Editor’s Notebook: Never start with a joke

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by Brian Clarey

In preparation for this week’s cover story on TEDx Greensboro  I had to do a lot of research.

I spoke with event organizers, and interviewed Rich Schlenz of Greensboro’s EXTRAordinary! Inc., while he was waiting for a plane at JFK Airport in New York City. He was so helpful I decided to honor the conceit he uses in his company name.

Forgive me, AP style.

Schlentz coaches the speakers, some of whom have very little experience addressing sizable crowds.

“They are all passionate they have deep convictions about their message,” he said. “They have the raw tools, but what some of them lack is a process to make the information flow.”

He was the one who told me never to start with a joke.

“Jokes are one of the most risky things to do,” he said. “Tell a funny story. Laughter is good. Jokes are risky.”

And I had an obstacle to overcome: Before last week, I had never in my life, not once, watched a TED Talk.

So I hunkered down on Friday and set to bingeing. I watched nothing but TED Talks for three hours, one after the other, on my laptop screen.

I saw an educator make a good case as to how our schools are drilling creativity out of our kids.

I learned from a professional truth-seeker that strangers will lie to each other three times each within the first 10 minutes of meeting.

I watched Steve Jobs deliver the commencement address at the university from which he dropped out.

I learned about the sixth sense, heard an Australian kid perform the best beat-boxing I’ve ever witnessed and saw a pickpocket steal a man’s watch right after he told the dude he was going to swipe it.

And I figured out what a lot of other people already know: TED Talks are one of the most amazing resources available on the entire planet — an encyclopedia of brilliance and creativity, a library of innovation and intellectual adventure, a circus of thought.

And I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be taken in all at once.

I knew I had a case of brilliance fatigue when I watched a man with fixed jet wings strapped to his back cruise through the Grand Canyon using his body as a human fuselage. It was amazing. But not even halfway through the 18-minute video, I lost interest.

Eh, I thought. I get it.

Then I switched over to Facebook to monitor how poorly my college friends are aging.

Even genius gets old.

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