jokes that take half an hour to tell. That’s nice. Inflict them on your relatives or when you’ve got a whole room full of trapped subordinates. Customers aren’t going to give you that much of their time. You’ve got half a minute tops to get them laughing.
3. It must reflect well on your company. Ethnic, racial, sexual, and gender based humor has absolutely no place in the corporate world. Perceived slurs – even if they are made in the guise of a joke – will travel around the world as fast as the internet can move, and suddenly your company will have all kinds of attention they don’t want.
Laughing is a lot of hard work, isn’t it? But once you’ve found the right balance, you’ll have an advertising campaign that will draw the crowds into your exhibit – and more importantly, toward buying your products and services.

How to Increase Romance with Humor

How to Increase Romance with Humor

Ask any single adult what qualities he or she wants in a spouse or partner, and one of the first answers is always “a sense of humor.” Yet relationships and most marriages easily lose the early excitement after living together for several years.
Healthy relationships require laughter. Sex is better; everything is better sprinkled with laughter, be it a chuckle, a belly laugh, or an amused smile.
Humor also motivates better results without resentment. For example, instead of nagging your loved one for leaving dirty clothes on the floor or dishes in the sink, write a silly poem and stick it on the bathroom mirror.
Follow one important groundrule: humor should never belittle another person or be at the other person’s expense. Here are a few ideas of how to inject more humor into the special relationship you want to last forever.
Ask your spouse to post a list of outrageous birthday wishes. (You do the same.)
Use travel time on trips to recall fun/ funny incidents about your lives together.
Create awards (or improvise a medal on a fancy ribbon) to present when the spouse overcomes a touch challenge.
Select each other’s underwear!
Together, list the people who make you both laugh the most, and see them more often. Do the same with movies.
Go to lunch and exchange lists of small, daily pleasures.
Give each other small or silly treats.
Create a list of offbeat occasions for giving silly treats.
Go away for a weekend. Explore.
Take on volunteer opportunities together. Try it once, at least.
Go where others are having fun.
Select perfume or cologne for each other…(pick one for your sweetheart that drives YOU crazy!)
Identify your favorite, edible treats from your childhood then center a date around eating it.
Create a scavenger hunt for each other…hiding clues with a present at the end. Photograph the process.
Go bowling or play putt-putt golf, and whisper sexy secrets in the middle of the game.
Practice giving each other very specific compliments on acts of love or service.
Schedule dates in bookstores. Share with each other what delights you. End with a dessert or ice cream.
Flirt with each other at parties or other social events. Make eye contact, and compliment each other publicly.
Order take out and announce a “feed each other” meal. No cheating.
Schedule dates at the fair, circus, zoo, or theme park. Do this at least once a year. Be sure to eat some junk food from your childhood while you are there.
Have a caricature drawn of the two of you…frame it.
Dress up in costumes and take pictures…even if it’s just headgear. Make a scrapbook of these.
Look at each other’s high school annual together… or family album.
Joel Goodman, founder of The Humor Project, reminds us that, “laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Remember this with daily doses, weekly sprinkles, and monthly dollops and your relationship will flourish.

