The Improv Is No Joke Podcast

Welcome to the Improv Is No Joke podcast hosted by Peter Margaritis, AKA The Accidental Accountant and author of the book 'Improve Is No Joke, Using Improvization to Create Positive Results in Leadership and Life'. This podcast series is also available on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Why Storytelling is Powerful

We all love a good story and appreciate a good storyteller. Powerful stories evoke emotion and have the ability to motivate and inspire us. A story that always resonates with me is one about Pat Tillman. Pat was a former professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals who enlisted in the United States Army after the 9-11 attacks. Tragically, he died in combat due to friendly fire. When you listen to his story, you feel many emotions, and those feelings are powerful motivators.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson said, “The art of storytelling can be used to drive change.”1 I agree and will add that the way we succeed in driving change is by motivating and inspiring people.  Do we inspire and motivate change with a data dump of facts and figures on a PowerPoint slide? No. That type of presentation just creates a lullaby that too often puts the audience asleep. “If people aren’t entertained, they stop listening and go to sleep not unlike what happens in millions of business presentations given every day.”2

Princeton University neuroscientist, Uri Hanson states, “Those who have mastered the skill of storytelling can have an outsized influence over others.”  He goes on to say that “a person who tells compelling stories can actually plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions into a listener’s brain.  The art of storytelling is your most powerful weapon in the war of ideas.” 3

The only way to understand the power of this weapon is to understand how the brain functions when hearing a story.  Hearing a moving story releases the chemical dopamine in our system. That’s right, the same chemical that can get us addicted to drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, “When your brain detects emotion, your amygdala, located in your frontal lobe that helps create and maintain emotions, releases the dopamine. Dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing. You can think of it like a Post-it note® that reads “remember this.”4

In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire,” he describes the golden circle: Which, Why, How, What.  We all know what we do and how we do it, but do we know why we are doing it?  He ties this concept back to the brain, and explains the brain slightly differently than John Medina although the message remains the same.

Simon states, “If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle. In our newest brain, the Homo sapiens brain, our neocortex, corresponds with the “what” level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought, and language. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains, and our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, although it has no capacity for language.”5

He goes on to say, “In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior. When we can communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do.”6

In other words, “emotion trumps logic”7 every time. This is why stories are so powerful.  They evoke emotion, and emotion drives behavior.  Marketing executives understand this and if you don’t believe me, watch most commercials. The Budweiser beer commercials are a case in point. Each holiday season they feature darling, warm, cuddly puppies, and everyone loves puppies. That emotion, love, connects us to the story the company is telling in a deep and meaningful way.

Once we accept the fact that “emotion trumps logic” and begin to craft our business presentations in the same manner, the more likely we will be able to inspire and motive people to action.  That is exactly what great leaders and organizations do.



  1. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 1
  2. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 3
  3. Ibid, 4
  4. Medina, John, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, (Pear Press, Seattle, WA, 2014) 112
  5. Simon Sinek Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire”, 2009,, (accessed August 2, 2017)
  6. Simon Sinek Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire”, 2009
  7. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 4

Three Tips to Increase Audience Retention

Have you noticed that many business presentations are boring, mind-numbing, and bullet-ridden with speakers reading from a script? When you see the PowerPoint presentation come up, you know you are in for a snooze-fest. It does not have to be that way. When used correctly, presentation tools can be useful in getting your message across to your audience. Rather than use your presentation tool as a crutch, I have three tip to improve your audience’s retention of the materials presented and keep them engaged with you as a speaker.

  1. Less Is More: You were asked to present because you are the subject matter expert, and you know your material. Do not need to put everything you know, every word you will say, on presentation slides. Too much data and information on slides puts the audience in decision-making mode: listen to the speaker, read the slide or maybe just read email. Instead, highlight key words or phrases that will guide you through your presentation. Connect with your audience by looking at them, not the slides or script, and create a two-way conversation.
  2. Eliminate Bullet Points by 90%: Presentation slides riddled with bullet points look like a mob hit rather than a learning experience. Your audience tunes-out and minds wander to other, more interesting, places. Does your employer add funds to your 401K for every slide and every bullet point you incorporate in your presentation? Didn’t think so. Use only one key message or bullet point per slide so your audience can focus on one thing – what you are saying. While there are some situations where multiple bullet points are useful, keep them to five or less. In this case use animation to bring those lines into play rather than a static presentation of all bullet point.
  3. Let Pictures Tell The Story: Pairing words with pictures can help your audience retain the information you are sharing. In his book Brain Rules, John Media says that we remember pictures at a higher rate than we recall words. According to him, after three days we will remember only 10% of information presented, but 65% of images or pictures seen will be recalled. Images help bring your story to life, and keep them alive.

