Sounds like the average television commercial – doesn’t it?

high school studentI did a seminar recently for a group of high school seniors. I was told they were not necessarily underachievers, but had no firm plans after graduation. Some had thought about college, a job or the military, but most seemed only interested in hanging around waiting for something to happen. The common thread was a strong case of “Senioritis” and a short attention span for remaining school requirements.

The teacher that sponsored the seminar told me previous speakers had used the standard follow your dreams advice and ended up with a group of bored and distracted students. They had heard the same message since preschool days watching Barney and Friends, and he was concerned it didn’t say enough about what they would encounter in the real world.

Even though I don’t wear a purple dinosaur outfit, I’m the last person to discourage anyone from following their dreams. But the reality of the real world is not everyone will win The Voice or have their idea bankrolled on Shark Tank. My assignment that day was to keep the students interested and involved in my seminar on communication skills and share practical real world advice.

But as usual, I also had my own agenda…

Everyone has a talent and a desire for something. It may not even involve becoming The Voice or the next Bill Gates. But whatever it might be, it doesn’t have much of a chance becoming a reality by “hanging around waiting for something to happen.”

Groucho 2

The Wacky Professor

Lucky for me, the seminar was in the school’s library. So I opened with a very effective follow your dreams message by pulling two of my books from the shelf. It got their attention. Then to hold their attention (staring at book covers for more than ten seconds is not as interesting as checking text messages for most high school students), I turned the attention to them.

I asked about their personal interests.

With this particular group of students, no one said a word about math, science or history. They talked about music, poetry, fashion and art. And when they expressed their ideas, the enthusiasm was obvious. They wanted to talk about it and involve the others. I imagined it was quite different than their normal participation in math, science or history classes.

So I took it a step further and asked for two volunteers. Most of them raised their hands (probably unlike during the classes mentioned above), but since we had a limited amount of time until the class bell, we could only go with two.

One was a girl into fashion and the other a boy who played guitar.

I told the girl she was going to tell us about her favorite sweater. With the boy, we wanted to know about his dream guitar. Then I gave them a quick assignment. I asked each to write down twothoughts about their item. I wanted to know:

  1. How owning the item it made them feel and…
  2. How owning the same item could make someone else feel.

Then they would each talk about their item in a way that would convince the other students they HAD to have either the sweater or the guitar.

Sounds like a sales pitch – doesn’t it?

Then I borrowed an exercise from my stand-up comedy workshops. I told them to imagine we were at a party. All their friends had told interesting and funny stories – and now it was their chance to talk. How would they tell us about their item in a creative way that would express their feelings AND make us laugh?

This is similar to an audience participation game I use at conferences with business people and educators looking to improve their communication skills. In a nutshell, the idea is to make your message more effective while using creative and humorous enhancements to keep it interesting.

Guitar PlayerIf I could, for my next business conference seminar I’d bring these students with me, take a seat in the audience and let them talk. She basically told the other girls how great they would look in her sweater and how, of course, they would attract more boys. He told the guys how they could look like rock stars with his dream guitar and of course, attract more girls.

Sounds like the average television commercial – doesn’t it?

Yes, they were a lot goofier (for lack of a better term) than you’d expect during a real business world sales pitch or networking opportunity. But the end result was the same.

* They held our attention by delivering their message in a way we found very entertaining and memorable.

Sounds like the average television commercial – doesn’t it?

In this case it was using creativity and humor to express and share their interests. In the case of high school students, their interests are what could determine future careers. For others in the real business world already pursuing careers, looking to expand or even make a change, better communication leads to better opportunities. The real world is competitive and to stand out from the competition you must know how to express yourself in a productive and interesting way.

Sounds like the average television commercial – doesn’t it?

Better communication leads to better opportunities. And along with that purple dinosaur, I’m not going to tell anyone they shouldn’t try to make their dreams come true. Sometimes it all depends on how you communicate them.


Comment? Please use the form below. In the meantime, thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!



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Dave Schwensen has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. He is an author, speaker, trainer, and nationally recognized humor and comedy coach. For information about training seminars and keynotes for your next event or conference visit

For Dave’s author page on CLICK HERE.

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Using “Seinfeld” to hit a home run in communication skills

Are you a fan of the television show Seinfeld? It was one of the great all-time sitcoms that will live on in reruns our grandchildren will watch. If you don’t believe me, just think of how many generations still watch I Love Lucy, which was the top sitcom from the 1950′s. If you communicate in a way that is entertaining, an audience will listen for as long as you want to talk.

How long do your clients or co-workers listen to you?

Do you hold their attention long enough so they actually listen to what you want them to hear? I hope so, because verbal communication is still the key for successful customer service, teamwork and networking.

