Stand-up comedians are amazing exemplars of the art of presentation, in probably the most challenging of all public speaking situations: alone on stage for an extended time with an audience that may become hostile, with no agenda or content other than what arises from their own individuality, and with an expectation to be liked and to reliably entertain the audience and make them laugh.
Stand-up comedians need to achieve all the outcomes that speakers and presenters aspire to, but in that more extreme setting; so there is a great deal that speakers can learn from their comedian counterparts, even when the primary name is not to entertain, or to be funny. This includes the need to:
- positively engage with their audience, manage them, and effectively handle any potentially adverse audience reaction from apathy to disruption or sabotage
- know how to make a strong start to their presentation, including making an entrance or coming on stage
- sustain a strong presence throughout the performance
- have good content, be able to access it while speaking, and organise it to create maximum impact and create a memorable experience for the audience
- evolve an effective style of speaking or presentation with energy and enthusiasm, appropriate tone, physical behaviour, and the all-important pace and all-important timing
- develop a speaking persona which expresses the speaker’s individuality and originality and which works effectively with the material
- know how to conclude a presentation effectively, leaving the audience favourably disposed to follow up with whatever action is desired
- humour is not a compulsory component, but it is widely agreed that appropriate, relevant and well executed humour adds enormous impact, persuasiveness and memorability, and makes everything else work better – especially when things are not going according to plan, or when disaster threatens.
It’s evident that these outcomes are vital in conventional situations where the speaker is addressing an audience or group, including pitching a proposal or making a Powerpoint presentation; but the principles apply in much the same way in a wider set of presentation settings, where the aim is still to engage with the audience and influence them in a desired direction. So the learning here applies equally to settings such as:
- speaking up within a group or in a meeting
- one-to-one settings such as networking, one-to-one meetings, telephone communication, sales conversations and so on.
Let’s look, then at the techniques and strategies which stand-up comedians use to achieve these outcomes, and how they cope when things aren’t working. We’ll break them into the categories listed above and cover in separate blogs, to be posted serially.