Why You Should Never Be Late for a Speaking Engagement

The humorous story below is a slightly modified version of a joke forwarded to me by one of my contacts on LinkedIn, Daniel Bernstein. Thanks, Daniel!

All public speakers should appreciate the humour. And, as is often the case, wrapped inside the humour is an important lesson.


A local priest was being honoured with a lavish retirement dinner after serving 25 years in the parish. Hundreds of people attended.

One of the members of the congregation was a leading local politician. He was chosen to make the presentation and to give a speech at the dinner. Unfortunately, he was delayed in the legislature because of an important debate about some pressing matter.

To fill the time while the people waited for the politician to arrive, the priest decided to say a few words of his own. Standing before the audience, he began:

My first impression of this parish was based on the very first confession that I heard here. I couldn’t believe my ears! The very first person who entered my confessional told me that he had embezzled money from a local business and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He’d also stolen money from his parents and his employer. He’d had an affair with his best friend’s wife and took illicit drugs. I was appalled. I thought that this would be a terrible place!

However, as the weeks went by, I discovered that most of my parishioners were not like him and that, to the contrary, this was a fine parish full of good and loving people.

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived. He approached the microphone, apologized for having been delayed, and began his address:

I’ll never forget the day our parish priest arrived. In fact, I had the honour of being the very first person to go to him for confession …

The moral of the story: Never be late for a speaking engagement!


The version of the above joke that was forwarded to me can be found here on a site called The Good Clean Funnies List. The site contains thousands of good, clean and funny jokes contributed by its members over 13 years.

Telling jokes — as opposed to humorous stories — always comes with the risk that they will bomb. However, when used appropriately and sparingly, good jokes can inject energy into a speech, particularly a long one.

If you think that you have room for a good joke in an upcoming speech or presentation, check out The Good Clean Funnies List. You might just find what you’re looking for.

About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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5 Responses to Why You Should Never Be Late for a Speaking Engagement

  1. Dave Folstad says:

    Liked the story, a wonderful way to make a point and make it memorable.

  2. Jack Vincent says:

    Funny way to illustrate it, John. I’ve got a not-so-funny way. Last year, a fellow was pitching me on doing business with him. I learned of a workshop he was leading at an industry conference I was attending, so I went to it. He hadn’t arrived yet, and the organizers were going crazy. THEY were looking for HIM. He hadn’t event tried to inform the organizers that he was running late, although he claimed he didn’t have their phone numbers. (Not sure which is worse!) He ended up coming in to half-filled room ten minutes after the start time, frantically setting up his laptop, and gave a pretty good-but-abbreviated presentation, I’m told. But I was one of the other half who had stepped out … and have lost any intention of working on projects with him.

    • John Zimmer says:


      Thanks for sharing that story. It demonstrates the importance of sticking to one’s commitment and the consequences of not doing so. Whenever I speak, I make every effort to be there one hour in advance to the extent I am able to do so. It gives me time to meet people, set up calmly and be in relaxed frame of mind, fully focused on my speech or presentation.

      Of course, sometimes things happen. If you are driving along and the person in front of you drives off the road, I think it more important that you stop and help that person rather than being on time for your talk. Of course, when you have a moment, you should phone your contacts at the venue and explain the situation. And if you don’t have a phone and the contact numbers, you need to review The Public Speaker’s Checklist! http://wp.me/pwfa1-1lw



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