In the video conference on communications I taught for a high school last month, I gave the students an in-class assignment. I asked them to list three things that actually happened (truth) during their journey to school, followed by how each experience made them feel. The key to the assignment was that they had to express their feelings (personal thoughts or opinions) using only positive terms.

school busThen I asked each to tell us about his or her journey (driving, riding a school bus, or walking) to school, combining the three facts and their positive feelings in a way that might make their friends or family laugh. The results were creative and entertaining stories that held everyone’s attention.

All the students could relate since it was an experience they had all shared. After all, none of them had spent the previous night at the school. They all had to travel from somewhere else that morning.

Finding common ground – something your listeners can relate to – is a great method on how to attract and hold someone’s attention long enough for them to hear what you really want to say. It’s a technique that breaks the ice and makes a memorable impression. Once you do that, you’re on the journey toward better and more productive professional and personal relationships.

Truth + Creativity & Humor (Thoughts & Opinions) = Conversations

Too easy?

Does it sound too easy? It is. The secret is to take a positive outlook on a shared event, tap into your personal creativity, (we all have feelings, thoughts and observations), and turn it into a conversational tool. I learned this method from some of the experts at relating to – and conversing with – an audience, which takes us back to Seinfeld

When I was scheduling performers for The Improv Comedy Club in New York City, I worked with the sitcom’s creator and many of the writers. And it wasn’t just at the comedy club located in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan, but also as a member of our softball team that competed in the Performing Arts League in Central Park. Since we were sponsored by The Improv, our team was made up of comedians, comedy writers and one talent booker (me!).

One teammate was Ray Romano, who went on to star in Everybody Loves Raymond, but this story involves our first baseman, Larry David. Along with Jerry Seinfeld, Larry created Seinfeld and his own show on HBO, Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Fortunately that particular season we won more games than we lost and made the playoffs, which was our first goal. Our second was to win the playoffs and be the funniest champions of the league.

Unfortunately, on the day of our first playoff game, many of the best players, (who were also good comedians), were performing outside of New York City. That meant some of us who were more comfortable sitting on the bench watching would have to play in the field. And others, who were used to a regular position, had to play somewhere else. I was pried from the bench to play second base and our first basement, Larry David, was moved to shortstop.

Baseball fans know shortstop is the most demanding defensive position. The best shortstops are usually smaller and quicker than the other players. It was not the best place for a tall, lanky first baseman and there were a number of balls hit between Larry and myself that added up to more runs for the other team. To put it gently, we lost and were eliminated from the playoffs after one game.

It was not a positive moment since we now had the unwanted task of telling our returning teammates that our season was over. I also remember standing near our bench when Larry threw down his glove and said something to the effect of, “I’m never playing this stupid game again.”

Fast forward a few years…

Heading for home!

Seinfeld was the number one show on television. One night I tuned in and saw the character George Costanza, (based on the real life Larry David), running down the third base line during a softball game in Central Park wearing an Improv t-shirt.

My first thought was, “That’s my team!”

After a losing effort, George Costanza threw down his glove and said something to the effect of, “I’m never playing this stupid game again.”

Can you guess my second thought? I played in that game!”

The lesson behind this long dissertation was that Larry had taken a moment that wasn’t very positive at the time, creatively found the humor and made it entertaining. It was a one way conversation with the viewing audience and all he did was tell the truth with creative license.

Anyone who had ever played or watched a softball game, or even experienced the “agony of defeat,” (a quote borrowed from another television show), could relate.

The Home Team

This and other episodes of Seinfeld based on real experiences that viewers could relate to from Larry, Jerry, and other writing contributors held their audiences’ attention for nine seasons and still continue today in reruns. Talk about making a memorable and lasting impression!

The bottom line is not always what you say, but how you say it.

The best part is you don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to grab your listener’s attention. Find out…

  • What you have in common
  • Take a positive outlook and…
  • Enhance it with personal creativity and humor

It’s a great way to break the ice, start a conversation, and build a relationship with someone you want to do business with.

Go ahead and give it a try. Tell the person next to you about your drive to work today. Use a few facts, be creative, stay positive and tell it in a way you think will make them smile or laugh. Chances are you’ll strike up a conversation – and you never know what doors that may open.

Comment? Use the “leave a reply” link below – thanks!


Dave Schwensen has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. He is an author, speaker, trainer, and nationally recognized humor and comedy coach. For information about training seminars and keynotes for your next event or conference visit

Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing

Anger Management

Was It Something I Said?

If I made a list of embarrassing experiences in my life, this wouldn’t even be considered. But I’ll share because it points out the importance of knowing your listener (comedians call it knowing your audience). It was a situation when humor didn’t work in my favor.

