Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Lessons of Stand-Up Comedy

Our message has always been that comedy has a huge part to play in business. Nothing gets your message to stick in the mind like comedy does. More and more the business world is taking advantage of what the world of comedy has to teach, with numerous articles and blogs covering what lessons can be learnt from improv and stand-up.

Rob Halden has been writing, performing and producing stand-up comedy for over ten years, performing in all manner of comedy clubs and theatres across the country. These days he’s in-demand to collaborate with and write for all manner of professional comedians. He also delivers workshops teaching the lessons of stand-up comedy to the business world, in conjunction with a number of Chambers of Commerce.

T&S: In a nutshell, what does stand-up comedy have to teach the business world?

Rob: “From presentations to pitches to seminars, business is all about engaging an audience and getting them on board. And that’s what stand-up comedy is. A comedian has to get the audience to believe in them, to buy into their persona, their performance and what they’re delivering.”

T&S: Are you teaching people to tell jokes and be funny?

Rob: “Not really telling jokes, no. There are dozens of techniques comedians use that translate to business. From putting all their material together, to what they physically do when they’re on stage, to how they handle an audience. Take the jokes out of stand-up comedy, and it’s masterclass in selling yourself and your ideas to an audience.”

T&S: What sort of areas are covered by both stand-up and business, then?

Rob: “How to project confidence is a big one. That’s a huge part of selling yourself and selling your message to an audience. Audiences can smell fear, you hear that all the time on the stand-up circuit. If a comedian doesn’t look like they know what they’re doing, it becomes impossible to get an audience to laugh. Great material, great jokes, can easily be undone by a less than confident delivery. That’s the same for any public speaking. If you project fear and uncertainty, the audience will lack trust and confidence in what you’re saying.”

T&S: So what does stand-up comedy have to teach us about projecting confidence?

Rob: “Well, overcoming the nerves that come with public speaking is a big deal. Believe it or not, even accomplished comics get nervous before performances. Over the years I’ve compiled a list of all the different relaxation techniques comedians have told me about, all the things they do backstage, right before going out to the Mic.

Projecting confidence is about convincing your audience that you belong where you are (even if you don’t!), that you know what you’re doing and that you are in charge. Comedians use lots of physical cues that project confidence before they even open their mouth. Body language, posture, commanding the performance space, all these things help to sell your audience on who you are and what you’re doing before they hear your message.”

T&S: Aside from confidence, what other lessons can stand-up teach us?

Rob: “There’s all the tricks and techniques comedians use to MC the room. Everything a stand-up does to turn a bunch of individuals into a collective audience, and everything they do to directly engage that audience with the material, to get them involved. When you do that, when you get your audience to engage with you and with your material (whatever it might be) that’s when you’re selling it to them.

There’s also how a comedian organises their material, how they put their points together. Stand-ups use lots of rhetoric techniques to convey their message as efficiently as possible. Efficiently is very important in stand-up. A comedian wants to convey their topic, their information and their message as efficiently as possible, so they can get to the punchline. When you’re able to do that, it makes your message or your pitch or whatever you’re discussing, as tight and solid as possible. Nothing feels like waffle.”

T&S: Will all comedy work for all audiences? Can you take a joke from the stand-up circuit and apply it to a business conference?

Rob: “Sometimes, yes, because some jokes have a universality to them. But it’s important to know that specific comedy usually ends up being the funniest. When a joke tackles a really specific area or topic, the people involved in that field will LOVE it. A lot of comedians I work with say they’d rather have a joke slay 30 people over a joke that makes a 100 people lukewarm.

A joke about computational fluid dynamics would probably kill within a group of nerdy aerodynamic engineers (and give you great legitimacy in their eyes), but probably not with your average stag or hen party, no matter how confidently delivered. So use that specific knowledge that YOU have about YOUR field and write things that are funny to YOU and your colleagues or clients.”

T&S: What do you think is the biggest lesson the business world can take away from stand-up comedy?

Rob: “Well I’m gonna cheat and say two. Because when you boil it all down, all the various techniques and tricks, it comes down to projecting confidence and engaging your audience. Those two things encapsulate everything. Because projecting confidence is what sells YOU to your audience, and engaging them directly is what sells your MESSAGE to them.”

