Last month I had the pleasure of learning a new skill — the art of stand up comedy.
Over a 5 night course by The School Of Hard Knock Knocks, I learned how to write material, find the funny, talk nonsense, perform in a (literal) spotlight and deal with hecklers, culminating in a 5 minute performance to a live audience on graduation night. You can hear my podcast on the experience here.
Why did I do it? Not only was it an opportunity to get out of my comfort zone, but as a speaker, I’m always open to learn from different styles of speaking and communication in order to improve my own speaking skills.
Turns out, there is much we can learn from stand up comedy, and in this episode, I share 5 tips you can use to improve your public speaking — no joke writing required!
5 Stand Up Comedy Tips To Improve Your Public Speaking:
1. Cut the fat
We all have that parent, or uncle, who, at family gatherings, loves telling a joke or a story that just drags on and on and on…until you feel like burying your face in the potato salad to end the torture.
It’s the same with stand up, except audiences are way less forgiving. Our stand up coach kept reminding us: get to the funny quicker. If you don’t need it, cut it out. If it doesn’t contribute to a laugh, get rid of it.
It’s the same thing with your business presentations. Cut out anything that does not related to your audience’s #1 takeaway (I go through this in more detail in my Speech & Presentation Template). It will make your communication more punchy and concise, and your audience will be more likely to remember your message.
“Gee, I really wish that presentation went for longer!”
– No one ever.
2. Sift through the crap to find the gold
One of our coaches, Dave Ivkovic, said that writing comedy is like panning for gold. At first, you have a lot of worthless rocks, pebbles and sand that you need to toss out…but somewhere in there is a tiny little speck of gold — which is your hilarious joke.
He said for every line of great comedy, you will often write about 5 pages of material. Wow.
I work on this with my coaching clients in terms of storytelling. We all have great stories that could perfectly illustrate a point or enable a deeper connection with our audience, but we often can’t think of them when we need.
The solution to this? Write a ‘story bank’. Write a brief timeline of your life, with all your major milestones, successes and failures, and write a personal story for each one. Don’t edit yourself, just free write. You’ll end up with pages and pages of content, but somewhere in there will be stories and lessons that are perfect for your presentations — this is your ‘gold’!
3. Practice failing
In the stand up course, we would learn how to write a joke, we’d go away and write it, then come back and perform it, one by one, on stage. More often than not, our jokes would ‘bomb’ (ie no one laughed).
It was one of the most difficult things to get used to — failing on stage. BUT, this is something stand up comics MUST learn to get over. If you can stand up there and be ok with a joke not working, then you can move on and not freak out.
What does this mean for you? Be prepared to make mistakes and accept they will happen. Sometimes your stories won’t resonate, or you might mess up your words, or you’ll go blank…but you NEED to experience this in order to get feedback and improve. If you can, practice with a colleague and seek feedback before a high pressure presentation or meeting.
4. SLOW DOWN
You can write the funniest jokes on the planet, but if you speak so fast that your audience can’t hear the punch line, no one will laugh.
This is why it’s so important to slow down and pause. Watch how good stand up comedians use pausing to milk their jokes and drive the punch lines home. Not only does it add impact to their jokes, it communicates confidence. Yes, some comedians speak fast and that’s their schtick, but they have to ensure they speak incredibly clearly to get their punch lines heard.
Content is one thing, but delivery is another. Just ask Uber Eats.
5. Be ready for anything
Dealing with hecklers is next-level stuff. During my stand up set, I made an off-the-cuff comment to the audience “I like you guys!” A lady in the front row responded: “I like you too!” It wasn’t even a negative heckle, but I wasn’t expecting it, and it completely threw me. I came up with a hilarious response about 15 minutes later, but by then it was too late.
Skilled stand up comics are ready for ANYTHING — drunk people, loud people, late people, people who are drunk, loud AND late (thanks Dad…), mobile phones, glasses smashing, loud music, loads of laughter, no laughter…it goes on and on.
And it’s the same in business (well, hopefully with fewer drunk people). You need to accept that anything could happen, whether it be an unexpected question, the tech not working, the program running late, etc. We like to control things, and tend to freak out if something unplanned happens. But you know what? That’s life. And the more skilled you can be at being spontaneous and dealing with interruptions, the better it is for your own confidence and effectiveness as a speaker.
I believe in this so much I did an entire podcast on it. Listen to ‘How to be spontaneous and deal with the unexpected’ here.
I hope you found this useful! You don’t need to do stand up, but I highly recommend you learn different communication styles and techniques to help you towards developing your own unique speaking style. No single style or methodology is ‘correct’ or the ‘best’ one for you. You need to find what works for you!
To learn more about The C Method coaching, keynote and corporate programs, get in touch here, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Podcasting Masterclass, Melbourne, April 28 2018: Want to create a podcast but don’t know where to start? As part of Podcast Services Australia, this full-day training course will take you through the process of how to develop, launch and run a show that is engaging and sustainable. Click here for more info and to register.
- Public Speaking Masterclass, Melbourne, May 12 2018: this workshop is for high performing professionals and business owners who want to take their speaking to the next level. Discover how to overcome your fears around speaking and deliver a presentation in a way that inspires, engages and moves your audience to action. Click here for more info and to register.
- Reading this sometime in the future? Click here to see all upcoming events and workshops!