Archive for the ‘Humor Strategies’ Category

“Laugh” at Your Failures – The Secret to Connecting With Your Audience

laughing audience and speaker

Have you ever seen a speaker that was talented, successful, and seemed to have a solid message but yet, you still walked away from that speech feeling like there was  something missing? It was like you felt  some kind of  disconnect with the speaker but you just couldn’t quite put your finger on it. Chances are, that the speaker failed to  use the  critical tool in speaking called “laugh at your failures.”

Plant any thought but this one. 

One of the absolutely worst thoughts that you can plant in the minds of your audience is for them to think that you’re special. The minute that your audience puts you on a pedestal saying “well he is able to accomplish all that because he is talented.  I’m not talented. I can’t learn anything from him.”  Your message is doomed.  

You can have the greatest message in the world, but if you come across as being  someone who “has all the answers” without  first sharing the experience that led up to that wisdom,  then  you will be perceived  as the “guru of your own story” and your message will fall on deaf ears.

If you look at history, you will see that all great leaders had  someone or an experience in their life that showed them “the way.”  So by  sharing your failures first and poking fun at them in a lighthearted way, you will go a long way in setting up your audience to accepting your message.

Lessons from the world of comedy.

In comedy they call it “self-deprecating humor”  and successful  comedians  use it all the time within their routines to connect with and garner laughs from their audience.  Unfortunately, what comedians wholeheartedly embrace  most speakers will wholeheartedly avoid. Most speakers  would rather run and hide than have to share their failures. Why? Because they think that sharing their faults  will make them look weak  and this is simply not true. On the contrary, when done with confidence, self-deprecating actually builds  you up in the eyes of your audience.

Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines the word deprecate as follows; “to  criticize or express disapproval of (someone or something).” You will not see Self-deprecate in Merriam Webster’s dictionary because it is a hyphenated word.  However,  you will find other sources  online define  Self-deprecate  as “belittling or undervaluing oneself.” When you add 1 part confidence and 1 part self-deprecation,  the resulting effect will be self-deprecating humor.

Now let’s track back to the comedy world  where self-deprecating is always associated with humor.   When great comedians take the stage, the first thing they bring to it is their  “stage presence.”   They bring an aura of  personality and confidence. And when they poke fun at their “miserable lives”  you will always see them do it with confidence.   As an example, listen to the following clips where  you will hear Bruce Bruce a well know comedian (whom once weighed close to 500 pounds at one point in his career), as well as George Casey another comic who is known as “the clean comedian” use self-deprecating humor in their routines.

Comedian Bruce Bruce



Comedian George Casey


In comedy, the purpose of self-deprecating humor is for pure laughs – there is no real means to an end. However,  with speaking, self-deprecating humor has two main purposes;

1.  It takes you off the pedestal.

As we alluded to earlier,  when you  lighten up and  you confidently share your failures with your audience, they see you as someone who  is a fallible  human being just like them.  They see you as someone who has had similar struggles and challenges as they have.  This make you authentic and real to your audience, and as a result they will buy into your message.

2. It’s used to prime the audience for your message.  

To put it simply;  When your audience  is laughing they are with you.  They are attentive and tuned in.  At times during your speech you may not have the entire attention of your audience  because you will not always be able to control 100 percent of the  attention of  everyone in your audience all the time. However, when you make them laugh, chances are that everyone will be with you.

And when  you are feeling good and being joyful, you are more prone to being in a state-of-mind of acceptance  and learning. So when you’re audience is sitting there laughing while you poke some fun at your failures, they will be primed and ready to hear your serious message that’s just around the corner.

My experience with laughing at my failures.

I’m often invited to speak to various audiences that are curious  about learning the art of public speaking. Now these are people that may not have done much public speaking  in their life and they’re testing the waters to see if they have it in them to be able to do what I do. They’re looking for someone to show them the way.

Now let me ask you, when speaking to these audiences what if didn’t share my failures? What if all I did was build myself up and never showed them my failures. What if just said something along the lines of  ” You can be a great speaker if you just  follow my 4 step process to speaking success. ”  

In essence what I am saying  without actually telling them is , ” hey look at me,  I’m a great speaker and you can be  just like me if you just do what I tell you to do”   Who do you think is  going to listen to me? Who in my audience is going to think that they can develop this skill? The answer, almost no one. Why?  Because they’ll think that I’m special. They’ll thing that I’m  a great public speaker because I was born that way and that I’m naturally gifted  – which could be farther from the truth.