Laughter and your health

Laughter and your health

Jokes and humor for your health
When thinking about alternative medicine, most people picture plants, crystals, needles, maybe some bugs and leeches, but few realize that jokes, humor and comedy are truly medicines, in their own right. It has long been established that optimists live longer than pessimists, but now there is some hard evidence that people with a better sense of humor also have longer and healthier lives. Your "stay healthy" plan should include a joke and a 20-minute comedy show, to go with the broccoli and carrots.
There are now various associations and physicians specialized in the so-called therapeutic humor, who are still investigating the roles of laughter in our lives. Perhaps the most obvious of these roles is that related to the social life – jokes often allow people to connect and to bond, and sharing a good laughter is a good method to integrate in a team, to get along with the coworkers, neighbors and so on. This function is vital from the point of view of mental health, since it reduces loneliness and, with it, depression and other problems associated with it. You don’t have to be trained in stand-up comedy in order to say something funny, sometimes all you need is a change of perspective or the courage to make fun at your own expense.
Humor is an invaluable asset in crisis situations, when it helps us calm down and reduce the levels of stress (and all the negative effects stress has on health). It is often considered that, among patients with very severe diseases, those with an upbeat approach, who are capable of making jokes about their situations, have the best chances to defeat the illness. So far, there have been no scientific studies to prove this, but the patients themselves report feeling better after joining an activity with humorous potential, even if it’s just watching a comedy show together with some friends or with other patients.
Recent researches suggest that laughter influences more than our mental framework, it actually has a positive effect on the physical aspect as well. It has been widely accepted, for some time, that laughter increases the pain resistance level, but the theory is still not proven. In fact, very few studies have yet been made about the relation between comedy and health, but those existing seem to indicate that a good joke may lower the blood pressure, improve memory and cognitive functions and boost the immune system. Moreover, these results are not short-term only: it seems that a good sense of humor may protect you against heart diseases and alter your biochemical state to a level where the organism produces more antibodies. The lack of research in the field is due to the fact that people have always assumed that laughter is good for your health (along with an apple a day and a breath of fresh air), but little has been done to analyze this in depth.
There is also a "bad" humor (same as there is good cholesterol and bad cholesterol). This category includes the approach that makes people feel miserable about themselves, or angry, upset and vengeful, as well as the skeptic and cynic attitude, which is often the front for deep depression and indifference. Jokes directed at other people are also "bad" humor, along with ethnic, racial and sexist jokes, which are born out of frustration, not out of optimism and cheerfulness. Also, people who often make fun of themselves hide a low self esteem, which is only worsened with every funny joke they invent (there is a good reason why clowns and successful comedy actors are often perceived as sad and depressed in their real lives).
If you decide to use laughter as a therapeutic method, the first obvious issue is that there are no harmful side effects, and you’ve got nothing to lose. The second issue is that you can actually improve your sense of humor in time, same as any other skill or ability, by constant training and exposure to jokes and comedy. Next time you go to the movies, buy a ticket for a comedy, no matter how dumb the poster looks. When you read the paper, don’t forget to check out their daily cartoon too. Spend ten minutes every day reading jokes, and, when you find some you like, share them with your friends. (And when your boss catches you reading jokes instead of working, tell him it’s just therapy, he can’t stop your from taking your medication at work, right?) Last but not least, try to find the funny side of the small things that happen every day around you – there is always something absurd or plain stupid going on right near you, which may provide five minutes of good laugher, which, in turn, may unblock some arteries and keep the heart attack far away.

Jokes and Riddles – How To Write Them

Jokes and Riddles – How To Write Them

Just listening to or reading jokes and riddles may "wake up" your brain, but it is creating them that really exercises your brainpower. The process requires you to use both logical and lateral thinking skills. How do you do it, then?

Jokes and riddle don’t come to mind randomly. In fact, after watching how many comedians create their routines, I am convinced that they use what I call "humor algorithms," even if they do so unconsciously. You can learn to do the same, but consciously, and as an interesting brain exercise.

<b>Joke And Riddle Algorithms</b>

One systematic and creative humor algorithm involves starting with a word or a subject, and then fitting it into various joke and riddle "types." For an example, I’ll start with "chair." (I really am doing this as I write, so forgive the weak humor that is sure to result.)

The first thing I do is systematically think of all the types of chairs I can, and write them down. After that, I write down a few types of jokes, such as "puns," "misdirection," "differences," and "similarities." As I do this, it occurs to me that an electric chair might have the most potential for humor (all serious things do). Here is what I could come up with in thirteen minutes:

<b>Differences</b>: What is the difference between a toilet and a chair? I’m sorry, but if you don’t know, I can’t invite you over to my house!

<b>Misdirection</b>: Why did Charlie hate the chair they gave him for his birthday? Because they gave him the electric chair!

<b>Similarities</b>: What does my dog have in common with a chair? He has four legs and an IQ of zero.

<b>Pun</b>: Why did the customer at the motor vehicles department start rearranging seats after waiting for hours? Because he was the "chair-man of the bored."

Writing humor isn’t necessarily easy, but it is great brain exercise. Whether it is easy or not, by using these "algorithms," anyone can write jokes and riddles. Why not give it a try?