Monday, 21 December 2015

Happiness Day 2015

In the words of Pharrell “It might sound crazy what I’m about to say” but get ready for a blog that covers Happiness Day 2015, the secret origin of the name Twist & Shout and a 90’s Glam Metal music video made by someone very close to us!

Every year, since time immemorial, the Twist & Shout team have cast off the shackled of the office and gathered together to put the world right. We call this day-long session Happiness Day, as the overall objective is to increase everybody’s happiness. That’s right, you heard us. The entire day is dedicated to increasing happiness!

In the old days (the black-and-white days) there was just a handful of us gathered round a single Pork Pie. It was a time when we could all fit inside one taxi-cab with room to spare.

These days though, the Twist & Shout team is a much larger, living, breathing entity of vibrant personalities. It’s now more important than ever that we all understand how every person and department feeds into one another. How our Media side relates to our Communications side, and how it all relates to our overall vision of changing the world. Changing the world for the better, we should say. We’re not Bond villains . . . yet.

So Happiness Day 2015 was a chance for us to introduce the whole team to newbies Katie Byres (Restricted Intelligence), Kirsty Mealing (Production Assistant) and Jamie Munro (Junior Editor), and then induct them into our wonderful cult.

This year’s Happiness Day was hosted at the picturesque Exchange Bar (conveniently located opposite T&S HQ). The Exchange has a gorgeous set of rooms, plenty spacious for our energetic activities, and possess that key ingredient; libation.

Our Glorious Leader Jim begins the Happiness Day with a talk about where we were last year, where we are this year and where we want to be next year. This is usually a sedate little talk that only involves five costume changes and three musical numbers that Jim has choreographed himself. Think of it as the State Of The Union Address but on Broadway.

After Jim’s talk we then throw ourselves into a series of Improv games. Now for anyone thinking this sounds like a lot of fun, you’re wrong! These are intensive games of Improv! These are Improv games that sort the men from the boys! The same kind of Improv games the play in the Special Forces! “Sir, yes and, Sir!”

It was then time to tackle the BIG QUESTIONS! What matters to us about the work we do, and how do we view the world? What do we like about the company and what do we hope it grows into? Who’s picking up the bar tab and how much can we spend?

We focused these big questions around four key areas; Learning, Doing, Caring & Being. Through exploring these topics we feel we can all increase our happiness.

So with Learning, for instance, our Glorious Leader Jim is interested in how people learn and how that can change behaviour. Whereas our Media Producer Richard is interested in how technology can enable learning and enable people to develop and progress.

Being is an interesting topic, it covers all the things that make us happy about our jobs and our lives. Our hobbies outside of work, what makes us passionate and driven. We like to explore what we can do to help everyone develop these hobbies and passions, even if doesn't directly relate to T&S. Because the more positive life experiences we have, the more interesting we are as people, the more stories we have, the more unique perspectives we can bring to ideas and projects. If we can help develop someone as a passionate, happy person, that means we’re developing them as a passionate, happy worker as well.

What emerged from our discussions on Being is that we want to put together more experiences and events as a team. Whether it’s sharing in somebody’s hobby or supporting the creative things they do outside of work, but making sure we do it as a team. And yes, that is “team building” but more than that, it’s experience building. And that’s important. Experiences are important. They make us fun and funny and passionate. They make us the kind of people who can write stories and make people laugh.

After lunch we had a mini-treat in the form of Nicola Ray, one of the founders of Twist & Shout. Many moons ago, Nicola and Jim decided to quit their jobs at an production company and strike out on their own. Nicola let us quiz her on the early days of Twist & Shout and what it was like back when Jim had hair. She also delivered a stunning session on photography, explaining what makes a good picture and the general rules to follow when creating an image.

Then came the VERY exciting part. Long shrouded in mystery, the secret origin of the company name! Those of you who thought it had anything to do with the Sixties dance craze or The Beatles, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. It’s quite simple really. Y’see back in the day, there were two of them, Nicola and Jim. Jim used to shout a lot, and Nicola used to dress like Oliver Twist.

So, um, yeah . . . pretty obvious when you think about it?

But Nicola’s contribution to Happiness Day 2015 was so much more than that. She, more than anyone, made it a truly happy day we shall never forget. For she introduced us all to a music video that she made with Jim in the early Nineties. Not just any music video, oh no. A Glam Metal music video for a band called WRAITH! We urge you now … do yourselves a favour and watch this early masterpiece!

