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Lesson 3 – Get your Audience to Explode into Laughter with Trigger Words (Preview)

Trigger Word + Misdirect = Funny!

In this lesson you’ll learn to:

  • Maximize the effect of your trigger word (punch word) to prompt the audience to laugh
  • Use comedic timing, rhythm and intonation to indicate that the “twist” is about to happen.

It is a great feeling when you find the optimum trigger words, sentence structure, and comedic timing to trigger explosive laughter in your audience!

Surprise (e.g. misdirection) is the most common reason people laugh. Trigger words reveal the surprise.

Trigger words are important because the pause you provide after the trigger words gives the audience time to identify the misdirection and they subsequently laugh.

An effective sentence structure leads the audience to conjure up an image in their minds. The trigger word reveals the surprise image, and they spontaneously laugh.  The sentence structure, cadence, and timing provide them time to create that image…before you misdirect.

Cadence and sentence structure refer to the development of a sense of rhythm and pace to enhance the audience development of visual images.

There are a couple of benefits to changing your cadence and sentence structure. First, it can minimize the potential of “stepping” on the audience’s laughter. Second, it can help you go from getting no audience response to getting a chuckle or a belly-laugh.

Let us explore this with a four-minute overview video followed by a quick example.

In the example portion, note the rhythm and intonation I use in the final sentence to build towards the climax…followed by the trigger word…followed by laughter. Watch the faces in the audience and look for the sudden “ah-ha” moment as they realize the twist.

Maximizing Trigger Words (Punch Words)

Here’s the process I use to explore humor in a sentence:

  1. Identify and highlight the sentences where there will be “twists.”
  2. Reword the sentences to add visual language, remove “fluff words,” and end with a single trigger word.
  3. Structure the sentences for rhythm, cadence, intonation, and volume increases that build up to the trigger word.
  4. Read it out loud and edit to make it sound natural to your voice.
  5. Keep refining until it’s ready to deliver to an audience.

Sometimes I work on a sentence for months before I find the version that I like best! Below is an example of a sentence I revised several times before I landed on the final version. As you read the two versions, notice the following:

  • In the second version, I tried to make the sentence as visual as possible using minimal words. Notice that I reduced the wording by 50%. This is a very important step because you need the audience to be able to pick out the most important information in the setup and trigger word to “get” the surprise. Material that isn’t concise can lose audience members during the setup.
  • I also looked for a single trigger word. I took some artistic license (by changing a physical object) to achieve this and maximize the humor effect. This is important because the misdirection cleanly and concisely shatters any evoked image the audience may have developed.

Initial Version: “My family was scuba diving in Honduras when our kids were young. At the end of the dive my daughter’s head broke the surface and she shouted, “Barracuda! Did you see the Barracuda staring at us?” My son’s head broke the surface and he shouted out, “Turtle! Did you see the turtle swimming near me?” Then my wife’s head broke the surface and she shouted at me, “Toilet paper! Remind me to buy toilet paper on the way home.”

 Final Version: At the end of the scuba dive my young daughter’s head broke the surface, “Did you see the Barracuda?” My son’s head then broke the surface, “Did you see the turtle?” My wife’s head broke the surface, “Remind me to buy Kleenex.”

So why did I change “toilet paper” to Kleenex?

  • “Toilet paper” is not a solid single trigger word. “Kleenex” is a much better word because…
  • “Kleenex” also has the added advantage of having a “kuh” sound. “Kuh” words tend to sound funnier to audiences. (We will explore this more in a later lesson.)

Let’s now look at another video to see trigger words at work. Look for the difference in the effectiveness of three trigger words:

  • “Broken”
  • “Idioto-Loco”
  • “Sleeping”

 Here is how I would rate the effectiveness of the trigger words on a five-star rating scale with five being the best possible result:

  • Broken: Three Stars (The single trigger word increases effectiveness)
  • Idioto-Loco: One Star (The double trigger word reduced the effectiveness.)
  • Sleeping: Four Stars (The single trigger word combined with the quirkiness of the misdirection increases effectiveness)

Exercise 1:

Watch the following one-minute video and you will see several trigger words:

  • “Drink”
  • “Tasted”
  • “Please”
  • “Drugs”

There is one trigger word that still needs work. Can you identify it? Keep watching until you are sure you have it! When you’re done, list the change you would make. You can see my answer under “Question 1” in the quiz section at the end of this lesson below.

Download (PDF, 454KB)

Exercise 2:

Take a paragraph from one of your funny stories and apply the following steps to enhance it:

  1. Identify and highlight the sentences where there will be “twists.”
  2. Reword the sentences to add visual language, remove “fluff words,” and end with a single trigger word.
  3. Structure the sentences for rhythm, cadence, intonation, and volume increases that build up to the trigger word.
  4. Read it out loud and edit to make it sound natural to your voice.
  5. Keep refining until it’s ready to deliver to an audience.
Lesson tags: dave hill, dave hill speaks, entertaining, funny, funny motivational speaker, humor, punch word, punchline, trigger word
Back to: Finding the Funny: How to Create and Deliver Humor in any Speech or Presentation
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