To see how I went about “laughing at my failures” with one particular audience, listen to the following clip of me laughing at my failures while talking about how I bombed  when delivering an impassioned message of hope to an audience of well over 1000 people. 

Lewis Roth self-deprecating

Clip 1


Now listen to this second clip and see how the audience reacts to the self-deprecating humor I used when talking about my past when it comes to my speaking.

Clip 2 


Now after talking about my failures, what do you think are the chances that  people in my audience will  say “if he can make it as a speaker after bombing like that in-front of over 1000 people. If he can talk about his dismal experience with public speaking where he needed to take shots of Jack Daniels in order to get his courage up, then  I can really learn something from a guy like that!”  Probably almost everyone.  Why? Because when you first laugh at your failures, your audience sees you as similar to them and not special, and as a result they’ll buy into your message.

While coaching and preparing one of my clients for a high level  motivational speech contest we made sure that before she delivered her impactful takeaway message,  that she first share and laugh at her failures.  Now listen to an audio excerpt of how Teresa Palmer engages her audience with her failures first.

My coaching client self-deprecating

Teresa Palmer laughing at her failures

Because Teresa shared her failures first, she set up her audience to receive her powerful  motivational message  of  “You are the only one that could be you.” You can watch her speech in it’s entirety by clicking here.

So now that you know the power of being  able to laugh at your failures  when you’re on the speaking platform delivering a powerful message, how do you go about  bringing  the power of self-deprecation to the stage?

Start looking for the humor in your own life

Before you are able to poke fun and  laugh at your failures  on stage, you have to be able to first do it off-stage.  The art of  being able to self deprecate humorously on stage starts  with your own  life first. If you find  yourself  being too serious in your daily life, you should  work  towards lightening up a bit. Start by looking around and finding the humor in your life because it is always around us.  It’s there, you just need to look for it.  And it all starts with having a positive attitude and being able to see the positive side of things even when things don’t always go our way.

Self Deprecating humor is a great bonding agent 

In everyday life, within our  daily interactions with people at work,  at home, and at play, self-deprecating humor is common with many and easy to do.  However,  there are still those who will not  laugh at themselves  because they take themselves much too seriously or don’t have a healthy level of confidence.  If you have experienced it already, you will know that using self-deprecating humor in life is a great bonding agent which pulls people together.

The use of self-deprecating humor is also a great way to create rapport with people.  For example, many people are very  self-conscious about their weight and it reflects on their self-esteem. And  yet there are some that carry their weight with confidence.  For example, at a wedding reception with a nice smorgasbord spread, a heavyset person with a high dose of confidence and doesn’t take himself too seriously might turn to his friends and say  “well fellas I’m going to start a new diet starting tonight!”  His friends say “what new diet John?”  And John says,  “A  “See” food diet!”  And they all laugh together.   Because John pokes fun at himself, it make everyone around him  feel good to be with him.

Give yourself the gift of humor

If you find yourself saying, “I could never poke fun at myself. I could never laugh at my failures.” Or perhaps you’ve had friends tell you at times, “You know, you’re way too serious. You need to lighten up a bit,”  then you might be a good candidate for a prescription dose of daily humor.  A good place to start is by actively tuning  your brain into  humor on a regular basis.  Listen to or watch comedy for 30 minutes a day.  If you’re time is tight then get a satellite radio  receiver and listen to it while you commute to and from work.  There are many channels on satellite radio that are dedicated  just towards  comedy.  The  bottom line is this; the more you tune into humor the more humor will be part of you.

Learning from our Presidents

Without thinking, which one of the presidents of our era immediately  pops into your mind when I say “great communicators of our time.”   I’m sure your reflexive thought instantly drew the names of Clinton,  Reagan and Obama.   With the exclusion of Obama  (whom only recently had gotten good at self deprecation),  Regan and Clinton  had exemplified this throughout their presidency.  

