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.”