Reprint from The Toastmaster March 1998
Humor Is No Joke For This Popular Speaker
Not many are called (and even fewer are chosen) to compete for the exalted title of Miss America. And although the experience of the pageant may represent the pinnacle of achievement for some women, for Jeanne Robertson it was hardly her life's highpoint. You might even take the perspective that it was the pageant that reached its highest high through Robertson's involvement in it, for in her the competition had its tallest participant ever.
At a towering six-foot-two, Robertson holds the added distinction of being the tallest participant not to win the crown. But losing is in the eye of the beholder, and Robertson views the experience as perhaps the most contributive of all others to her current career. She believes that her participation
that and perhaps even her losing of the Miss America contest eventually led her to become one of the funniest and most popular professional speakers in the United States. As Miss North Carolina, Jeanne Robertson traveled her native state for one year, speaking at pageants and addressing civic clubs and corporations. She quickly noticed that people responded to her humor, and she found that people seemed to more easily identify with someone who had not won the title
of Miss America than with someone who had been so honored.
But the real key to Robertson's success throughout her 35 years as a public speaker is her humor- specifically, her ability to laugh at the funny things that happen (or don't happen) to her; and to invite others to laugh along with her. If you are lucky enough to hear her southern accent in action,
though, don't expect stand-up comedy and formulaic jokes. Robertson stresses, "Telling funny stories doesn't give a person a sense of humor. A real sense of humor means being able to laugh at yourself, and being able to laugh at day-to-day situations that are often anything but funny when they happen."
Thus, she prefers to promote herself as a "professional speaker who is a
And therein lies the added challenge. In Robertson's opinion, being a professional humorist entails far more than getting a laugh. For her the goal is to inform, to motivate and to impart some bit of wisdom from her experience to her audience. Humorous treatment of a given topic or story is her means to that end.
About the only things that aren't laughable in Robertson's life and career are the distinguished honors and awards she has received. One of these was the CPAE Award, conferred by the National Speakers Association. She became the first woman to keynote an NSA convention and, in 1989, the first to receive its highest honor, the Cavett Award. She served as the NSA's president in 1985-86. Also in 1986, Toastmasters in her home state of North Carolina presented her with their Communication and Leadership Award in honor of outstanding achievements and excellence in communication. And this August she
will be honored with Toastmasters International's highest award, the Golden Gavel, at the Annual Convention in Palm Desert, California.
Whether or not honors keep coming her way, her goal will continue to be to
"keep 'em laughin!" Through her humorous looks at both her successes and her losses we may find reason to replace the bittersweet adage
"Tis better to have loved and lost" with: "Tis better to have lost and laughed - words of wisdom all Toastmasters would do well to remember.
Golden Gavel Recipients