The lines between business and comedy are beginning to blur. Attention spans are shorter than ever, and people want data delivered with a punchline. Venture capitalists want to invest not in your company, but in your story. How you tell it makes all the difference.
Here are tips from the world of stand-up comedy to help your message, presentation, and company stand out from the noise.
1. Craft a story.
A good story lives forever. 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 list of funny stories that you love to tell to friends, colleagues and family. Pick your favorites and write them down.
2. Find the funny.
Identify the funny parts of your favorite stories, and take out as much as you can. As Shakespeare said, “Brevity is levity.” You want to get to the joke as quickly as possible. Cut words that don’t make a difference.
List the problem your product or research solves on both 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.
Apply basic joke structure to your best stories:
1. Set up (introduction)
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. The bookend technique is where comedians reference their opening jokes or stories at the conclusion of their shows. This gives their performances 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 item clusters. For example: “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” “Stop, look and listen” and “Sex, lies and videotape.”
5. Rehearse spontaneity.
How do comedians look so spontaneous and unrehearsed? They practice, and so should you. Tell your stories out loud. Vocalize them in private, record yourself and listen back. Also go to open mics, meetup groups or public speaking organizations like Toastmasters. Record and review all of your practice sessions. If necessary, rewrite your stories to ensure they follow the joke structure described in No. 3.
6. Practice your delivery.
Make sure you are fully visible; the audience needs to see you fully to trust you.
Practice gesturing by presenting at home with a bottle in each hand. This gets you accustomed to speaking with your hands, which won’t feel natural at first.
Step toward the audience to emphasize a punchline or point. Small changes in delivery like raising your voice at the end of a sentence have a big impact.
7. Start strong.
Rehearse your first 30 seconds the most. This should include your second best joke. Like Steve Jobs, you always want to save the best for last.
Develop a strong opening line by acknowledging the obvious. If you are visibly nervous, have a fresh stain on your shirt, have a foreign accent, or anything else unusual about yourself that the audience might fixate on, address it right away to get some laughs, and then 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 the audience like you.
8. Never run the clock.
Practice your timing. Never go over the time limit. If there is no time limit, impose one on yourself. Ask someone to give you a signal to let you know you have one minute remaining. Comedians always have a strong closing prepared, and know exactly long it will take to deliver.
9. Control the audience.
Ask open or closed questions depending on how much you want the audience to speak. Open questions are who, what, when, where and why questions.
If you need to buy time, repeat the audience member’s question, or add “That’s a great question.” Take time to think before you answer.
David Nihill 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. A version of this article originally appeared on Speak Schmeak.
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