By now,  it’s obvious  to you as to why  Presidents Clinton, Reagan, and Obama would use self deprecating humor.  Because they know that doing so, brings them closer to their audience. And especially when it comes to “voting time” when the last thing a president would want is to come off as being on a pedestal and being seen as one who doesn’t understand the needs of the people.  

Now to see this in action, listen to the following clips of  Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Obama and hear how  they  use self deprecating humor to bring them  down to the level of their audience.

Reagan self-deprecating 


Clinton self-deprecating 


Obama  self-deprecating


Your takeaway message 

When done with confidence, sharing and poking fun at your failures with your audience before talking about your successes and showing them the way -is “the way.” Laughing at your failures brings you off the pedestal and allows your audience to accept your message because they see you as similar and not special.  They will no longer see you as the “guru of your own story” but one who has learned hard from his own experiences.  

If you ever find yourself standing on the edge of the speaking platform filled with reservations and doubt as to whether you should share your failures with your audience, then always keep this thought close to your heart; “if the presidents of the united states of america can give themselves permission and allow themselves to laugh at their faults and poke fun at their imperfections, then so can you and I!



Remember “Three” When You Speak

The Magic of Three

The number three is a magical number in the English language. We see it in movie titles as in “The Three Stooges, The Three Musketeers and The Three Amigos,” we see it as far back as being the most famous phrase in the Unites States declaration of independence – “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, and we see it  by speakers and comedians all across America.

I don’t know why this is so. We can theorize the reason for this phenomenon from today till tomorrow, and in fact some people have, but my philosophy is, “if something works – just go with it!”  Why spend your energy trying to figure out the “why” of it when you can just be in the “now” and just go with it. If it is good for our founding forefathers, if it is good for Hollywood, then it is good for me – You see, there is the rule of three in action!

So how does “the rule of three” work to create humor?  When comedians create their humor, they use what is called the “set up – punch”.  Comedians use this set up-punch formula to get every one of their laughs. Comedians don’t always need to use the rule of three, they are so good at creating humor that they don’t always need to rely it, but for the rest of us speakers, using the rule of three is a technique that we should always use, and that if done right, can almost guarantee a laugh from the audience.

The psychology of the Set up-Punch Formula

What is the comedian’s secret to getting a laugh from the audience? Comedians are not psychologists, but they know how the human minds works  – at least when it comes to getting a laugh.  Comedians know three things about the human mind very well when it comes to humor.     

1. That a “Spontaneous shift” is the key.

2. That proper timing is crucial

3. That the content must be appropriate for the audience

Spontaneous shift

So what is a spontaneous shift? A spontaneous shift is when the speaker puts the audience on one track. The speaker fills up the mind of their audience with a vivid picture of one particular thought or idea and just at the point when the audience is expecting to continue on that track, the speaker suddenly puts them on a totally different track and Walla a laugh occurs!

The key here is spontaneous. From the speakers perspective, it may not seem spontaneous, because the speakers is prepared and knows what he or she is planning to say. However, from the perspective of the audience it definitely comes across as spontaneous. How many times have you had conversations with friends or family and laugh seemed to easily flow. If you think about it, you will probably realize that the instant the laugh occurred, someone said something spontaneous and which also put everyone else’s thoughts on another track.

Proper Timing

Putting your audience on another thought track is not enough. You also need to have your timing down in order to make an impact and receive a laugh. Your punch line needs to come immediately after the set up. If you wait too long, you will lose the impact potential of your punch line.

When using the rule of three, you are essentially doing the same thing as what comedians do with their set-punch in their comedy routines, but your set up will be a bit longer.

The rule of Three in Action

A friend of mine and fellow speaker, Marry Cheyne, had used the rule of three extremely well when she delivered her speech “Nelly”  at the  Toastmasters 2009 international convention. She gave some background about how challenging and uncomfortable it was for her to come to Australia as a 7 year old Chinese. She then said, “I was so uncomfortable that I felt like a fish out of water, like a bird out of its nest, like a guest (pause) at a toastmasters meeting.” The last line, “like a guest at a toastmasters meeting” was the punch line. The other two lines were the set up for her punch line.

The background story gave the audience the “thought track” of her being uncomfortable, The first two lines went along that  track –  uncomfortable like a fish out of water , uncomfortable like a bird out of its nest and then she throws the twist – Like a guest (she pauses) and then says “at a toastmasters meeting”. The audience was expecting her to stay serious, but she doesn’t. She spontaneously puts their thought on another track and walla she gets a laugh!

