Stand-Up, and Be Counted

As I write this, I am enrolled in a four-session stand-up comedy class at the esteemed (I guess) American Comedy Institute.

I did this once before, pre-Covid, and found it so valuable and enjoyable, that I decided to jump in again.

Unlike my first experience, my fellow students are (mostly) either professionals or wannabees, which makes the whole thing way more intimidating and scary.

But, since these days, straying out of my comfort zone happens rarely – and when it does, it’s usually something like buying an item at the grocery store that my wife has not preapproved – I thought it would be good for me.

The other big difference this time around is that the instructor is really, really good.

During the group sessions, each student does three or four minutes of whatever they’ve written and Steve provides in-depth feedback to each of us in real time.

I don’t mind telling you, it can be pretty humbling. I’ll tell a story that to me is so funny I can barely speak the words, and he’ll explain, in clear detail, why I should throw the entire topic away.

Stand-up comedy aside, much of what he’s taught us relates directly to business content development and overall communication.

Some highlights…

#1: Speak From Your Own Experience

As Steve explains, your goal is more than just saying funny things. If other people could make the same observations or tell the same story, you are leaving a lot of comedy value on the table.

You don’t need to share your personal life details (although that’s fine). But you do want to reveal what you’ve experienced or how you feel about whatever the topic is. That’s how people relate to you (and, ultimately, laugh).

Likewise, when you write a newsletter, speak at an event, appear on a podcast, or whatever, the opportunity is to do more than just share “information.” You want people to connect with you as a person. After all, if you sell a professional service, that’s where trust and likeability live.

So try and reveal your perspective on the topics you cover: How do you feel about it? Why is it important? How have you experienced it yourself with clients or with your own business?

It’s one more reason why using canned content developed by a third party so often falls flat.

#2: It Needs to Make Logical Sense

I’ve been surprised by how often Steve’s feedback is not about the degree of funniness of someone’s bit, but rather about the logic (or lack thereof) within.

For example, at one point I was talking about my future obituary photo and how it seemed to me that if god turns out to be a millennial, I should probably be wearing shorts and a hoodie.

His comment: Why would god ever see your obituary photo and why does what you are wearing even matter?

My initial thinking was, “What’s the difference? It’s just a way for me to start riffing on what it would be like if god were a millennial.”

But as he explained, if there are holes or logic inconsistencies, people get distracted and lose the thread of wherever you’re going.

I find this same kind of thing in the stories people use in their newsletters or presentations.

Either there isn’t enough information for me to picture the situation they are describing – about their dog, recent vacation, broken hot water heater, etc. – or the stories seem made up, which defeats the whole purpose.

When it comes to detail, provide the same amount as you would if relating what happened to a friend over a cup of coffee.

#3. The Audience Wants You to Succeed

A woman in the class said that despite being a combat veteran, the only time anyone ever tells her she’s brave is when she mentions she does stand-up.

For most of us, it’s pretty scary.

And so in the very first session, Steve said, “Look, people are there because they want to laugh. They want you to succeed, so stop worrying about it.”

The consumers of your business content feel the same way. Nobody is reading your newsletter or attending your presentation because they hope it’s a waste of time.

So stop worrying about “that guy” who’s going to hate it. Think about all the people – the vast majority – who will find value in whatever it is you have to say.

Here’s the Bottom Line

The more I learn about doing stand-up, the more I see that the funny part is only about half of what’s necessary. Context, presentation, pacing – even how you hold the microphone – all make a difference.

Your business content works the same way. Make sure you are thinking about more than just the information the next time you sit down to write.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was the last “out of my comfort zone” thing you did?
  2. If god were a millennial, where do you think she would live?
  3. Do you share personal stories along with your business content?

Share your answers below…

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4 thoughts on “Stand-Up, and Be Counted

  1. Your buddy Jim Schaffer

    1. Went to the Boston Tech Jam in the Seaport. I’m about 50 years older than the other attendees and asked Chat GPT for the best remedy for snoring.
    2. Livingston, NJ. Millennials are OLD. They need a good school system .
    3. Sure, they want to hear about thinning cartilage and co-pays?

  2. Mark Wyaland

    Hey Michael, This latest offering, and the last, got me thinking about the idea of insights, and how they attract attention from your audience. And that somehow dredged a quote I had “forgotten” by Wyatt Woodsmall from my unconscious; “when you can articulate another person’s problem… better than they can… they automatically and unconsciously credit you with having the solution.” This insight quote relates to “business.” Stand-up Comedy has the first bit in common, but the last bit often has a twist or self-depreciating outcome that people relate to.
    BTW… stop making me think…. I know where you live……


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