For those of you who haven’t been following my illustrious stand up comedy career, I’ve been trying out my skills at my local open-mic nights. With my background in public speaking and inherent hilarity, what could possibly go wrong?
Honestly, I’ve had a blast with the performances I’ve given so far, with the highlight being invited to perform at Brisbane’s largest comedy club, the Sit Down Comedy Club at the Paddo. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing – one night at a pub in Bowen Hills was the most challenged I’ve ever been in front of an audience ever, but it’s definitely helped me to become a better speaker.
These are the top three things that I learned from doing stand-up comedy.
1. Find what works and stick with it
People are often scared to use the same lines over and over – there’s a pressure to be unique each time you speak. But in comedy, it’s accepted that comedians often have only a small amount of material that they keep honing, making it better and better each time.
As a leader, you’re often asked to present the same material to different groups. Occasionally, a couple of audience members overlap, which sparks this feeling of having to mix up the script. But by doing this, you can end up diluting your message.
The best thing you can do is work on creating powerful lines, and continually repeat ones that land really well. In comedy, these are the lines that get the biggest laughs. The best kind of laughs are the ones I call the drink-spitting laughs – the ones that burst from people when they’re not expecting it.
In a business environment, these lines might be the ones that get the biggest nods or that widening of the eyes that suggests your audience is having an “AH HA!” moment.
2. Stories are better than one-liners
When a lot of people think of comedy, they immediately think of witty one-liners. These are the jokes that bring out the biggest laughs, but they don’t bring a room to life. To really engage with an audience, you need to share a story and keep tying your one-liners back to it. By doing this, you build the base of your comedy such that the one-liners hit on an already warm crowd.
Often times if you watch a stand-up comedy show, you’ll laugh and you’ll walk away feeling great – but the next day when someone says, “what were some of the jokes they told,” often times you won’t be able to. You might have laughed all night, but a week later you won’t remember a single thing from the show.
But, when a comedian tells a story – my favourite storyteller comics are Chris Rock and Hannah Gadsby – we can remember it so much better.
This shouldn’t be a surprise, we know that storytelling works. Some stories can stay with you for the rest of your life. There are movies, books, tv programs and presentations that will stay with you until the day you die.
For business presentations, this relates to the message you’re trying to convey. Sure, there are important facts and figures that might raise an eyebrow, but if your audience isn’t engaged with your story, the meaning behind the data, these ‘one-liners’ aren’t going to make the impact you’d like. Data needs context, story and relevance.
3. Tone is EVERYTHING
The words you choose are important, absolutely, but how you say it can make a world of difference. An extreme example of this is sarcasm, a tone of voice that implies the exact opposite of the words you’ve spoken. But tone can be incredibly nuanced.
With comedy, you want everything to be funny. But somethings are funnier than others, so exaggerating your tone can bring the audience’s attention to these bits. Other parts may be there to link sections of your set together, to give the audience a breather, and the tone of these is entirely different.
In business, you need to be more conscious about what you’re aiming for. Inspiring, motivating, informative, sincere? Do you want people to be concerned about something or continue as they are? By knowing how you want them to feel, you can adjust your tone to suit and really nail home your message.
And what’s the best way to incorporate these tips into your next presentation? Practice! If you have a high-stakes talk, practise in front of a few people first. Ask them which lines resonated with them, and which ones didn’t. Ask them how the presentation made them feel and see if it lined up with what you were going for. If you have the opportunity to schedule your talks, leave the higher-stakes audiences for later so you can use the first talks to get a better handle on what works.
Of course, if all this seems like too much to take in, then we’re here to help. Presentation Boss runs a variety of workshops for organisations looking to improve their internal communications by teaching how to present with clarity and confidence. If you’d like to know more, you can get in touch with me below or email me at [email protected].