7 Public Speaking Lessons We Can Learn From Stand Up Comedians
Online streaming services have ensured a steady supply of entertainment in all genres. There is something for everyone. I am an ardent fan of comedy – what better form of entertainment after the drama of real life. And one thing that never fails to perk me up is stand up comedy.
I have been a fan of Russel Peters – a very popular name in stand up for a long time. But now anyone with a funny take on life is free to grab a mike and do stand up.
And with the number increasing, I feel that the technique of comedy has also evolved. As someone passionate about public speaking, I realised we could learn so much from stand up to improve our public speaking skills.
Here are a few lessons I could find:
1. The preparation process is important
I always marvel at the final outcome we hear on stage. And the extent of transformation a joke must have gone through from the initial draft.
For the joke to be funny, the order in which the information is revealed, the pauses that create suspense and the punchline that delivers the blow – all need to line up neatly for the expected audience reaction to come.
The same thing applies to public speaking and other forms of presentation. It takes work to get down the initial draft, polish it and rehearse it to leave the right impact on the audience.
It might seem tedious at the beginning but there is no short cut to it. You might manage to do it in a shorter time with practice and experience.
2. Cut the fat
One of the reasons why stand up is funny is there are more punchlines and less extraneous information. There is just enough context so that you understand the joke. And this is a big thing to remember when you address any kind of audience.
When you plan your content for a presentation, constantly examine which information is extremely critical and what is just adding bulk.
Back stories, stats, additional information – all this can be given out as handouts or sent as emails later. If you get too deep into it, you might lose audience attention. So prioritize the most important take aways for your listeners.
3. Tell stories
Stand up comedy is not just about delivering punch lines.
The first time I watched Hasan Minhaj on Netflix, his effective use of story telling in stand up struck me. You could be in the moment but gradually you’d see how the story of his childhood, his family, his career is weaved into the comic act.
Story telling is an effective tool in any kind of a presentation. No one ever got bored of stories. And your point is made in an interesting manner. How can you come up with stories?
– Create a bank of stories. Look around your workplace. Things people said or did that appeal to you. You could use those in your presentations.
– Move around info to structure it in the right manner. Your observations need context and moral to make sense. And this will happen when you ponder over your material and learn to structure it well.
– Learn to narrate those stories. Voice modulation and the style of narration is central to how people perceive the information you put as stories. Watch videos and even stand up comedy to understand narration better!
Who said learning can’t be fun!
4. Modulate your voice
In the absence of an elaborate context setting, voice modulation is our key to get the jokes delivered to us. The varying rates of speech, emphasis on the right word ensures the comic effect.
Voice modulation is equally important in a serious presentation. A droning monotone will have the listeners phase out in no time. In fact, someone I look up to in this department is none other than Mr. Amitabh Bachchan. His voice has been used for the narrator in a handful of movies because he does it so well.
Record your voice on your phone and listen to yourself. How do you sound? Where should you improve your modulation? Self monitoring is one of the great ways to improve.
Also, listen to good speakers on YouTube or TED to learn how great voice modulation sounds.
One of the most powerful tools that comedians use – if you ask me – is the pause. Placed strategically, it can add to the suspense of the upcoming joke.
And thereby bigger the blast of laughter when the punchline finally comes. I see this technique being used by a lot of new comedians – and they use it well!
As a public speaker, you should never be afraid of the pause. Fluency of speech does not mean that you don’t leave any gaps. In fact, you should deliberately plan pauses into your speech/presentation.
– Pauses give you a breather and at important junctions
– They give the audience time to ponder over the point just mentioned.
– They are also a great way to indicate transitions from one point to the next.
6. Deliver punchlines every few seconds
It’s a matter of concern for a comedian if the audience doesn’t laugh every few seconds. And hence the material delivered has to ensure that. This is also important to keep the audience attention locked into the act.
The same principles apply to even serious presentations. You may not crack a joke every few minutes. But change tack every few minutes to hold audience attention.
Ask a question. Tell a quick anecdote. Pause after a pregnant point. Move a few steps from where you are – move closer or step away from the audience. Vary your rate of speech. Emphasise on certain words.
There should be something that keeps the audience engaged constantly.
7. Use the intelligence of your audience
Like I mentioned before, stand up relies a lot on the audience knowledge of context. The comedian doesn’t get into it. Even subtle hints work well to elicit laughter.
Even at work presentations, give your audience credit for their knowledge. Ask them questions. Bank on the back story they already know. This will also help you further tighten the content you are planning to deliver.
What do you like the best about stand up comedy? Do you have any favourite comedians? I’d love to hear what you think about the tips I have discussed here.
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