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Trigger Words Reveal the “Twist”

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. In the video example, note the rhythm and intonation I use in the final sentence to build towards the climax…followed by the trigger word…followed by laughter.

Maximizing Trigger Words (Misdirect & Reveal the “Twist”)

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 blog.)

Let’s now look at a 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)

This is a series of blog articles and brief videos on “Finding the Funny – Learn the Step-By-Step-Process to Develop and Deliver Humor & Funny Stories & Incorporate into Serious Content.” The blogs are excerpts from my e-learning course (see link on right) which includes:

  • Over 16 lessons
  • Over 8 hours of video instruction
  • Activities and quizzes to complement each lesson
  • Downloadable worksheets and templates
  • 12 month access to course updates and additions

Please feel free to share with professional speakers, public speakers, trainers…anyone who stands in front of audiences who wants to make them laugh or bring some lightheartedness into serious content. Help me out by “liking,” “subscribing.” and “sharing” on the various social media platforms. To help me out, please make sure you “subscribe” (right-hand column) so you do not miss any of these weekly blog articles. Please feel free to comment on this blog-site and on social-media sites, and share with those who will benefit from them.

Copyright © MMXX by David R. Hill