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Productivity / Performance

What comedians can teach business owners

Tempted to dismiss comedy as nothing more than light entertainment? Then it’s likely you’re also missing out on some much-needed business lessons!

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Picture this: a very large auditorium, mostly dark, the barest minimum of props (usually just a microphone) and a single spotlight on the comedian. It’s not like a music show, with lights, high energy and a lot of noise; it’s one person, armed with just their wit, entertaining hundreds, sometimes thousands of people.

As I watch and laugh, I imagine the power of such a talent in business: the ability to captivate so completely, to engage so fully and to not only hold the attention and imagination of the audience, but for the audience to hand control over so willingly. Business meetings would be truly engaging, presentations inspiring and sales calls a breeze.

So what key lessons could all business owners take home from these masters of humour?

1. Storytelling

Comedians are master storytellers and this skill is key to the power they exert over the masses. Interestingly, the stories are not usually larger-than-life. Rather they are small anecdotes of incidents in their life, told with a fresh, honest perspective that the audience can relate to. They linger on small details, drawing in our imaginations. They expertly adjust the pace and place emphasis where needed. Most importantly, they know there needs to be a point where the story comes together – the punchline.

They keep a close eye on their audience so they can quickly change gears if needed.

"Truths that surprise are so rare in the business world that it’s easy to captivate with some small truly insightful comments. "

Contrast with business life, where presentations and meetings are often routine, monotonous and uninspiring. Now imagine if the meeting chairperson had great storytelling skills, was prepared to entertain and engage and light up the imagination or (god forbid) amuse. That would be a meeting we’d all be happy to attend!

2. Brutal honesty

To say comedians are honest would be an understatement; topics often include admissions about their relationships, parenthood and even their own body parts. It’s brutal honesty that is often self-deprecating – and the audience loves to laugh about things that they dare not say. The comedian puts it all out there, warts and all, letting us laugh at our own vulnerabilities whilst we laugh at theirs.

In business, (sadly), honesty and admission of personal vulnerabilities are not so common. In my own business relationships I like to get personal. And it works. Knowing how your clients think makes it much easier to work together; them knowing you does the same. It also makes the relationship stickier.

Do you voice your real opinion or let your true personality out?

3. Insight

It’s commonly thought that the best comedy has some truth in it and, if audience reactions are any guide, those pearls of wisdom get the most laughs. Truths that surprise are so rare in the business world that it’s easy to captivate with some small truly insightful comments. In the business environment, where most people are sheep and opinions are subdued, they can really make an impact. In my sales meetings, when I hear a potential client say “You know what? You’re so right” I know my credibility has just gone up a notch or two.

Let’s face it, very few of us have what it takes to stand alone in front of hundreds of people, with only our stories to entertain them. But, if we could be even a teeny bit better at telling stories, sensing the audience, baring our souls, giving honest opinions and actually put effort into having memorable meetings, not only would they be more successful but a lot more fun.

Getting a laugh should be a win in business too.

Warren Harmer

is author of Business Planning for Small Business. As a business adviser and coach, Warren offers instructive ‘how to’ information to make business ownership easier, less stressful and more enjoyable.

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