The Rule of Three must be Adaptable to Your Audience

When coming up with the right content for the rule of three, make sure your content is applicable to your audience. When Marry came up with her content, she knew who her audience was. It was a room full of fellow toastmasters. So everyone in her audience knew how uncomfortable a guest at a toastmasters club meeting feels, because at one time or another everyone was a guest before they became a member. That is why it was funny to that audience. Her line would not have been funny to a group of people no affiliated with toastmasters and surely she would not have used it. So always make sure that your content is appropriate to your audience. Enjoy tinkering with “the rule of three” for your next speech!

How to Lose Your Audience – Even if You Are Funny

You prepared a great speech, you infused your speech with some great stories. You incorporated a lot  of  good dialogue and you also uncovered some really good  laugh lines. You honed and practiced your speech for hours on end. And then the final day comes. You get up on stage, start your speech with a really solid opening. You get to your first laugh line and receive the laugh you were expecting. Fantastic! You then get to your second laugh line and you get another good laugh from the audience, but then something strange starts to happen. Every next laugh line in your speech now seems to receive less and less audience reaction. You know that this has nothing to do with your lines because they are extremely funny, and some were much funnier than your laugh lines at the start of your speech where you had received great audience reaction.

Why did you lose your audience?
So what happened? Why did you receive diminishing audience reaction as your speech went along? It wasn’t your stories – because they were great. It wasn’t your laugh lines because they were funny. What probably happened to you and which most newbie speakers tend to do is  step on their audience’s laughter. So what does stepping on the audience laughter exactly mean?

Speaking is a two way street

Remember, Speaking is not a monologue. It is a dialogue. Speaking is to way street between you and your audience.  When you speak, you are giving the audience a gift. You give them the gift of uplifting inspiration, humor, and the ability to embrace change. The audience also gives you back a gift. Their gift to you is their involvement and participation, and when you are funny, they will even give you a good hearty laugh!

People want to give back

In his book, “The psychology of persuasion”, Kevin Hogan lays out 12 specific laws of persuasion. The first law he calls “The Law of Reciprocity,” which he defines as, “When someone gives you something of perceived value, you immediately respond with the desire to give something back (p. 24).”

When you give someone a gift, they want to reciprocate that gesture to you. That is why during the holiday season, there is so much back and forth gift giving. How would you feel, if all you did was receive gifts, but you never reciprocated and gave back – probably not  to good. I know I wouldn’t.

When you give the audience the gift of humor, they reciprocate to you with the gift of laughter. Now, what happens when you don’t let the audience have their laugh and you interrupt and move on with your speech without letting your audience take it all in and finish the laugh they started? You know what happens? They just stop laughing. Why should they laugh if they know that you are going to interrupt and not let them savor in the joy of laughter? This is a common mistake that most speakers make.

The Audience gives you a gift

When the audience gives you a laugh, it is a gift to you. Think about it. Weren’t you happy when the audience laughed? As speakers, we work very hard to develop and uncover humor within our stories. So when we receive laughter from the audience, it makes us feel really good deep down inside. We get the feeling of accomplishment – like “we did it”. I know for myself, I always strive very hard to uncover the humor within my stories, because not only do I feel good when my audience laughs at my lines but I also know that through humor, you can get really educate and drive and anchor your points to your audience.

How to Not Step on Your Laugh

So how do you not step on your laugh? The solution is quite simple. Just don’t do it! Not stepping on your laugh is just simply allowing your audience to participate in your humor. Get used to pausing and allowing the audience to enjoy the laugh. There can also be times when some of your humorous lines can illicit what is known as a rolling laughter. This is when sections of your audience react off of each others’ laughter. This can sometimes last for quite some time (depending on the size of your audience). You do not want to interrupt this. This is what the audience wants – let them have it, even at the cost of cutting down your speech. Remember, you connection with your audience is of utmost importance – even at the expense of cutting some of your content out. Let the audience have their laugh. They will love you for it!

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How to Breathe More Life Into Your Speech

Dialogue is the key to human interaction

One evening a number of months ago, I was hanging out with my friends at the local Starbucks near my hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Catching up with these friends was refreshing, because they were from out of town and I haven’t Seen them in a while.