After we finally recovered from watching that glorious video again and again (and again), we concluded our Happiness Day. We worked out what we want to do next year, how we can spend more time doing what we love and less time doing things that sap time and energy. We worked out how we can be happier in both our personal lives & at work, and how our happiness will improve the business. And we got at least two steps closer to changing the world.

Pretty standard stuff for Happiness Day.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Dad Dancing

Weddings. Once you’re out of your twenties, they’re the only time it’s acceptable to start drinking before noon, make out with people you went to school with and then vomit on a bush. Plus, the dancing. Ooooooh the dancing.

It’s not a wedding until someone’s Dad is tearing it up on the dance-floor. Bless him. He’s a bit drunk, he’s a bit self-conscious, he means well, but he’s throwing himself around like it’s the MTV Awards. Sadly, the whole thing is (sorry Dad) embarrassing. This is, of course, on top of the Father Of The Bride making unfunny, cringe-worthy attempts at jokes during his speech.

Your Dad is not, we repeat NOT, Pharrell Williams. Nor is he Seinfeld. So his attempts to follow in their footsteps is all rather unseemly and hashtag-awks. This is exactly what happens when you don’t get a specialist to do a specialist job. We call it “Dad Dancing”.

We see it every single year on The Apprentice. Every season, on both sides of the Atlantic, there’s an episode where they task the candidates to do something creative. Something specialist. Classic examples include writing a children’s book or composing a hit song. Every single year, without fail, these successful business people are TERRIBLE at it!

There are three distinct reasons for this. Firstly, the candidates on The Apprentice are usually the biggest collection of morons you’ll ever find walking this green and pleasant land. Secondly, they’re only given eight hours to complete what is clearly a six month task. Thirdly … these are not creative people! They are not writers, authors, musicians or comedians! They’re a hodge-podge of (alleged) salespeople, managers and traders. Throwing them into a studio and getting them to write a children’s book or a pop song is like tossing an anvil into a swimming pool and expecting a decent back-stroke.

Whenever a project requires creativity, comedy or humour, a worrying number of non-specialists think they can easily muddle through themselves. Ask the same people if they want to get up on stage at a comedy club and entertain a paying audience for ten minutes, and you’ll get a panicked cry of “No way!” Because they know they’re not ready. They know they don’t have the right skills. Your project is no different.

Why stop at creative projects? Why not pitch in with construction when they’re building new offices? Sure, they’ve never swung a wrecking-ball before, but how hard can it be? They understand the basics, right? What about the next time the team has to fly cross-country. How come they’re not up there in the cockpit, steering the plane through turbulent skies? Who needs to hire a specialist to fly a plane?

The point is this; Dad Dancing is damaging. To the project and to your brand. What you do best, is what you do best, and specialists are specialists for a reason.

So find a specialist. And we do mean a specialist. Will a general practitioner video production company SAY they can deliver comedy and humour? Of course they will. Guys in the bar will tell you they’re so funny they should be a comedian, but that doesn’t mean you should put them on stage and trust them with an audience.

That’s it for this time, folks, gotta get going. The toilet is well-and-truly broken so we’ve got a butcher coming round to fix it.

Check out our specialist credentials by viewing our Portfolio

Monday, 5 October 2015

Keeping it Real?

Strap in folks, because this blog is a wild ride featuring Alan Turing, Artificial Intelligence, web chat and $100,000 (with a slight detour via Blade Runner)!
First, let us begin in 1950 with majestic British genius Alan Turing asking the question “can machines think?” In his brilliant paper on Computing Machinery and Intelligence (which is just light bedtime reading for us here at T&S), Turing postulated that when a computer could imitate a person well enough to fool a panel of judges, we would have true artificial intelligence.

Turing developed a series of tests to do just that. Now, we could totally explain the intricacies of this test to you, because we totally understand it all, but sadly there just isn’t enough time (drat!). Briefly, the test is a closed conversation based on questions and answers.

Uber sci-fi fans like us will remember a fictionalised version of the Turing Test cropping up in this famous scene from Ridley Scott’s film-noir-cum-sci-fi Blade Runner.
Now fast-forward some sixty-odd years to the present day (we told you to strap in) and there is an annual competition held by American inventor Hugh Loebner to try and find a computer program that can fool a panel of judges into thinking that it is, indeed, a human being.

