Public speaking courses are nothing compared to stand-up comedy
I used to get nervous before presentations in school. Palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy. Too hot in my sweater already, breath smelling like cafeteria spaghetti. In my first few jobs I never had to give presentations, but had I given them, they would’ve been awkward. When doing any kind of public speaking, my voice became very monotone, and I was almost as uncomfortable as everyone listening. Eyes darting around the room, hands clasping my notes. Sound familiar?
In sales presentations, confidence is key. If your voice trembles, you don’t make eye contact with your audience or you fidget and squirm like a kid with underwear problems, your credibility can take a huge blow. The problem is common, in every industry. There are public speaking courses out there, where you do basically what you did in school. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t prepare you for sarcastic or hostile clients or critical audiences. Everyone in a public speaking course is very supportive, which is nice. But people aren’t always nice. So, what should you do to prepare for those situations?
I dove straight into the deep end. I had always loved comedy and, in 2011, my friend signed me up for a stand-up open mic, which started a hobby that lasted for years. The experience has been invaluable. Stand-up comedy is a ruthless environment, where one failed sentence can knock you into a hole and getting out of that hole before your set ends is hard. In fact, if you’re not experienced, you probably won’t. When the laughs stop rolling you lose your nerve and it all goes to hell. And that’s with a friendly audience. If you don’t know how to handle it, one heckle from a less friendly audience member can make you lose your footing and have you scrambling for the control you had just seconds prior. Fantastic!
That’s the best kind of training for public speaking. The number of sets may vary between people, but after enough of them you won’t be phased by anything. After losing your audience of a hundred people 30 seconds into a set and spending the next seven minutes trying to get them back without looking like you’re trying to get them back, giving a presentation for eight people in a meeting room is child’s play. Giving a speech at a conference is nothing compared to a room full of drunk people yelling comments on your appearance when you’re trying to make them laugh. After some comedy experience, your jokes at your conference speeches won’t suck as badly either. And trust me, they suck. They always suck.
So, to summarize. If you’re nervous before or during presentations, try stand-up comedy for a while. Your nerves will be hardened and numb after no time. Oh, and it’s fun. I know it doesn’t sound like it is, but once you get your first laugh, you’ll know what I mean. It’s worth it.