May 2, 2014

Guest post: Want your presentation to knock 'em dead? Use tips from comedy! by David Nihill



There is a movement beginning. The dividing lines of business and comedy are beginning to blur. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Today’s generation want data delivered with a punch-line. VCs look to invest not in your company but your story. How you tell it makes all the difference.

Here are 9 steps from the world of stand-up comedy to help your message, presentation and company stand out from the noise.

1. Start to Craft a Story

A good story lives forever. Legendary author Maya Angelou said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

Make a bullet point list of funny stories that have happened to you or that you know of and love to tell to friends/colleagues/family. Pick your favourite ones and write them out.

2. Find the Funny

Identify the key funny part to your favourite stories and take out as much as you can. As Shakespeare said "Brevity is levity." You want to get to the joke/funny as quickly as possible. Prune words that don’t make a difference.

List what problem your product or research solves on a general and specific level. Your aim should be to link your presentation topic to your stories, observations and experiences.

3. Apply Joke Structure to your Stories

Take your best stories in their shortest form and apply Basic Joke structure:

1- Set Up (Introduction), 2- Punchline (Laugh line), 3- Taglines (Additional joke lines)

4. Use Comedy Writing Techniques

Use words like "weird," "amazing," "scary," "hard," "stupid," and "crazy" in the joke/story/topic setup and introduction to grab people’s attention.

Use the Bookend Technique: This is where comedians reference their opening joke or story at the conclusion of their show. This gives their performance a feeling of completion and symmetry.

Write using the rule of three: Three is the smallest number of elements required to create a pattern. Information presented in groups of three sticks in our heads better than other clusters of items. For example: "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," "Stop, Look and Listen," "Sex, Lies and Videotape."

5. Rehearsed Spontaneity

How do comedians make it look so spontaneous and unrehearsed? They practice and so should you. This can be done at open mics, meetup groups or through public speaking organizations like Toastmasters. Record and review all practice and rewrite what works best following Joke Structure.

6. On Stage Delivery

Make sure you are fully visible. Often the audience needs to see you fully to trust you.

Practice at home presenting with a bottle in each hand. This gets you accustomed to speaking with your hands out which initially will not feel natural.

Step forward towards the audience to emphasize a punchline or point. Small changes in delivery like raising your voice at the end of a sentence have big impact.

7. Start Strong

Rehearse your opening 30 seconds the most. This you should have tried and tested and should quickly include your 2nd best joke. Like Steve Jobs did, you always want to save the best for last.

Develop a strong opening line. Acknowledge the obvious. If you are visibly nervous, have a fresh stain on your shirt, a foreign accent, if there is anything unusual about you physically that the audience might fixate on the start is the time to address this (get a laugh) and move on so the audience can focus

Smile and make eye contact with as many people as possible. This first 30 seconds is about making your audience like you.

8. Never Run the Clock

Practice your timing. NEVER EVER GO OVER. If there is no time limit impose one on yourself. Ask for a signal light to let you know you have 1 minute remaining. Comedians always have a strong closing prepared and know exactly long it takes to deliver.

9. Control the Audience

Questions: Open/closed depending on how much you want the audience member to speak. Open = Who, When, What, Why, Where, Buy time: Repeat their questions and/or add "That’s a great question." Take time to think before you answer. Watch this hilarious example of why we do this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJfKq_x4bpM

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David Nihill was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. After graduating with a Master’s Degree in International Business in 2003, he moved to San Francisco where he worked for the Irish government, helping startup companies expand rapidly; he has been involved with startup companies ever since.

He is the co-founder of FunnyBizz Conferences,  founder of Comedy for a Spinal Cause and the author of the 5 star rated course, 7 Comedy Habits to be a Funnier Speaker. He has performed stand-up comedy at all Northern California’s leading comedy clubs including Cobbs and the Punchline even though he is well aware most people don’t understand his accent.

1 comments. Please add yours! :

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for commenting, Paul! I haven't seen an algorithm for grading dialog, but I'll keep my eyes open!

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