The year was 1991. America was mired in a deep recession.
I was airborne for New York to tape some more shows at Comedy Central and
ply my stand-up act, but clubs around the country were closing faster than a
Bruce Lee spin move. My mother would urge me to get “back up,” meaning a
regular job or a wealthy sugar mama. I would assure her that I still had my
newspaper route from when I was 12 years old.
Sitting next to me on the flight was the head of a
collections agency. He looked like a man tied to a railroad track. I
listened to his tales of woe and frustration over the pile of outstanding
accounts confronting him. I asked him if he would show me a copy of the
letter his company sends out for collections. It was typically heavy-handed
in substance. I suggested he try sending letters with funny relevant quotes
or cartoons. He thought I was crazy, but we had plenty of flight time left
so we brainstormed a few ideas. I thought of one cartoon with a caption that
said, “You’re twelve months past due. This means we’ve carried you
three months longer than your mother did.” As we parted company I doubted
he would use any of the ideas, but three months later I received a surprise
call from him, and he was excited. He used some of the quotes and cartoons.
Amazingly, his collections increased by 15 percent! Yes, there is life after
This was the humble genesis of my career as a
professional speaker, corporate trainer, and “edutainer.” My next client
was a paying one. It was a local department store that always suffered
downtime and loss of revenue from changing company policies and guidelines.
When I discovered that one of the clerks was an aspiring singer, we formed a
“compliance choir,” which sang new guidelines over the store’s sound
system just prior to opening the store. We also recorded it on audiotapes so
employees could listen to it on their way to and from work. The tune was
catchy, and the employees caught the message as well - fewer mistakes were
made, and the contagious enthusiasm from hearing the choir spilled over to
the customers, creating more sales.
Much resistance can show up when implementing new company
guidelines and policies, blocking retention of information. My next client
hired me to announce a company’s new safety regulations as some of the
celebrity characters that I do. This not only entertained and disarmed the
disgruntled staff, but it proved to be effective in helping employees retain
new information because they connected it to what my characters (Jack
Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, George Burns, et al) said about it.
I can’t say that I miss the drunks, hecklers, and
flying beer bottles of the comedy clubs of yesteryear. The goal was always
to get my audience laughing, now it’s to get my clients succeeding AND
laughing, all the way to the bank.
Let us not forget that Christopher Columbus did not know
where he was going. When he got back, he didn’t know where he had been.
And he did it all on borrowed money. There’s hope for all of us!
Terry Braverman is a Los Angeles-based author,
professional speaker and trainer. This article is an excerpt from his book,
When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Lighten Up! Go to www.terry
braverman.com for more information.