Humor in Advertising

Humor in Advertising

Many of the most memorable ad campaigns around tend to be funny. Advertisers use this strategy to attract customers to their product. Audiences like to be entertained, but not pitched. People will pay more attention to a humorous commercial than a factual or serious one, opening themselves up to be influenced. The key to funny advertising is assuring the humor is appropriate to both product and customer. The balance between funny and obnoxious can often be delicate; and a marketer must be certain the positive effects outweigh the negative before an advertisement can be introduced.
The best products to sell using humor tend to be those that consumers have to think the least about. Products that are relatively inexpensive, and often consumable, can be represented without providing a lot of facts, and that’s where there’s room for humor. Candy, food, alcohol, tobacco and toys/entertainment related products have proven to benefit the most from humor in their campaigns. One of the most important things to keep in mind is relevance to the product. An example of an extremely successful humorous campaign is the series of “Yo Quiero Taco Bell” commercials. The star, a tiny talking Chihuahua who is passionate about his Taco Bell got people repeating the company’s name across the country. The repetition of the company name and the actual content of the commercial reinforce the message in a relevant manner. Taco Bell saw a substantial rise in sales and their own mascot became a pop icon.
Another point to consider when using humor in advertising is that different things are funny to different people. A commercial that may leave one person gripping their sides from laughter may leave a bad taste in another’s mouth. The target market must always be considered. What’s funny in a client presentation may not be funny on an airplane, at a country club or in a hospital. An example of a recent humorous product introduction is Mike’s Hard Lemonade. These commercials feature over exaggerated and comical violence with the underlining message that no one’s day is hard enough to pass up a Mike’s. It failed, ranking as one of the year’s most hated campaigns by both men and woman according to 2002’s Ad Track, a consumer survey. The series of commercials are aimed at 21-29 year old males and the repetition of comical violence (such as a construction worker being impaled on the job and a lumberjack cutting off his own foot) gets less and less funny every time it’s viewed. Eventually the joke just wore out and the commercial became annoying and offensive.
Humor in advertising tends to improve brand recognition, but does not improve product recall, message credibility, or buying intentions. In other words, consumers may be familiar with and have good feelings towards the product, but their purchasing decisions will probably not be affected. One of the major keys to a successful humorous campaign is variety, once a commercial starts to wear out there’s no saving it without some variation on the concept. Humorous campaigns are often expensive because they have to be constantly changed. Advertisers must remember that while making the customer laugh, they have to keep things interesting, because old jokes die along with their products.

Ten Fun Ways to Liven up Any Presentation

Ten Fun Ways to Liven up Any Presentation

Most of us would agree that having humor in our lives increases rapport, strengthens our relationships and overcomes communication barriers. People who work in a positive, often playful environment are more likely to stay. Productivity and creativity increase while stress is reduced. We just feel better after a good laugh. Think funny!
1. Open with a humorous story. . I remember the time the lights when out and I fell off the stage. I wasn’t hurt and quickly said, Now I will take questions from the floor. I’m at my best when taking questions in the dark. Before you can be funny, you must learn to see funny. Find the humor around you, in your life every day. The lady who takes an aisle seat rather tan sit next to the window . . . doesn’t want to mess up her hair. Practice telling the story out loud, and cut out any parts that aren’t crucial. As Shakespeare so wisely said, "Brevity is the soul of wit."
2. Use props (candy bars, hats, funny faces, etc.) Props can be used as a metaphor or an analogy for a point you are introducing. They get your creative juices working while providing an anchor for your audience to focus on.
3. Cartoons use your own or others a picture saves a 1000 words. Put cartoons on an overhead or use as part of a PowerPoint presentation.
4. Humor – should be relevant to your topic. Tom Peters said, I deeply believe in humor; not in jokes. Humor is spectacular. Humor relieves anxiety and tension, serves as outlet for hostility and anger, and provides a healthy escape from reality. It lightens heaviness related to critical illness, trauma, disfigurement, and death. It comes as no surprise that many people are utilizing humor to deal with the trying times. But is the humor timely? Is it appropriate?
Do not use ethnic, racist, political or religious jokes. Include a joke that helps bring back the attention of the audience or as a way to lighten up your remarks. We all can use a good laugh from a well timed, funny joke.
5. Self effacing humor- it is better to admit you made a mistake than to admit that you are one. One of my lines as a mother of five is: For someone who isn’t Catholic, I sure did my share for the pope! Phyllis Diller is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the most laughs per minute. A laugh is measured by:
5 points if everyone is laughing and applauding
4 points if everyone is laughing and there’s a smattering of applause
3 points if everyone laughs but there’s no applause
2 points if some people are laughing
1 point for a titter or giggle
6.Mime- Marcel Marceau makes us laugh and moves us. Charlie Chaplin was an all time great without using the spoken word.
7.Move Your Body Try lifting your nose, look off to the side, jut out the bottom of your jaw, and notice how you become arrogant or aloof, Take a wide stance, shift your hips forward, and now you’ve just gained 50 pounds. The use of body movements will help to visually enhance your remarks.
8.Repetitive oral recitation- (repeat after me, Remember, if you can see funny, you can be funny. Repeat a particular sentence throughout your presentation to encourage audience retention.
9. Use taped music for a stretch break. Get the audience to sing a funny song. Pass out words to a song. Lighten up your attendees have some fun and your audience retention will increase. Don’t be afraid to be theatrical or silly. It’s why we pay actors the big bucks; and your audiences won’t forget you. Be outrageous. It’s the only place that isn’t crowded.
10. Group exercise a fun way to conclude your presentation is to use a group exercise. Use the football huddle to get the group to repeat a cheer or an affirmation to take some action.

