Business lessons you can learn from doing stand up comedy

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Confession time! I’ve been dabbling. Scratching an itch. Ticking off the bucket list, Morgan Freeman style. Last year I took a course in stand up comedy at NIDA, a week of mucking around and learning the hard way that the joke I’ve always told about my undies falling down in grade six isn’t actually that funny.

Since then, I’ve overcome my fears and stood up in front of a few audiences. It’s such a thrill! It’s the only job on earth where you actually feel good when you get laughed at.  As well as being a big ego boost, I’ve been learning so much from watching people who are far more hilarious than I am. I feel like what I’ve learned can apply to how I go about my day as a professional as well.

These are the lessons that truly translate:

Nobody likes a waffler!

Comedians who go on and on without giving you the laughs you’ve come for are as boring as a radio show about watching paint dry. It’s the same in a business meeting or presentation. Don’t get caught up enjoying the sound of your own voice. Only say what matters and what will truly get the point across to your colleagues. They don’t need superfluous information – Aint nobody got time for that!

Know your punchlines

It is a huge mistake to show up with only a vague idea of what you need to say at a meeting or presentation. Be prepared and have the goods to back up what you’re saying. Make sure the message you have is succinct and well thought out or you’re wasting everyone’s time. It makes it so much easier to move to the next thing, which is what everyone wants anyway (especially if it’s lunch).

Fake it till you make it

Confidence is like a good pair of Spanx. Nobody has to know what’s going on underneath the surface. When I hold a microphone on stage, I can feel it shaking in my hands. But I’ve had other comedians comment on how relaxed I seem. It’s something I am still working on but pretending that I’ve got it together certainly gives people enough of an impression for now. I think I’ve always been a ‘faker’ at work. I often feel intimidated and overwhelmed, only to have colleagues mention that I come across as being very measured and a cool cucumber.

Be likeable

A lesson for life, really. But it counts in business as well. If you intimidate the shit out of people they might jump and do what you want, but their loyalty won’t last long and they’ll scheme behind your back. A personal touch and some insight into what drives you goes a long way to get the support of your audience / colleagues.

It doesn’t always have to be a competition

The thing I love about doing stand up comedy is how supportive everyone is. It’s not about being the best, it’s about getting together, learning from each other and having a great time. I think it’s fine to approach business this way as well. Enjoy getting to know the people in the same game as you. You never know when you’ll benefit from their help. So there we go. Lessons for life, comedy and business. Why don’t you come along and laugh at me next time I get up on stage? It would mean a lot!

Clea Sherman is a Sydney based freelance writer and part time stand up comedian (the secret’s out… now you know). Contact her via email. Photo by Josh Lloyd

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