Talking about the old times and each of us telling stories about the crazy stuff that we did back in the day, brought out so much laughter and humor that we all went home with our stomachs hurting. But I didn’t care – because I haven’t laughed so hard in a very long time.

So when I sat down to write this blog, it was that evening out with my friends, that kept flashing into my mind because the fabulous humorous interaction that we had, could not of happened without dialogue.

The Heart of Speaking is Storytelling

Think about your own life. Isn’t the natural interaction that you have with your family, your friends and people you meet in everyday life the source of that spontaneous humor? When it comes to public speaking, the sad truth however, is that most people never even think about using dialogue in their speeches.

These speakers have absolutely no clue that the humor that they are always wanting and searching for to include in their speeches, can be found in their everyday dialogue. Bill Gove, the first president of the national speakers association said, “that telling a story and making a point is the essence of public speaking”. So the heart of every speech is storytelling and the heart of every story is dialogue. Without dialogue you don’t have a real-feel story, instead, what you have is pure narration.

Dialogue brings your speech to life

Narration of a story is boring, dull and feels like it happened ages ago. You see, off – stage most people have absolutely no problem interacting with other people using dialogue. Why? – Because dialogue is our natural way of interacting. It’s all happening in real time – it’s spontaneous. And that’s where the humor is. It is found – in the spontaneous interaction between people.

Most speakers are Newscasters

When most speakers take the stage, they turn into narrators and newscasters, and any story that is told. is done through narration and not dialogue. With narration you can’t bring the characters in your speech to life – with dialogue you can. With narration the audience doesn’t get drawn into your story – with dialogue your audience does. With narration your audience can’t experience the emotions of your characters -with dialogue they can. Use narration and you will be like most speakers. Use dialogue and you will be like World Class Speakers.

Find the humor in your life

So how can you invoke more humor into your speeches? You find it by using more dialogue. If humor is found in the spontaneous dialogue that people have in everyday life, wouldn’t it make sense that if you just transported that same dialogue into your speeches that you would find the humor as well?

Just think about it. Not only can you import your real life stories into your speech, but you also have the opportunity to create dialogue between yourself and your audience, and then comment on the interaction between you and your characters within your stories to illicit more humor – elements that will be discussed in future blog posts!

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Humor That Will Guarantee NOT to Blow Up Your Speech!

One afternoon a few weeks ago, I walked into my local whole foods store  to pick up some organic fruits  and vegetables that I was going to use for dinner that night. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown by farmers who  grow their crops – only using pure and natural  methods and without the usage of harmful  pesticides.

Just as fruits and vegetables that are grown organically and naturally, not  only taste better but are also much healthier for your body -likewise,  inserting only  natural “organic” humor into your speech is not only much healthier for your speech, but will also keep it from self destructing on you!

Many speakers today, begin their speeches by warming up their audiences with a “classic joke”, and sometimes they will also go off on tangents right in the middle of their speech to tell a joke. Not only is doing this, “unnatural” to your speech and which takes away from your message, but it can also be extremely dangerous.

Has the following scenario ever happened to you?

You’re looking forward to sharing a great message with your audience, but before you start, you decide to warm up your audience by telling a joke. You have great intentions – So you go ahead and tell your joke thinking that you are going to get a laugh. But what if you don’t? What will you do when you get no reaction – and the only reaction you get is stunned silence? Perhaps you didn’t say the punch line right. Perhaps you picked the wrong joke for this particular audience. So in essence, you didn’t warm up your audience – you actually cooled them down! In fact they are now ice-cold!

“You Bombed”

Comedians have a name for this unfortunate situation. They call this “bombing”. When you “bomb” at any  point in your speech especially in the beginning, you will loose your audience and you might possibly be spending your entire time struggling to get them back and many speakers who “bomb” never do get their audience back. When you know you “bombed” and your audience knows you “bombed”, it is extremely hard to recover from this kind of situation. Even if you do recover, all your energy will have been wasted  trying to to do just that! It is not a place where you want to be.

