What a treat it is hanging with my writer peeps at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop here in Dayton, Ohio.

For those of you would like to be here and can’t . . . here’s a few of the most intriguing highlights.

1. Loretta LaRoche (star of many PBS Specials including Relax, You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left) is often asked “What do you think we should do about stress?” Her response? “Shut up.”

2. Nettie Hartsock – http://www.nettiehartsock.com/ – shared dozens of valuable, “can-use-that-today” tips in her session “Overwebbed; Help, I’ve Had a Social Media Meltdown and Can’t Tweet Up.”

3. Gail Collins, first woman ever appointed editor of the NY Times editorial page said, “I’ve been to a dozen inauguration addresses, and I remember Erma Bombeck’s ‘cookie tin’ column more than I do anything from them.”

4. Craig Wilson, The Last Word columnist from USA Today who is read by millions of readers across the country every Wednesday suggested we “Write as if you’re talking to your best friend.” And when asked where he finds material after producing columns week after week, year after year, he said, “Walking my dog. It’s amazing what you find out there.”

Why is Erma Bombeck so enduringly, universally relatable?

Just read this paragraph and notice the craft.

“When I took stock of myself, sitting there in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, with three unplanned chidlren, a car that didn’t run and a toliet that did – and a mother-in-law who called me ‘Edna’ – I wondered what I had that was unique, and ironically enough, I discovered something. I was ordinary, painfully middle-of-the-road, no frills, bare-boned, Midwest-beige-Our Town-ordianry….Ordinary. That was to be my turf . . .”

Erma Bombeck was far from ordinary. Look at the cadence, the rhythm of that paragraph. It’s a river of words that flowed straight from her heart to ours.

Did your parents put her columns up on your refrigerator for all to see and read? Share your Erma story – and why you think she touched so many people.

I’ll blog later this week about the morning round-tables I faciliated at the conference including “The Path to Paid Professional Speaking” and “Create the Perfect Title and Elevator Pitch.”

“I learned at an early age that when I made people laugh, they liked me.” – Art Buchwald

This is a continuation of a series of how to capture attention online and in person with intriguing communication.

Tip #3 in the series is to Make ’em Laugh.

It’s based on the premise that we’ve got 30 seconds MAX to capture busy people’s attention. One of the best ways to do that? Get people to smile, chuckle or laugh out loud.

I told that to one client who had flown in for the weekend to consult with me on how to scale her business to the next level. She is aleady a highly successful keynote speaker and consultant in the healthcare industry, but knows she’s leaving money on the table. She is also really, really serious.

She said, “Sam, I’m not funny.”

I said, “Want good news? You don’t have to be. Other people are funny and you can hook and hinge their one-liners (with attribution) to your topic so you preface ‘aha’s’ with ‘haha’s.'”

She said, “But I’m not good at telling jokes.”

I told her, “Good, because that’s NOT what I’m talking about. Jokes come across as ‘canned’ and they often backfire. What I’m talking about is taking a one-liner that’s relevant to your topic and starting off with it to get a SMILE that favorably predisposes people to like you and what you say next.”

For example, if you’re talking about procrastination, you could quote Judy Tenuta, “My parents always told me I wouldn’t amount to anything because I procrastinated so much. I told ’em, ‘Just you wait.'”

Then, segue into your subject, “Are you waiting to schedule that physical exam? Are you procrastinating on seeing your doctor because you hope that ache will go away? Well, in today’s program . . . ”

I also told her, “When something funny happens to you, write it down, and figure out how you can include it in your work.”

For example, I was in the San Francisco airport, riding one of those ‘lazy sidewalks’ on the long walkway to the gates. I noticed a very tall man walking toward me. I couldn’t believe it. People in front of me were pointing at him and laughing. I thought, ‘How rude!’

As he got closer, I could see why they were laughing. He had on a t-shirt that said in very large letters, “No, I’m NOT a basketball player.”

I turned to say something to him and laughed out loud as soon as I saw the back of his t-shirt. It said, “Are you a jockey?”

I had to meet this Fun Fu! black belt. I got off the lazy sidewalk and raced back to catch up with him. I complimented him on his great sense of humor and asked, “Where’d you get your shirt?”

He smiled and said, “I grew a foot between the ages of 13 and 16. I didn’t even want to go out of the house because I was so self-conscious and everyone had to make a smart aleck remark.

My mom finally said, ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ She’s the one who made this shirt for me. This is nothing. I’ve got a whole drawer-full of these at home. My favorite says, “I’m 6’13 and the weather up here’s fine.”

The point?

I use this story in my Tongue Fu! presentations to illustrate the power of having a clever, noncombative comeback for sensitive issues. If you’re tall, short, fat, skinny, bald or have acne; you’re going to hear about it. You might as well develop a repertoire of Fun Fu! remarkes so you can have fun with that issue instead of being frustrated by it.

As Erma Bombeck said, “If you can laugh at it; you can live with it.”

Next time, you’re communicating about a serious or sensitive issue, preface it with humor. People will be a lot more likely to like and listen to what you have to say.

Edward de Bono said, “It has always surprised me how little attention people pay to the power of humor since it is a more persuasive process of mind than reason. Reason can only sort out perecptions, humor changes them.”

Agreed. Would you like to learn how to use Fun Fu! to capture and keep attention for your work? Check out my books Tongue Fu!® and POP!
Both have chapters on how to use humor to get people’s favorable attention. Read ’em and reap.