This is done, very simply via, web chat. The judges engage in a series of web chats with both humans and computer programs, to see which computer is able to best imitate the language and behaviour of a real person. The computers try to achieve this by calling upon pre-programmed stock phrases and snippets of conversation.

But here’s the rub. With all the advances in computer programming, with all the advances in Artificial Intelligence, not one computer in the entire history of the competition has ever been able to fool the judges into thinking it was a real person. Not one.

Because real, true communication is not about stock phrases and clinical sentences approved by committee (sound familiar?). These things stick out like a sore thumb amongst human conversation and human dialogue. Because real, true communication is about intimacy, creativity and imagination. That is how real people really communicate with each other.

When companies try to imitate human language and communication without using intimacy, creativity and imagination, they end up sounding like computers. Funnily enough, we’ve made a fun little video about exactly this issue. Check it out! 

Friday, 11 September 2015

Roll up, roll up! Welcome to the new Twist and Shout website

It’s here, it’s finally here! It’s been many, many moons since we told the world that a brand-new Twist & Shout website was on its way. It was a simpler time back then, a time before the iPhone 6, a time when man had to rely on only his wits and his iPhone 5s. It was a hectic, tumultuous time, when we lost a Pope but then luckily found another one. And, of course, it was the golden age before the break-up of 1 Direction *sobs*.

Now we’re slap-bang in 2015 and we’re excited to welcome you to our sexy new website! If you already know us and have visited before; hi, how are you? You look great, have you lost weight? Well, whatever it is you’re doing, it is working, girlfriend!

If this is your very first time, let us introduce ourselves; We are Twist & Shout and we are storytellers for business. We’ve been creating powerful story-led communications for over twenty years. We strongly believe that intimacy is the key, and with recent advances in digital media creation techniques, there's never been a better time for the business-to-business marketer or internal communications manager to benefit from relatively inexpensive, yet compelling video based campaigns.

Now that the ice has been broken, let’s give you the tour! Over here you’ll find the T&S team, a scrappy bunch of go-getters (at least one of whom is a professionally trained ninja).

Through this door you’ll find all our lovely clients (we don’t mean to name-drop, but they’re all kind of a big deal).

Over this way you’ll find us getting all emotional and real and talking about “the cause”, which is the reason this website is here in the first place.

And then there’s our little entertainment centre. A place where you’ll find the Twist & Shout portfolio, featuring a whole bunch of the sexy, funny, exciting videos we’ve made for all manner of clients!

We sure are pleased to have you over to the new place, and we hope you’ll visit again soon to enjoy new updates and features that we’re making especially for you. We’ll have a brand new blog every couple of weeks here, taking you behind-the-scenes of Twist & Shout and hopefully bringing you on-set reports and interviews.

So thanks, so long, see you next time and … aw heck, we can’t let you leave without a party favour! We can’t let you go with a little gift! So just for you, here’s a fun movie we made about Internet Security - think, Spooks-meets-your-HR-department! See you next time!

Friday, 3 October 2014

WDS Blog Post #2 - Community Continued

Wow that was a big gap. I mean HUGE. Even for me. The last blog post I wrote was back in July. Embarrassingly, it was the first of a trilogy too.  Oops.

Moral?  Don’t start lists of things.  Just make it one thing. Do that. Then if another one happens after that – then great! But it’s still not a list, OK?

Anyway – we’re into a list – and I hope I can get the third one out before Christmas

 – but hey – there’s NO reason you should expect this, based on the last gap.  Anyhoo…

Community. Thinking back to WDS (WorldDomination Summit) the sense of community was palpable. Three thousand entrepreneurs in one room – wow!  The air was cracking with energy and expectation.  Another 2999 people like ME baby! Excellent. Like having the BEST family reunion EVER.

One thing I really learned was how giving a group of like-minded people can be. And the internet has made it easy to find our communities. At WDS there were a lot of unspoken rules. Not even rules – just assumptions. Everyone assumed that if you wanted or needed help, you’d get it.  So you did. Everyone assumed that you were who you said you were. A complete no-bullshit zone. No need to pretend – because wherever you were in the process of building your dream, someone was prepared to help and motivate you on to the next step.

So if there’s a takeaway for this (really really late) blog post it’s this:

Nurture and respect your community. Make sure you give as well as take, and be grateful that you live in a time where it’s possible to find a really, really specific community wrapped around what you are ALL about.