Finding the funny in a speaker’s life
Disarm with Charm
hierarchical scale for approval.
How quickly the conversation
shifted when I brought levity to the
table. He apologized for his stern
tone, but went on to explain that he
was retiring from the Navy in three
days and had a lot to do before he
left. We spoke for 30 minutes about
his retirement plans, and he shared
three decades of experience and
invaluable insights into the culture
and needs of the group.
Three days later, that same “Oh, it’s
you” person called me the night before
Thanksgiving to “give me one more
thing to be grateful for,” congratulating me on winning the contract.
That’s what’s possible when we
pursue our business with levity.
Lois Barth comes from a
family that would often
which thankfully, were
comedies, with their laughter.
A recovering stand-up comic (among 27
other jobs) turned speaker (her favorite
one), Barth was the life coach for three
national women’s magazines: SELF, Fitness
and FitBlog. She is quoted regularly in The
Wall Street Journal, Weight Watchers and
Elle.com, among others. Learn more at
When I was a comedi- enne, people often asked if I wrote my own material, to which I would respond, “No, life
does. I just sit by the side with an open
eye and a pencil.” I still feel that way
as a speaker. If we stay open to life’s
lessons, we will emerge not only stronger and more vibrant, but with a heck of
a lot of new material for the platform.
Humor is similar. Being funny is
not about knowing a lot of jokes or
having impeccable timing. Instead,
it’s about having the ability to adopt
a certain perspective—both despite
and due to life’s challenges. I use
humor on stage and in pursuing my
business. In one particular instance, a
spirit of levity made all the difference
in the world.
I had a shot at a large contract with
the U.S. Navy. I followed through
with what I call the three P’s:
Persistence, Politeness and
Playfulness, not always
in that order. After
many stalled efforts, I finally decided
to phone the hiring decision maker
directly. When I told him who I was,
he responded in a stern, disapproving
tone, “Oh, it’s you!”
I could have shriveled up, or I
could have fun. It was later in the
day, and I was a tad punchy, so I
responded with the latter approach.
“Dave, I’m feeling the love, I’m
feeling the love!”
He started laughing hysterically
and then shifted immediately back
to his serious self, saying, “Oh no, I
didn’t mean that.” He continued in
his very no-nonsense way, “It’s just
that your proposal is wrong.” I coun-
tered with a very playful tone, “Dave.
I’m from New York, and I love your
candor. No reading between the
lines necessary, give it to me straight.
What’s wrong, and how can I fix it?”
He chuckled again, softening a
bit, and mentioned that what was
“wrong” was a simple line that needed
to be changed—and that would
move the whole proposal out of
the black hole zone and up the