Where you place images is important, too. We read from left to right so naturally our eyes gravitate to the left side of any page or slide. By placing an image on the left side of the slide and the supporting text on the right, you have a greater chance of your audience seeing and remembering that important picture.

By using fewer words, reducing or even eliminating bullet points, and properly placing pictures and images on each presentation slide you will increase your audience engagement and their retention of the material. It’s that simple!

Want to learn more. Visit my website at

Humor Keeps Audiences Engaged: Three Tips on Adding Humor to Your Presentation

Humor has a place in most presentations: connecting through laughter is one of the best ways to engage an audience. Humor keeps us focused on the speaker and topic, and creates a shared experience for the audience. The goal of a speaker is to deliver information in a way the audience can accept and retain so they can later act on the speaker’s advice.

One of my favorite quotes about using humor in a presentation is from Jeffrey Gitomer who said, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” Think about your own experiences. Maybe you connected with a teacher who made learning fun and challenging, or a mentor who used humor to help reduce tension. The way you felt then is how you want your audience to feel.

There are people who believe they are not a funny person. That’s fine because I am not suggesting you develop a stand up comedy routine. Adding humor to your presentation can be taught. Start with baby steps. No one gets their first driver’s license driving a Ferrari. I have a 16 year old – believe me, something bad is bound to happen! Take those driving baby steps with a Ford Escort instead.

Adding humor to a presentation is a learning process, and I have three tips to share with you.

Tip # 1: Dont tell jokes. Do use self-deprecating humor.

You never want to tell an outward joke in your presentation because it could be offensive to someone in the audience. You can, however, poke fun at yourself. My last name, Margaritis, gets commented on every time I introduce myself. So I use that to make fun at my own expense when I start a presentation by saying, ”my name is pronounced like a cocktail but spelled like an inflammation.” It always gets a laugh and helps to set the mood in the room. Word of caution: find the funny about you without going overboard because that can hurt your credibility.

Tip #2: Use a funny picture or movie to get your point across.

Begin by telling the story (setup) first to get the audience’s attention and then show to photo or movie, for a laugh. For example, I was presenting on the sexy and exciting topic of the new lessee accounting rules, and used a video to make my point and create laughs. I said, “the lessee will have to record the leased asset and the lease liability which now creates a highly leveraged balance sheet.” To illustrate a rather dry point, I showed a movie I made using the app Action Movie.

I had filmed a tiki hut while on vacation in Rivera Maya and added the special effect of a boulder crashing down on the tiki hut. When the video played, I said the tiki hut was the company’s balance sheet, the boulder was the new leasing standard, and you just witnessed your balance sheet being crushed.

For those of you reading this who are not accountants, sorry for the accounting reference. My point is virtually everything, even accounting, can be made funny and memorable with a picture or movie.

Tip #3: Remember the Rule of 3s

According to the world-renowned source for everything, Wikipedia, the rule of three “is a writing principle that suggests that things that come in threes are funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things.” Three Musketeers, Three Little Pigs, Three Times a Lady, Three Blind Mice, and joke structure.

Classic joke structure is premise, punchline, and tag but this can be difficult to master. Another form of joke structure that you can use is to set up a pattern – truth, truth, and misdirection. For example, “Thank you for the invitation to speak at your conference. I am looking forward to exploring your beautiful city (truth), getting to meet as many of you after my presentation (truth), and having lunch with plenty of chicken (misdirection).”

Observing how others incorporate humor into their presentations is a great way to learn from some of the best. One of the most popular TED Talks, with over 45 million views, was given by Sir Ken Robinson, an expert on creativity in education. In his talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, he masterfully connects with his audience by incorporating a snippet of humor every three minutes or so, an achievement that beats the laugh moments in many highly rated comedies. Watch Sir Robinson use humor to deliver his powerful message while keeping his audience actively engaged.

Now it’s your turn to find a way to add humor to your next presentation!

Learn more about becoming a better speaker. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter at, and listen to episodes of my podcast, Improv Is No Joke, available at, on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Three Tips on Getting Your Audience Engaged

At this point in your career how many dull, pointless, uninspired presentations have you sat through? There is always the ubiquitous PowerPoint slides that sludge through endless pieces of data, 15 or more bullet points per slide, and a presenter who reads every single point verbatim.

