How to Win an Audience: A Lesson From Comedians
This makes sense, Gallo concluded, even within the discussion of some pretty weighty issues. Why?
“Because humor lowers defenses,” David Nihill explained Tuesday during a presentation at RocketSpace, an incubator-like innovation campus in San Francisco. Nihill is co-founder of the FunnyBizz Conference. His talk, which drew a crowd of about 20 people, focused on several transferrable techniques that comedians use to improve their public speaking skills.
Nihill aimed to convince the audience that you don’t have be a natural comedian to get laughs. The best standup comedy is often developed using a writing formula—just like the best business presentations.
That’s not to say that your next public speech should sound like a comedy act from beginning to end. But your presentation will shine with four to five good jokes throughout.
“Every single person in this room has had a mad funny thing happen to them at some stage in their life,” Nihill said. In other words, you already have the material you need to get your audience laughing.
The Art of Crafting a Joke
The trick is to find the funniest personal experiences that relate to your topic. First, write down as many of these memories you can recall. You might have to think way back.
“Then link them to your topics. Whatever you’re presenting company-wise, there’s a problem there, and you want to link that ultimately to a funny story that’s already happened to you,” Nihill said.
After you’ve decided which story you want to tell, you can script it using a formula to ensure your delivery is just right. Structuring a joke involves starting general and getting more specific. Try following these three steps:
- Set up the story in a relatable way. ”You ideally want everyone in the room to be like, ‘yeah, that happened to me,’“ Nihill said.
- Get specific and make it about it you. Start telling them about your own crazy experience.
- Deliver the unexpected. At this point, the audience assumes that they know where you’re going with this. But you’re most likely to get a laugh if you can surprise them.
Author Sir Ken Robinson provided a short and sweet example during his TED talk, “How Schools Kill Creativity.” “If you’re at a dinner party and you say you work in education—actually, you’re not often at dinner parties, frankly, if you work in education…” Robinson said. The unexpected punchline got the audience laughing.
The goal is to smash the audience’s expectations, Nihill said. “That’s the heart of comedy writing and marketing.”
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