One of the time-honoured secrets of speech making is to start with a joke.

Easier said than done.

Not that there is a shortage of material in this world. You can borrow a joke from a speaker you’ve heard in the past. Tread dangerously with an inappropriate line you picked up from the drunken MC at your cousin’s wedding. Search the “www” and commit larceny by using someone else’s material. If you’ve been drinking you may think it wise for some reason to try to write your own. Or if you’re a bonehead, you can always pick someone to make fun of.

I’ve tried all of the above and more. Unfortunately, I think I’ve used the “pick on the innocent” option much too frequently. It’s the chicken’s way out, but it’s far too easy.

But being truly funny. Wow. That’s an art. A craft. A science. Is it a gift? I would say to a point. But it’s a gift that needs the preparation, practice and refinement of an Olympic ski jumper.

I have been thinking about “being funny” in preparation for chairing the 2012 Canadian Sponsorship Forum. I’ve told my team that we need to be funny. Not silly. But funny. Forum is loaded with great information, research and inspiration. Serious stuff.

But hey, we are partnered with Just For Laughs. We need to bust a few guts.

So as I am looking at scripts and ideas for signage, interstitials, speaker bios  and session summaries, I have suddenly realized: this ain’t funny. I’m not laughing. So out came my mandate. Let’s stay on brand throughout the entire event as much as possible, please.

The response has been solid. Whether my staff respect me or loathe me (some days I’m not sure), they sure produce when asked. The giggle machine is on warp speed.

But so is the panic machine. Me and my big mouth. If the team needs to produce some laughs, so must I.

Now I know I can raise the odd chuckle. But I have also been met with several hundred unblinking eyes at some of my one-liners. Now I am fearful that by forcing myself to be funny, if that’s possible, will I end up freezing up like a Klondike bar? No, that wasn’t me trying to be funny.

So what’s the equivalent term to writer’s block when you can’t ink anything that feels remotely funny?

It may be five weeks from Forum, but usually by now I have a sense of what my opening presentation will smell like. Perhaps I could send an email to every delegate asking him or her to empower my creation of a no-laugh zone. Maybe I could write something officious and pay a writer to add the laugh track?

If you’re rolling your eyes right now, perhaps you are underestimating my level of concern. Forum’s opening is my favourite speaking engagement of the year. Last year I tried to be funny and it took six slides for anyone to realize it. In the comedy biz I would have been given the proverbial hook by then.

So anytime you want to stop laughing AT me, feel free to send me some ideas on what I should do to get you laughing WITH me.

Until then, I am off to watch some Richard Pryor videos. On Betamax.