January 17, 2013

Off Beat: Engage early, finish strong

And don't forget the middle. Also, be funny and, if possible, be brief. That's it in a nutshell, says public speaking coach Tim Ferrell.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Have you heard the one about the comic who walked into a breakfast meeting full of consultants?

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"Before You Speak: Saving the World From Tedium, One Speaker at a Time"

WHEN: 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Friday

WHERE: Portland Country Club, 11 Foreside Road (Route 88), Falmouth

HOW MUCH: $28 for non members; cash or check preferred

INFO: consultexpertise.com

No? Well, that's probably because it hasn't happened yet. But it will.

On Friday, comic and comedy teacher Tim Ferrell will speak at the monthly meeting of the Association for Consulting Expertise (ACE) at the Portland Country Club in Falmouth. ACE is a non-profit association of independent consultants.

What can a comedy teacher share with people who work as consultants? Does consulting need to be funnier?

Ferrell, who teaches comedy workshops and works with businesses and stand-up comics, says basically his talk will aim at helping the consultants make better presentations and become better at pitching themselves to clients.

Because, Ferrell says, even in this age when anybody can promote themselves night and day on Facebook or other social media, there's still nothing that beats a good in-person presentation.

Just like in most aspects of daily life, the face to face is still more powerful than the Facebook.

"Even today, you still have to pitch yourself, and you still have to talk out loud eventually," said Ferrell, who lives in South Portland and teaches at various Greater Portland locations under the name The Comedy Workshop. "These people are experts at what they do, but a lot of them are ramblers or rely too heavily on PowerPoint or don't have an interesting story to tell."

So Ferrell plans to make a presentation on how to make a presentation, relying heavily on the same strengths he preaches to stand-up comics. His talk is titled "Before You Speak: Saving the World From Tedium, One Speaker at a Time."

For comics, business people and almost anybody, the key to good personal interaction is getting somebody's attention and holding it, Ferrell said.

Ferrell has a list of keys to good comedy that can also be used for better business. The first is to "open really strong, get their attention" he said. Then it's important to have "all your ducks in a row," meaning, have a very tight, concise middle section that moves quickly and flows easily.

Then, throw in a story that is interesting -- but again, keep it tight and use as few words as possible.

"Less is always more," Ferrell said.

Finally, close strongly. You have to be sure to leave your audience with something memorable.

"Studies show that audiences retain only like 12 percent of what they hear, so you've got to close strong," said Ferrell.

For examples of both good and bad ways to begin a presentation, Ferrell recounted a trip he made recently for work to a corporate event for soft-drink maker Dr Pepper. He said the best opening was used by a division head who said simply, "Nothing quenches your thirst better than a glass of water." That line had people literally leaning in to hear more, Ferrell said.

Another presenter -- who Ferrell said was the worst that day -- began by telling his audience he had 18 points to cover in the next 45 minutes.

"When you do something like that, you get the whole audience doing math and not paying attention," said Ferrell.

Ferrell also points to Jerry Seinfeld as a model of good presenting skills. For his stand-up act, Seinfeld works extremely quickly and re-writes jokes again and again until he's used as few words as possible. Plus, he doesn't waste time asking the audience if they've heard about a news item or something like that.

"I tell people that comics are like extreme presenters," said Ferrell. "Their stakes are high, but the format is the same, and people can use the same components in any presentation."

So stand-up comics are actually setting a good example for the rest of us.

Now that's funny.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


Twitter: RayRouthier


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