Special Delivery! Tips for Improving Your Humor

Special Delivery! Tips for Improving Your Humor

Delivering humorous speeches involves a lot more than simply having good material. Take some time to incorporate these tips into your presentations and watch the fun and laughter factors rise.
In Fun
Sigmund Freud wrote: "The most favorable condition for comic pleasure is a generally happy disposition in which one is in the mood for laughter."
This concept is called "in fun." If you want your audience to laugh, they must be in fun. You, the speaker, must be in fun. The emcee or program coordinator must be in fun. The whole program should be designed in fun. Do anything you can to be sure your audience knows that it’s OK to laugh.
Time Of Day
The first speaker of the day for an early morning program should not expect hearty laughter. People are not conditioned to laugh a great deal in the early morning. Many won’t even be awake yet. Use more information and less humor. It’s important for you to know when not to expect hearty laughter. It would be a waste of time to use your best material at a time when laughter normally wouldn’t be expected. The poor response also brings your energy level down. Many consider brunch and lunch to be the best times of day to expect a responsive audience. In the afternoon people are starting to get tired so don’t expect laughter to be as intense.
Male/Female Makeup of Audience
All-female audiences tend to laugh more easily and louder than all-male audiences. Audiences that consist of more than 50 percent women are good too. The presence of the females provides a good buffer and makes it OK for the "big-ego" men to laugh.
Size
No, I’m not talking about how much you weigh today. I’m saying that the size of your audience has a direct effect on the types of humor which are most appropriate. Members of small business groups tend to be too self-conscious to laugh much. Use short one-liners. Don’t use any long stories or jokes. In larger groups it’s OK to stretch to jokes and short stories.
Pre-Program Research
The more you know about your audience, the better able you will be to pick the humor that will get the greatest response. Your research before the program will also allow you to uncover the group’s inside humor.
Seating
The best seating arrangement for laughter is semicircular theater style. When audience members are seated close together on a curve, they can look to their left or right and see the faces of each person in the row. This togetherness allows laughter to pass immediately from one person to the other. Contact NSA member and seating expert Paul Radde for advanced seating information.
Choose Funnier Words
Your word choice can be the key to creating a successful witty line or a dud. In particular, words with the "K" sound in them are funny. Cucumber is funnier than mushroom. Cupcake is funnier than pastry. Turkey is a funnier word than loser.
Deliver The Punch
Some humorists will disagree, but I say deliver your punch line to one person and make sure that person is going to laugh. You must punch the line out a little harder and with a slightly different voice than the rest of the joke. Lean into the microphone and say it louder and more clearly than you said the setup lines. If the audience does not hear the punch line, they aren’t going to laugh.
Deliver the punch line to a person you know will laugh, so that others will be positively influenced to laugh. How do you know if a person will laugh or not? Pay attention to those who have been laughing, those nodding their heads in agreement with you during the program, and those you identified before the program.
Pause
Pausing just before and just after your punch line gives the audience a chance to "get" the humor and laugh. Absolutely do not continue to talk when laughter is expected. If you do, you will "step on" your laughter and squelch it quickly.
Make It Relevant
If you make all your attempts at humor relevant to your presentation, you get an automatic excuse from your mother if your humor is not all that funny. If your humor is received as funny, so much the better; but if it isn’t, at least you made your point. Audiences will be much more tolerant if the humor ties into the subject at hand. Use this formula:
A. Make your point.
B. Illustrate your point with something funny.
C. Restate your point.
Vary The Types
The above formula would get boring and redundant rather quickly if you used the exact same type of humor every time for part B. By varying the type of humor in B, you can go on virtually forever, and no one will recognize that you are using a formula. I have identified more than 34 different types of humor to plug into the formula. You could use one liners, jokes, humorous props, funny stories, magic, cartoons or other funny visuals.
Rule Of Three
One of the most pervasive principles in the construction of humorous situations is the "Rule of Three." You will see it used over and over because it’s simple, it’s powerful, and it works. (See, I just used it there in a non-funny situation.) Most of the time in humor the Rule of Three is used in the following fashion: The first comment names the topic, the second sets a pattern, and the third unexpectedly switches the pattern, making it funny. Here’s an example from a brochure advertising my seminars:
In the "How to Get There" section
From Washington, D.C., take Route 50.
From Baltimore, Md., take Route 95.
From Bangkok, Thailand, board Thai Airways.
Look Funnier
I have been accused of being too "corporate-looking¡¨ to be funny. When I’m being funny, I use facial expressions, odd body angles and bizarre comments and props to make up for my "normal" look. Those of you that have obvious physical characteristics that can be used in teasing yourself have an advantage. People love characters who are not afraid of teasing themselves. You can enhance the funny look with fun patterns and colors on ties and dresses, hats and funny glasses.
Bombproof Your Talks
Are you afraid of bombing when you get up in front of a group? You don’t have to be. With proper material selection, a few prepared comments in case of unexpected problems and attention to time, worries about bombing can be virtually eliminated. As in tip above, make sure your material is relevant to your topic, and keep it short. The longer a piece of humor is, the funnier it better be.
A. Saver Lines
Saver Lines are what you say when your supposedly humorous statement does not get a laugh. You shouldn’t be ashamed to use saver lines. The top comedians in the world need them and some purposely make mistakes so they can get a laugh from the saver line. Johnny Carson was an expert at this. After a poor response to a joke, he would say a comically insulting line like, "This is the kind of crowd that would watch Bambi through a sniper scope." Don’t overdo the saver lines. If you have to use too many, your material must be pretty bad.
B. Pre-Planned Ad-Libs
Another way to keep from bombing is to "expect the unexpected." Canned or pre-planned ad-libs are pre-written responses to unexpected happenings or mistakes that occur during a presentation, i.e., the microphone squeals, the projection bulb burns out, you say the wrong thing, etc. Prepared ad-libs actually do more than just save you. They make you look tremendously polished. Here’s the continuum: A bad presenter will stammer around when a problem occurs. A ZZZZZs presenter will say nothing and try to ignore the problem. A great Wake ‘em Up presenter will make a witty comment that appears to be spontaneous. The audience believes you are originating humor on the spot. You are just quickly recalling pre-planned responses.
Microphone Squeals
This is the portion of my presentation where I do my elephant impression.
Projector Light Burns Out
This is the first time I have been brighter than my equipment.
Highlighter Runs Out Of Ink I’m out of ink. I’ll be back in a wink. (remember . . . "k" words are funny)
Think Diversity
Our audiences are more ethnically diverse than ever before, so it’s crucial to watch your political correctness and eliminate sexist language from your presentation. Not only is it easy to offend, which will turn your audience off completely, easily understandable word choice is more critical than ever to ensure that your audience members "get" the humor. When speaking across cultural lines, especially, visual humor such as magic, cartoons and comic strips are the most readily understood.