In Summation: Making Meetings More Informative is a Laughing Matter
By Andrea Doyle
December 30, 2010
The slogan Dale Irvin wrote, which he says is a highlight of his career in the world of advertising, is “Good to the last drop.” “The problem is, I wrote that for the Otis Elevator Company,” he exclaims with a bellowing laugh. After 10 years working at a Chicago-based advertising agency, Irvin was fired.
He used that as a wakeup call to pursue his lifelong passion—comedy. He had dabbled in comedy for years, and had even studied with The Second City, the famed school of improvisation and sketch comedy, where he learned the importance of timing and delivery. He tested material he wrote at local open-mic nights.
“I started building up a following, and the club owners liked my act and started booking me,” he says. He performed in comedy clubs across the country as well as on cruise ships. “I’m a 20-year overnight sensation,” he quips.
The corporate market was a lucrative but saturated one for comedians. There were several hundred humorous and talented after-dinner speakers, Irvin says. One night, at a corporate gig, he started adding material from the conference into his act and the audience erupted in laughter. A week later, he got a call from a planner from the Financial Network Investment Corporation, one of the largest independently managed broker-dealers in the United States. They had planned an annual sales incentive but were having trouble getting attendees to leave the pool and golf course to go to the meeting. “That was an easy problem to fix. I told him, ‘Obviously your meeting isn’t any fun. Let’s make it more fun.’ ” And that’s exactly what Irvin has done for the Financial Network and hundreds of other clients for the past 15 years.
In the midst of all this, the world’s only “professional summarizer” was created. What he did that one evening on a whim, he now does for companies worldwide. “I used to be the kid in the back of the classroom who made fun of the teacher. I now get paid for what I used to get detention for,” says the now-60-year-old Irvin.
While performing at comedy clubs and on cruise ships, Irvin was away from home about 250 days a year. Now, he makes the conscious decision not to be away more than 100 days, which translates into him going to about two conferences a month. “I missed my daughter growing up, and now that she’s married and getting ready to have kids, I don’t want to miss my grandkids growing up,” he says.
More Than the Sum of its Parts
As a professional summarizer, Irvin attends an entire meeting or conference, including meals and networking functions, pays close attention to each and every detail, and then incorporates his observations into a comedy monologue. Whatever the attendees do, he does too.
This can sometimes lead to precarious situations. He recalls one conference for a consumer goods company at which he received a late-night call instructing him to empty his mini bar and bring its contents to the pool area. Since the call was from the executive-in-charge, he abided. He spent some time mingling at this impromptu party that quickly came to a halt when two security guards approached on a golf cart. One asked, “Do you all know what time it is?” To which the executive-in-charge replied, “Time for you to go swimming,” as he pushed the guard in.
“The [attendees] looked like cockroaches in a kitchen when the light goes on. Everyone scrambled as fast as they could when the guard went in,” Irvin laughs.
This evening of debauchery was interesting material for his next day’s monologue, to say the least. With practically no time between receiving the fodder for his sets and developing it into material fit for stage, a lightning wit is indispensable.
“I’m constantly writing new material without the chance to try it out, so there are going to be one or two jokes that slip in there that I thought were funnier than the audience does. I enjoy the pressure of having to come up with something on the spot. I really like the improvisation aspect of it,” Irvin says.
Meeting planners like that Irvin’s monologues keep the audience engaged, because it may be one of them that is at the center of a joke. “Plus, we’ve found that making meetings more fun and giving the audience the information back that they just heard in a comedic form helps with information retention,” Irvin explains.
Although he has made a lucrative career out of his unique ability, Irvin considers it a privilege to get people to laugh. “Laughter is one of the few things we do that feels good and is actually good for us,” he declares. “We’ve got enough problems in the world. No matter where you look, people have personal problems, business problems; it seems like the entire globe is turning upside down on a daily basis. One of the few things that can keep us sane going forward is more laughter.”
Irvin doesn’t want the laughter to end at the conclusion of a conference and creates “Friday Funnies” every week. The Funnies are e-mailed to anyone who signs up at www.daleirvin.com and are also available on YouTube.
“The Funnies are a look at the week’s odder news stories,” says Irvin. “I look at them from a slightly different angle.”
But even Irvin had a tough time finding the levity in the number of meetings and conferences canceled over the past two years. Although he feels budgets are going to stay bare bones into the foreseeable future, he is starting to see an increase in calls, inquiries, and bookings.
His first book, entitled Laughter Doesn’t Hurt, was such a success that he wrote seven more. Emblazoned on the cover of Laughter Doesn’t Hurt is an illustration of a human skull, something Irvin is fascinated by.
“When you strip away everything and just look at the skull it is smiling,” he says. “What that tells me is that when man was created, God intended for us to laugh because a smile is the precursor to the laugh and he took the smile and built it into the hard drive. You have a smile already buried deep inside, you just have to bring it to the surface.”
Dale Irvin is a Certified Speaking Professional and a member of the National Speakers Association CPAE (Council of Peers Award for Excellence) Speaker Hall of Fame. He can be reached at (630) 852-7695 or via www.daleirvin.com.
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