Let me start by first introducing you to the world’s best public speakers – stand-up comedians.
Here are some reasons why they are the best:
1) They have nothing to offer you except a bunch of crap and yet they can keep you listening for hours
If you have the chance to go to a live stand-up show, observe the good ones. Observe the topics they talk about. It’s absolutely RANDOM NONSENSE! Sometimes they tell their own stories and none of them are TRUE! Consider salespeople, who do almost the same: approach people whom they don’t know, offer something that they might/might not use, use stories to backup their claims. If you can be an excellent stand-up comedian, you will definitely be a good salesperson.
2) They can start off as a stranger to you, but have you Googling their name after the show
How many times have you met a stranger and Google their name after that? Wouldn’t you say that a person who can come into a room full of audience, talk about random stuff and leave you behind wondering who the hell they are, is actually a good speaker? Or at least an OK one? Wouldn’t it be good that if a new Manager gives a speech to his team members and they all become very interested in his/her credentials and check him/her up? Wouldn’t you want people to be interested in you as a speaker?
3) People idolize them
…for speaking random nonsense! People idolize rock stars because of their mad guitar skills, idolize singers because of their powerful vocals, idolize successful business people because of their success. Imagine people idolizing you because of your ability to talk nonsense and make them laugh. What would happen if you talk serious stuff? People will either take it seriously or not. However, being a good comedian is not just about jokes and laughter, that’s a mediocre comedian or joker – a good one will make you laugh and yet earn your respect. A combination of humor %2B respect = persuasive. Isn’t that what all public speakers want?
So if you think you are already a good public speaker, think again. Think about all the speeches that you’ve made, what leverage did you rely on and how opened is your audience to the topic you’re speaking about. Do you really think they are listening to you or listening to what you have to say?
Most speakers I’ve seen think that they are “good” or “ok” simply because they speak fluently and people listen. They think that public speaking is all about fluency and attention. They are only half-right.
Wouldn’t you agree that sometimes it’s not the idea, but the person delivering the idea matters most to most people? Imagine a dry topic like “Quantum Physics”. If a professor is delivering this topic, only physics students might attend. However, if you give it to Russell Peters, physics students, accounting students, law students, business students, and even my mother would attend.
I can sell a product like an iPhone maybe to 2 out of 10 people not because I’m a good salesperson, but they really want it. If Steve Jobs were to stand at a departmental store outlet just to sell an iPhone, people would queue up.
So sometimes we shouldn’t focus too much on the topic we want to talk about and forget that our audience is actually listening to a stranger while we are trying to make a human connection with many other human beings.
Here’s some observations I’ve made of good stand-ups:
1) Bring yourself just low enough for the audience to appreciate you, but not too low
Sometimes if you’re new or if the audience don’t know you, putting yourself at a higher position doesn’t help them at all. For example, once I gave a demonstration on how to use an online trading platform and my audience size was 100% to big and they were mostly twice my age. Authority was given to me by the trainer himself to give this demonstration, so I was considered an “Expert” as certified by him. However, I understand that there will be some people in the audience who knows what I’m teaching and would not have the same respect for me as others who don’t know anything about the topic.
So here’s what I do…after introducing myself, I quickly state “I believe some of you here know this platform very well and maybe better than me. I would like you to turn to your neighbors who don’t know and help each other out. This is a sharing session more than a teaching session. There should be interaction among yourselves and I don’t mind a little bit of noise. But don’t talk too loud.”
In short, I managed to acknowledge the people who are better than me (if any), at the same time humble myself down to ask for their help to people who need it (many!). It appeals to their altruistic interest and also prevents a confrontation. The trick is, every time you bring yourself down, ask something from them. This is what I mean by “not too low”. You can’t keep going “You guys are better than me at my job…please bear with me” That’s pleading.
It’s the same in stand-ups. The comedian would bring him/herself down first before bringing you down. For example, “Sometimes, I just like to check my ass in the mirror…(turns and checks ass)…anyway, who doesn’t? Don’t you, sir?(looks at one of the audience.” Only 2 things will happen: he says yes and it’s funny, he says no and it’s still funny. Perfect.
2) Create some small screw-ups which people will remember you for
Sometimes when you do it too smoothly, you will be the same as everyone else. To create an impression, create some small hiccups that might be funny. If they laugh, you get what you want. If they don’t, you don’t lose anything.
For example, once I was demonstrating a game and role-played with a friend. I asked him to screw up more than once so I can screw him in the end. It turned out well and the audience laughed.
Sometimes if you’re using some props, purposely place it somewhere obvious but pretend not to see it and keep looking for it elsewhere. Your audience will surely point it out. When that happens, you say “So you’re the one who took it?” Do not laugh when you’re doing that. If the person gets offended, you say “Okay okay, I believe you…they can all be your witness, don’t worry…”
3) Never, ever laugh before they laugh
This is a very common mistake that even novice comedians make. The person who tells the joke or delivers the punchline should not be the one who laughs, because you will be slapping yourself if the audience don’t find it funny. You can smile, though.
You know what’s the worst variety shows that I’ve ever seen? Those that plays studio recorded laughter and stupid sound effects every now and then when something funny happens. It becomes unfunny after time because people laugh for a different reason – not because something is ‘funny’, but to release the ‘tension’ created in the atmosphere.
If you watch sitcoms, you should know what I mean. Most funny moments involve characters staring at each other and suddenly saying something that’s out of the blue. People laugh at this because there is tension created that keeps the audience wondering what’s next? When the outcome is unexpected, they laugh. If you keep laughing, the tension will not be there and it’s harder to keep the audience laughing.
So keep these things in mind when you’re writing your next script. By adding a sense of humor, you will bring the audience closer. Most importantly, they are more opened to what you have to say.