Public speaking secrets of the standing comedy world
Do you think the worlds of standing comedy and business presentations are separate? Think again.
Successful comedians are master presenters. Many of them are also entrepreneurs who write their own material, book their concerts, organize their trips, and negotiate and collect their compensation from club owners.
In addition, to be successful, actors and entrepreneurs must think on their feet while engaging demanding audiences. As such, entrepreneurs can learn a lot from their comedic brethren.
Comedy secrets to boost your next presentation
There is a successful formula that professional comedians adhere to, regardless of the specific genre of their comedy routines. These characteristics of a successful comedy also translate into effective business presentations:
Good start – Get your audience’s attention and tell them who you are and why they should listen to you.
Due to their limited stage time, actors need to quickly set the tone for their act. Often times, the success or failure of the opening joke determines how well a routine is received. Where appropriate, open your business presentations with an anecdote or personal story that establishes an affinity with your audience. Such a story should tell the public, who you are, what your passion is and Why they should share your passion.
Guy Kawasaki often begins his presentations by showing a photograph he has taken of the place in which he is presenting. For example, if he was talking to University of Santa Barbara, he might show a picture of Freebirds and say, “Wow. I had a burrito at Freebirds earlier today and it was fantastic. Honoring your audience from the start is an effective way to personalize your speech, while also validating something that is dear to them.
Spontaneity practiced – Practice so carefully that your remarks seem fresh and spontaneous.
“According to most studies, the number one fear of people is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that ring true? This means for the average person, if you are going to a funeral, you are better off in the casket than delivering the eulogy. – Jerry Seinfeld
The documentary The comedian tells of Jerry Seinfeld’s efforts to create a new comedic routine. It’s clear that even new material from a talented comedian is usually a bomb. Comedy takes a lot of trial and error to separate the bad pieces from the ones that work. The same is true with business presentations.
The next time you catch a comedy show, watch the waiters. In most cases, they move stoically around the room, even when the audience laughs. Why? Because they heard the jokes over and over again, in the same order and delivered in the same “spontaneous” manner. Good comedy seems improvised and effortless, but it is usually the result of careful practice.
When we presented Computer Motion (NASDAQ: RBOT, sold to Intuitive Surgical), we held a three week road show where the management team gave the same presentation day after day, often multiple times a day. . Our most effective presentations were those in which our well-prepared improvisation seemed spontaneous. If you prepare thoroughly, you can achieve the same repeated spontaneity that distinguishes professional comics from amateurs.
Physical humor – Use your voice, posture, gestures and physical appearance to establish the appropriate tenor.
Successful comedians know that it’s often not what they say, but how they say it, that has the most impact. Studies have shown that about 55% of a speaker’s communication during the first few minutes of a presentation is non-verbal, while an additional 38% is tone of voice. Barely 7% of a speaker’s initial communications include the words they are speaking.
Heckler Management – Don’t alienate your audience by shutting off annoying reviews too quickly.
An audience has a group identity, even if they don’t know each other or have no formal affiliation. This effectively creates an “us versus them” paradigm between the speaker and the audience.
Experienced actors understand this dynamic. They know that if they prematurely silence a rowdy, they risk alienating the crowd. Instead, seasoned comedians endure the interruptions of a rowdy until the audience is also annoyed.
The success or failure of business presentations is often based on the questions and answers that follow the formal pitch. A member of the audience asking an irrelevant or absurd question is analogous to a rowdy in a comedy show. The presenter should respond with respect no matter how inept the inquiry is.
If the questioner continues to ask irrelevant or overly pointed questions, the audience will eventually become restless. Once his impatience is evident, the speaker should politely dismiss the questioner, indicating that he will address his issues after the presentation is over.
Connecting with the public – Carefully orchestrate your audience’s interactions, especially questions and answers.
Comedians often create repartee with their audiences by commenting on people’s wardrobes, dates, drinks, etc. Although these comments seem spontaneous and specific to a particular performance, they are repeated, with slight variations, at each performance.
Entrepreneurs are clearly not well served by berating or making fun of their audience. However, soliciting their participation can help keep an audience engaged. With an intimate crowd, engage participants using their first names and ask probing questions to uncover hidden concerns and objections. Comedians often ask audience members questions to set up their punchlines. In sales presentations, you can use the same approach to emphasize your main selling points.
Synchronization and clear sequences – Make it easy for your audience to follow your story, especially during the transition between its beginning, middle, and end.
Appropriate rhythm is of vital importance in comedy. Comedians should give the audience enough time to understand each joke and respond appropriately. At the same time, too many breaks make the routine boring.
Ensure an efficient pace in your presentations by establishing sequences that alert the audience as you move from one topic to another. In comedy, empty sentences like “Anyone here from New York?” Or “Did you hear the news about …?” are often used to mark transitions between topics. Such verbal cues give the audience time to catch their breath, while guiding them to the next topic. Entrepreneurs should provide their audience with similar mental respites and clear transitions.
Humor – Use tactful humor that is relevant to your story.
The skillful use of humor is the biggest lesson entrepreneurs can learn from comedians. As described in more detail in Avoid Death By PowerPoint – Create Slides That Won’t Suck, commercial presentations do not to have to be boring. Injecting good humor into your speeches can make them more engaging and therefore more impactful. People engaged are convincing people.
End with meaning – Close with impact and clearly communicate your call to action.
Actors often deploy the bookends technique, in which they refer to their opening joke at the end of their show. This gives their performance a sense of completion and symmetry. Entrepreneurs should also use this approach, referring to their opening comments in their closing remarks.
Whatever closing technique you deploy, appeal to your inner comic and end your speech with a line of applause that emphasizes a clear call to action.
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