“Organic Humor”- A better way

Most speakers look for ways of how they can “insert” humor into their presentations. They try to squeeze humor  “unnaturally” into their speeches. They try to find a joke that somehow correlates to their speech and audience and they “insert it” at various points in their speech. As I had mentioned earlier, this kind of humor can be extremely “dangerous” to your speech. This is obviously not what you want to do.

Look for the Humor that is already in Your Speech

Instead of inserting humor, you should be looking how you can uncover humor in your presentations. When you look for the humor that is already in your presentation, you will be far ahead of what most speakers do. How to “look for” and uncover the “natural humor” that is already within your speech, will be discussed in a future blog post.

As the saying goes, “seeing is believing”, so to illustrate why you and should only use humor that is natural and organic to your speech, I have included below, two separate (30 second) video clips of a 7 minute speech that I gave. These videos are a continuation of the video that was shown in commandment number one. You will see me use a “laugh line” that I start my speech off with. I gave this speech to two entirely different audiences. One gave me the laugh and the other did not.

“Organic Humor” With hardly any audience reaction



“Organic Humor” With Huge audience reaction



It wasn’t about the size of the audience

One audience included many people who were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and the other audience was mostly comprised of people in their 20s and 30s. One audience got the “laugh line”  and the other – for the most part did not (except for a few chuckles here and there). One audience gave me a huge laugh and the other did not – And it had nothing to do with the size of the audience.

The size of the audience was not the issue here. In-fact the audience where the laugh was negligible, was twice as large as the audience that gave me the huge laugh. However, the fact that I didn’t receive the laugh from the younger audience, did not deter me from moving on in my speech because the humor was “naturally” occurring to my speech. However, if this was a “classic joke that I started with, and for whatever reason I got no response from the audience, I  would have “bombed” and that would have been the end of my speech.

But since I used “organic humor” that was natural to my speech – whether the audience laughed or didn’t, made no difference to my speech and I simply moved on. So the next time you give a speech make sure that your humor is naturally occurring and “organic” to your speech. Don’t ever insert your humor – uncover it! Because it is there!

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Humor in Speaking – “Should I or Shouldn’t I”?

Why is Using Humor So Important in Speaking?

Humor is essential to every speaker. Speakers who don’t use humor in their presentations will eventually have trouble connecting with their audience and for that matter, will probably not get hired very much. So why is humor so important? Because humor connects! It’s as simple as that. It has been proven, that when people laugh and are in good spirits, they are at their best “emotional state” to receive the message of the speaker.

Never start your speech with a Joke

Most speakers start off their speeches with a classic joke. These speakers all have great intentions. They want to captivate the attention of the audience, make them laugh and then go directly into their speech. Unfortunately, all of these speakers are completely misguided.  Starting off your speech with a classic joke, will not only NOT captivate your audience, but can also be extremely risky (This will be the topic of Commandment number two).

One of the golden rules of public speaking, is to come out with a “Bang” you want to come out  “punching”.  You have 7 seconds to captivate the attention of your audience and your audience spends the next 23 seconds deciding whether  they should tune in or out of your presentation. If your boring and not captivating – your done! Speakers who start out with a joke are on the right track, thinking that they want to captivate their audience at the beginning of their speech, but they are misguided in the “thinking” that telling a joke will captivate their audience.

The Psychology of Captivating

The art of captivating an audience and starting your speech with a “bang” is to go where the audience least expects you to be. When you give the audience the unexpected, you have in essence captivated them. However, after years and years of listening to speakers who starts off  with jokes, audiences of today, have been conditioned to “expect”  speakers to start with a joke and when that is the case, you no longer  are giving the audience the “unexpected.”

So How Do You Start Your Speech with a Bang?

There are a number of ways to start your speech that will captivate your audience. One of the best ways to do this is by going directly into a story. Just like people love to watch a great movie with a great plot, people also love to hear a good story. When you learn how tell a story with a built in “message” you will not only connect with, but you will also captivate your audience.

Another good way to start your speech is by asking a question. When you ask your audience a question, you force them to think and when your audience is thinking, they are involved in your speech.  Take a look at the following video clip. This is the first 23 seconds of a 7 minute humorous speech that I gave. You will see me start off – first, by asking a question and then going directly into a story. You can hear the the entire speech by clicking on the video on the  home page of my web site. with each additional commandment that I will be posting on my blog.


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