What can public speakers learn from comedians? According to Mike Michalowicz, a lot. In his article, ‘6 Things Comedians Can Teach You About Public Speaking’, Michalowicz argues that we should make speeches less formal; lose the powerpoint and lectern, and tell jokes and personal stories instead.
His approach is non-traditional… But would it work? We think so.
A good comedian and a good speaker should both be able to maintain the audience’s attention and keep them entertained. They shouldn’t be repeating what other people have already said; material should be innovative and fresh. They should relate and connect with the audience.
Inspired by Michalowicz’s article, we looked up advice from some great standup comedians, and thought about how you could use these tips in terms of keynote speaking.
1. Pick the right material for your audience
On Cracked.com, Gladstone’s article ‘6 Ways to Not Suck at Standup Comedy‘ talks about matching your style to the vibe of the room. This is just as true for keynote speakers. If your audience is full of university students, the easiest way to make them switch off is to sink into technical talk as if you’re a disheartened door-to-door blinds salesman. Similarly, a speech that references Russell Howard jokes will sink like a lead balloon in a room full of high profile CEOs.
2. Put friends in the audience
When you first start out in public speaking, looking out at a field of unfamiliar faces can be intimidating. This is no different for standup comedians! Gary M. Krebs suggests planting supportive friends in the audience, to laugh at the right times and make the room seem less awkward. Whilst you don’t necessarily need them to laugh, having familiar faces (maybe not Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but we can dream!) to look at can make a speech a lot less intimidating!
3. Always leave the audience wanting more
Jo Caufield compiled a list of some great advice from comedians, and our favourite section was Tony Cowards’. In section 33, he says, “a funny 5 is better than a so-so 10“. Whilst your aim isn’t to be funny, we still think that this mantra applies. 20 minutes of the best material will be received far better than the same material padded out to fit a 30 minute slot, and give you extra time to either do a q&a or network with the guests.
4. Write everything
Again, we’re turning to Tony Cowards. “Don’t be afraid to write rubbish”. Essentially, the more you write, the more likely you are to find the gems. Write down everything that comes to mind, even if it sounds like dross, because you may be able to edit it into something great.
5. Emulate the best
Many comedians perform routines that are homages to the great names in comedy. Jerry Corley argues that you should be inspired and potentially emulate your idols, but make it your own. We agree with this wholeheartedly. One of our favourite comedians, Kevin Hart, listed his influences here. Go on Youtube, on the TED website, or better yet, go see your favourite speaker perform in person. Analyse their performance, write down what makes them great, and think about what you could do to generate a similar response.
6. “Be so good they can’t ignore you”
We’ve been buzzing about this quote all week. When asked for tips about breaking into the entertainment business, Steve Martin’s advice was simple. Be so good they can’t ignore you. This is the be-all and end-all of public speaking. This should be your mantra before you get on stage, before you start writing, before you even agree to speak.
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