Quips, tips and parting shots
It Can’t Get Any Worse
Every speaker has a bulging mental file labeled “It can’t get any worse.” It con- tains hidden memories of our speaking nightmares, which we refer to when
we need to wallow in self pity. Well,
maybe we don’t do this, but I do, and
I’d like to share some of them with you.
I remember when I was booked for
an airplane manufacturer located near
Seattle, Wash. My speech was, to my
surprise, scheduled on the day when
management laid off several hundred
employees. The audience was curiously
unresponsive to my program, which
was titled “Humor in the Workplace.”
I also recall my trip to Mt. Rainier
to speak to a group of conservationists and lumbermen about using
humor to relieve stress. I had a face-off
between a room full of environmentalists who were passionate about saving
the Spotted Owl, and lumberjacks who
wished to stuff them. The owls, not the
environmentalists. (Although several
would not have been opposed to stuffing the environmentalists.)
I thought my file was impressive
until last month when I was asked
to deliver a speech for the 70th class
reunion of a high school in Tacoma,
Wash. Yes, it was the 70th anniversary. As a rule, speakers don’t possess
great math acumen, but even those of
us with a fear of addition can visualize this audience. When these folks
went to their senior prom in 1939,
Kay Kaiser’s version of “Three Little
Fishies” topped the charts, Twinkies
had just been invented, the first night
game in organized baseball was played
in Independence, Kan., and the world
was on the verge of war.
I’m guessing that a few of my audience members were sporting Depends
under their party attire.
The good news: It was a benefit
for the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease
Foundation in honor of long-time NSA
member Joe Jenkins, who recently succumbed to that disease.
Fifty members of the class of ‘39
turned up between the ages of 88 and
90. My host, the class president, made a
last-minute decision. Every member of
the class should speak.
I groaned and braced myself.
Surprise! They were entertaining,
energetic, full of fabulous stories and
had plans for the future! There was
no need for another speaker after that.
The Yell King from the class of ’59
gave a tribute and led an impressively
agile rendition of “Two Bits, Four Bits,”
which was a real crowd pleaser.
I was prepared to bow out gracefully, feeling a little under age. But no,
President Herm stood to introduce me.
I rose slowly. What do you say when
50 people unexpectedly keynote before
you do? When it’s 3 p.m. and naptime?
It was the first time I’d ever spoken
to an audience that was asleep and
As I sat down, President Herm
thanked me with the caveat, “Of
course, Dorothy was not our first
choice.” This caused a few guests to stir
in their sleep, but no one actually awakened. “We really wanted Tom Brokaw,
but he wouldn’t come.” He paused to
reflect, “We did get a lovely note from
his wife, though.”
Just when I thought it couldn’t get
any worse, it did. Needless to say, my
file is still active.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a profes- sional humorist, speaker, radio and TV personality. She brings energy, good humor and fun to her presentations on using
creativity to solve the problems of daily
living and welcoming life change with
enthusiasm. Visit http://itsnevertoolate.com.