It’s doubtful you remember any important bits of information – you were either on your phone with emails or you let your mind wander to something else. Anything else. You weren’t paying attention because the speaker did not engage his audience. He didn’t allow you and the entire audience to be part of the presentation.

And now, you are the one in front of the audience, delivering a presentation. I feel it is my responsibility to spare you the discomfort of speaking to a sea of blank faces – you and your audience deserve more.

You have one minute to capture the audience’s attention so don’t waste a second on “housekeeping” items or reiterating you bio. Instead, give a summary of your presentation and let them know why they need to pay attention. You’ll be sharing several important points that will help their careers and they won’t want to miss a thing!

There are three tips that I know can help you get, and keep, your audience engaged.

1.  Get them engaged right away. Clock starts now!

It is your job to break down the barrier between you and the audience. A great technique is to ask polling questions, like “show of hands, who has been in accounting for more that 10 years.” The audience gets to participate, and you learn something about them that may be useful during your presentation. Sprinkle polling questions throughout your presentation, even turning audience comments into a question.

Another good way to create engagement is to open your presentation by offering a statement they can discuss in small groups.  Lead with “My biggest fear about public speaking is…” Ask them to discuss this with the person next to them for five minutes and then share with the group. You have created a shared experience with common ground for those fears among the group. Bonus: Now you know what their fears are, and can be sure to include those in you presentation.

2.  It’s the sizzle that sells the steak.

Create a narrative around the facts or data you want to share. A majority of your presentation should be a compelling story that is supported by data. Why do the facts and figures matter; want do they mean to your audience?

“Facts and statistics may tell a story, but if you truly want to effect change and influence the way your audience thinks and feels, you will have to go beyond straightforward communications,” explains Marla Tabaka, contributor to INC. com. “The key to really getting people to listen and act: Touch them on an emotional level.”

3.  It is not about you. It really is about the audience.

How does the message you are delivering fit into the audience’s lives? What challenges are they experiencing, and how will your presentation help solve their problems? Restating facts and figures is not helpful. Identifying what the issues are, and offering new ideas to improve situations is very helpful.

Let’s say you are delivering a leadership workshop to a group of CPAs who have recently been promoted to manager positions in their firms. You recently read that many new managers are unable to manage to all the levels required: Up, down, out and in. Managing the partners’ expectations is definitely not the same as managing a team or the new workload.

Tailor your conversation to these points, craft stories about various challenges the new managers may be experiencing, and offer techniques to help them succeed. When you see smiles and “I get that” expression on faces, you know you have connected with your audience.

Develop a plan on how you will deliver your next presentation incorporating these three tips and you can engage your audience is less than one minute.

Learn more about becoming a better speaker. Subscribe to my monthly newsletter at, and listen to episodes of my podcast, Improv Is No Joke, available at, on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.

Three Tips to Help Get Past Your Fear of Public Speaking

80 million Americans are mortified to speak in public. Peoplesfear of public speaking beat out fear of drowning, needles, snakes, heights, and even clowns.

Sound like you? If you dread the thought of speaking in front of a group, I can help! You will learn three strategies to help get you past your fear and deliver a more compelling and engaging presentation.

Overcoming your fear of speaking in front of a group is difficult.  Your heart is racing, your adrenaline is high, and your inner critic is telling you all the negative things that could happen. All eyes are on you. You actually feel sick from stress and fear. What can you do?

First, you arent alone! Even professional speakers like me get a little nervous before a presentation. Working with clients I help everyone understand that overcoming their fear of public speaking is an acquired skill. Here are three tips to help.

Tip #1: Be prepared. Know your subject, understand your audience and be ready. There is a difference between preparation and perfection, no presentation is perfect.  Yes, you will make a mistake, maybe more than one. Most of the time, unless its a real blooper, the only person who will know about it is you. If you know your material inside and out you can have a conversation with the audience instead of a presentation.

Tip #2: Silence your inner critic. Use the improv technique of Yes And to boost your confidence.

Are you nervous? Yes, and I am also prepared.  Are you really prepared? Yes, and I am looking forward to sharing with colleagues. Were you selected to present because you know your stuff? Yes, and this is important to my career.

Tip #3: Practice. Go live in front of friends or family before the big day. Revise as needed, and get comfortable with your material. As you practice, that critical voice that has hounded you for years will fade away.

These three tips are the foundation for compelling and engaging presentation. Hope they help you out. Check my website at for more details.