There are two aspects to body language as a speaker, the movements and facial expressions you use to convey your message to your audience, and the movements and facial expressions the audience use to convey how they are receiving it.
In comedy, we talk about ‘reading’ an audience, and this means watching to see how your jokes land, to make sure you are getting the responses you expect. In my experience, it’s only very occasionally you get things wrong with an established routine, but it’s particularly when you are trying out new material that the audience reaction gives you a clue as to whether the joke has potential, or the words should never pass your lips again!
As a comic, speaker or trainer losing your audience should be something that happens exceptionally, because of the prep and rehearsal that you do.
A good teacher, like a good entertainer first must hold his audience's attention, then he can teach his lesson. - John Henrik Clark
As a comedian, you learn to ensure that you open and close with your best jokes. If you have new material, it always goes in the middle. This is because you have to grab the audience’s attention at the outset. They will always be at their most receptive (and judgemental) when you step on stage, and they’ll decide within the first few sentences whether they are going to bother listening to you. This is also true when we listen to a presentation, talk or speech.
So how should speakers open and close their presentations?
With great humour comes great responsibility...use it wisely!
I've talked before about the transformative power of humour in public speaking, not only in terms of what impact it can have on the speaker's life, but also in terms of the impact on the audience listening. I don't mean because laughter is wonderfully therapeutic etc. etc. (although it is), I mean because humour will make your message land, it will make your idea relatable and memorable, and it might be the catalyst people need to make positive change in their lives.
I've also mentioned previously that humour, used poorly can have catastrophic effects, and I've used the example of the contrast between Dick Costolo's tweet sent the night before he started as COO at Twitter, and Justine Sacco's tweet sent before she boarded a flight from Heathrow to South Africa. His was witty, funny and reflected a sense of humour that would contribute to him achieving promotion to the role of CEO. Her's was a car crash of poor judgement and poor humour that's worth taking a closer look at, (for the unbelievable chain of events that followed), before I give you my 10 commandments for using humour in public speaking.
I’ve been feeling torn over the past few days… the beautiful weather we’ve been experiencing in the UK is normally cause for our nation’s mood to lift, albeit temporarily, until we begin complaining that it’s too ‘close’ (just in case that's not an international term...it means we forgot to buy a fan, on the off chance of having just such a heatwave, and now the shelves are empty of fans, and the only place you can buy one is on eBAY where some clever b****** who bought them up, is selling them for the price of a package holiday, and therefore you can't sleep because you're too hot, even with just your skin on).
This time though, our enjoyment of the sunshine, has been tarnished by the tragic, and needless loss of life, that feels almost constant at the moment, (and not just in the UK), and which makes you consider how precious life is.
Coincidentally, the subject of life's fragility, came up in a podcast I was listening to this week. It was an old episode of the ‘Art of Charm’ with Jordan Harbinger, (this is a podcast which helps you with life, love and business), and he happened to have a guest on called Dov Gordon. Exceptionally, Dov didn’t have a new book out, or a program to sell…he was there to publicise his friend’s webinar. His friend was a British chap called Mike Seddon, and Mike had an incredibly important lesson to teach.
Politics has never been so riveting!
As you can see, I managed to get a photo of the Prime Minister's new cabinet smuggled out of Downing Street.
I know that it will be no solace for Theresa May right now, but this episode in her career, which is filled with passion, drama and parables for learning, will provide her with an amazing signature talk, (as it will Jeremy Corbyn...the UKIP guy...probably not so much).
All of my students come to me with a yearning to inspire, teach and make a difference to others, and their business, career or brand growth, but some have no idea how to tell their story, and others doubt whether they even have something worth sharing.
When I work with people on creating their signature talk, we spend quite a bit of time on story-telling techniques, and creating stories, both to use then, and for whenever else a good story is useful to illustrate some concept, or aspect of learning. Our lives are a rich tapestry of tales, and we just need to know how to dig in the right way, to bring up the gold. That's what I'd like to focus on this week.
I didn’t really want to stay that evening in September 2015, I was pretty tired after a full day's training and I still had a two-hour drive home…but I hung on to listen to the guy who was coming to talk, as there was a chance to win some points towards a prize… some bit of tech or other that I had my eye on. I didn’t know it then, but the biggest prize I could win was getting to listen to the bloke who turned up, someone called JT Foxx.
As a stand-up comic, film lover and playwright, I love a show, and from the get go this fella’ did not disappoint. Like a heavyweight boxer about to take the ring, his entry to the conference stage was preceded by a video introduction that primed his audience to expect something special*. Honing in on the celebrity obsession we all have, (whether we admit it or not), we watched JT interviewing and messing around with a rainbow of ‘A’ list actors, musicians and moguls. As the video ended, with his name roared by an actual fight announcer, JT eventually strode into the space, perfectly presented, but with the same air of a boxer, effortlessly oozing confidence, and poised to go 12 rounds…I soon saw why.
Here are four fab techniques for getting 'jiggy' with it...
Creating, or even adapting humour requires you to be innovative, to question the status quo, and to use your unique point of view to look at the world in different way. Here are four great ways of increasing your creativity for generating humour, or generally coming up with some cool ideas. (I've also thrown in my 'creator and critic' infographic in the header to use in conjunction with these techniques below.)
Some of you may recognise the photo from the film 'Ice Cold in Alex'...it's a classic! The beer represents your message, idea, product or service, and by the end of your presentation, this is how you want your audience to feel about it.
I've seen so many people doing pitches and presentations make the same fatal error…they make it all about them. How many sales presentations have you seen where the opening slide says things like…
Hello, and thanks for stopping by!
I did a micro-workshop on wordplay skills for comedy on Facebook Live, so I thought I'd share it on my blog too!
Before we head into the training I just wanted to share this food for thought… the average pre-school child laughs over 400 times a day, whilst we adults laugh about 15 times a day, that’s pants! Especially when you think about the significant benefits of laughter…it reduces stress and anxiety, helps you be more creative and increases health…I mean where do you think they got the idea for those vibrating exercise machines.
The trouble is as we grow up we get told things like:
“and you can wipe that smile off your face”
“You can play when your homework’s done”
When we’re teeny tiny work and play and laughter happen together, but as we become adults these are compartmentalised, and when we start work we feel like we have to be serious. But I’m on a mission to show people that laughter at home, in speaking, and in business is the secret ingredient to success.
So, let’s remove the sticks from our arses, grab a cool one, (the video is just under 10 minutes long) and let's get cracking.
There's the glass ceiling and now let's talk about the 'grey' ceiling...
In my 20 year plus career in HR, it’s become increasingly obvious to me that a good sense of humour is more than a pre-requisite on your dating profile. There comes a point in the management career ladder where technical and functional competency plays second fiddle to leadership traits, of which humour is one of the two most desirable ones, according to a study by Bell Leadership Institute, (the other was a strong work ethic btw). This is chorused by a survey conducted by Robert Half International, which found the following:
“91% of executives believe a sense of humour is important for career advancement; while 84% feel that people with a good sense of humour do a better job.”
Unfortunately, this means that those craving promotion to a role that involves managing people, are likely to get passed over in favour of someone who can make the troops laugh.