We were in the Las Vegas Airport catching a flight to St. Louis. I was traveling with my flight attendant wife Debbie, who can breeze through security while I wait in line with other VIP wannabe’s.

As a seasoned traveler I’ve learned to shove everything into a carry-on suitcase that will be shoved through the security checkpoint on a conveyor belt. I once considered wearing flip-flops to make taking off my shoes an easier process, but Debbie dashed that idea with sarcastic flight attendant advice:

Would you want to run out of a burning wreckage in flip-flops?” My non-sarcastic answer is to always travel in running shoes.

FabioI placed my suitcase and shoes on the conveyor belt and followed the guy in front of me to go through the body scanner. He was a few inches over six feet, had longish hair and looked like he worked out. For our purposes we’ll call him Fabio.

There were two conveyor belts through security, but only one body scanner in the middle. The line was a “Y” shape with passengers coming from both directions. At least I thought that was the case. I’m assuming Fabio did also because after shoving his suitcase onto the conveyor belt he simply stepped into the line. The guy behind him moved forward and I took my place behind him.

This guy wasn’t as tall or well built as Fabio. For our purposes, let’s call him Homer Simpson. I think you’ll get the picture in your mind. I stood in line behind Homer.

Homer turned and asked if I’d also like to go in front of him. I thought that was a very nice gesture. It’s too bad I didn’t recognize the sarcasm in his voice.

No, that’s alright,” I replied. “I’ll just go behind you.” And then I smiled and attempted a joke about not being in a hurry. With hindsight, it didn’t have the friendly effect I thought it would.

If I had x-ray vision like airport security I might have seen steam building up in Homer’s brain and shooting out his ears. I watched him go through the scanner, took my turn, and then grabbed my suitcase and tied my running shoes.

Then I was confronted with what was actually going on in Homer’s steam-filled mind.

HomerI began walking to my gate and noticed Homer talking to a woman and young girl. I’ll assume they were his wife and daughter and for our purposes we’ll call them Marge and… well, I’ll skip The Simpson’s reference, but I’m sure you’ll get the picture. His face was red and looked angry as he pointed his finger toward me.

Suddenly Marge RAN at me, started YELLING and ACCUSED me of cutting in line. I noticed Fabio was within shouting distance, but Marge said nothing to him. He continued walking and once again I followed, but at a faster pace since an angry looking Marge wasn’t on my itinerary of sights to see in Las Vegas.

At this point, Homer yelled something about me laughing at him and called me an “Arrogant ****!

I stopped. It was only for very brief moment, but long enough to say, “Don’t talk to me like that.”

Now, this may sound like a confrontation about to get out of control, but it wasn’t going to happen. Many years ago in New York City my karate instructor gave us the best advice for self-defense. The first step in avoiding a potentially bad situation is to walk away. Only react with our training when it was absolutely necessary. I continued walking from what was already a bad situation and toward my flight gate.

Homer 2But I was hit with a very uncomfortable realization. Maybe there was no “Y” for two lines at security. Perhaps Fabio had also innocently (or on purpose?) cut in and I blindly followed. If this was the case, it was an honest mistake. And if Homer had calmly said, “The line starts back there,” I would have followed the rules of civilized people and taken my place at the end.

Instead his sarcasm did not communicate that message. And my humor only poured fuel on a simmering fire.

A simple statement would have corrected my mistake. But what I found not so simple was how fast he reacted with intense anger. If this type of reaction is a normal occurrence in front of their young daughter, what is this teaching her about adult behavior?

And what if Homer had turned his anger at Fabio instead of me? My guess is that he might have walked away with a few bruises – both to his body and ego. That would’ve only made the situation worse.

Humor is an important conversational enhancement to build business and personal relationships. But as mentioned earlier, it’s important to know your audience and when to use it.

With this experience I did not know the situation or my audience. But displaying a sense of humor or a smile would normally be received as a positive gesture. And even if there is disagreement, it should inspire a non-confrontational response. It was too bad Homer didn’t read it that way because the problem would’ve been simple to correct.

When I told Debbie what happened we both knew how to “fix” the situation. We had lunch and a few laughs, which was a lot less stressful and more fun than steaming over a miscommunication meltdown. Next time I’ll pay more attention to airport security lines, while also practicing Anger Management by keeping a sense of humor in case a Fabio wannabe or anyone else cuts ahead.


Comment? Please use the form below. In the meantime, thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!



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Dave Schwensen is a nationally recognized comedy coach and author of six books including How To Be A Working Comic. He has designed and instructs university courses in communications and presentation skills. Dave is a keynote speaker and training seminar leader (for your next event!) and CILC Pinnacle Award Winner for video conferences on communication skills, comedy and pop culture.

For Dave’s author page on CLICK HERE.

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Copyright 2017 – North Shore Publishing