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Strigberger offers up humour to keep presentations lively

By Paul Russell, AdvocateDaily.com Contributor

Stress and anxiety are parts of everyday life, but humourist and author Marcel Strigberger believes humour is a great way to cope with most situations people face.

“I know how to use humour to defuse problems and prevent them from taking over your life,” says Strigberger. “That’s just one reason why organizations would benefit from hiring me as a guest speaker. I can demonstrate how laughter, and seeing situations through the lens of humour, is the best medicine for many problems people are having.”

A retired lawyer, Strigberger has written two books — Birth, Death and Other Trivialities: A Humorous Philosophical Look at the Human Condition and Poutine on the Orient Express: An Irreverent Look at Travel.

“I love to write, but I also really enjoy giving talks to organizations,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

When he speaks to a group, Strigberger says he tailors his material to the audience.

“I just don’t talk generalities,” he says. “I try to it make fresh, relevant and interesting.”

Strigberger gives the example of a talk he gave at the annual conference of the Ontario Superior Court of Judges' Association, where he was asked in advance to make fun of the Court of Appeal.

“I was nervous because there were about 300 judges there, and since I was still a practising lawyer at that time, I might have to appear in front of some of them in the future,” he says. “If I messed up, they would remember me as that guy who made them groan, or worse, put them to sleep.”

When Strigberger was introduced at the meeting, the crowd clapped.

“I’ve been appearing before you guys for the past 35 years, and this is the first time a judge has ever greeted me with applause,” he responded. “The audience loved the line and it set the tone for a talk that went five stars.”

After it was over, Strigberger says a trial judge gave him this endorsement: “Your speech was amusing, highly entertaining and at times thought-provoking. We especially appreciated that you tailored your material so that it was appropriate and interesting to [an] audience of judges and their spouses.”

That was the same judge who earlier suggested he make fun of the appeal court during his presentation, he says. “Ironically, and unbeknownst to him, about a month later, he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.”

Strigberger describes public speaking as a labour of love.

“After 40-plus years of legal practice, Im not out to make a killing or sell millions of books,” he says. “I am an artist, and I do it for the art and the enjoyment.”

He speaks at events that are designed to motivate staff and raise morale, Strigberger says, which leads to healthier work environments and increased benefits including wellness, rapport and profits.

“My talks are certainly not dull, as I don’t see people yawning,” he says. “There’s real value in my topics, such as the one I call ‘Fighting your Fires,’ which gives people ideas on how to avoid trouble and deal with problems before they rage out of control. Humour is only one of several elements of the formula.”

Strigberger includes personal experiences to show people how to use humour to cope with everyday issues.

He gives the example of a recent visit to a large chain store, where cabbage was on sale for 97 cents a pound. When he got to the cashier, he asked for a price match check, as another store was selling cabbage for $2 a head, regardless of weight, which he assumed was the lower price.

The cashier told him the price match could not be done due to the difference in the way the two stores were selling it, and Strigberger complained, resulting in a manager being called, who took the side of the cashier in the dispute.

“Instead of getting angry, I started having fun with it and joked with the people behind me in line that I was a lawyer who had not lost an appeal in almost three years, but that I just lost this one to the assistant manager,” he says. “I had fun with it, and I gave other customers a laugh.”

Strigberger says his experience as a stand-up comic gives him insight into what type of humour works in a given situation.

“Comedy is not like playing the piano, where performers will get polite applause no matter how they play,” he says. “When you are on stage, there is instant feedback, and if they don’t like you, you crash. There’s no such thing as polite guffaws.”

While he is comfortable speaking to legal professionals, Strigberger says he welcomes the opportunity to address other groups, and show them how humour can be used to alleviate issues in their lives.

“Some people are afraid to use humour, fearing they will offend someone’s sense of political correctness,” he says. “There are ways around that, such as by poking fun at yourself. For example, nobody was offended by that cabbage appeal. Everyone wants to laugh and enjoy themselves rather than bundle-up stress.”

Even as a lawyer, Strigberger says he kept a clown’s nose in his desk for special occasions.

“If I could see a client needed a good laugh, I might slip it on,” he says. “And no, I never took it along to the courtroom. I know and can show people how to use humour safely and make people relax and interact better.”

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