I’ve taught stand-up comedy for more than three decades. There are lessons I’ve learned about being funny that also apply to other aspects of life. But often we just don’t think to use them when we’re not performing.
For example, here’s something I teach my students:
Do the show that’s in front of you … not the one in your head.
I know this lesson very well because I remind my students of it in almost every class. Yet, I don’t always apply it in other contexts. Like the time I designed for my wife and me a wonderful week-long jaunt up the California coast, from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I’d spent a great deal of time on research and booking B&Bs, remote cabins, and cliff side hotels. Alas, when we got to our first stop, San Luis Obispo, the car broke down. It was on a Saturday evening. The closest car repair shop couldn’t get the required part until Monday and our car wouldn’t be fixed until Tuesday.
I was upset and frustrated. I moped around the hotel room generally being miserable. My wife, comedian/actress Gayla Johnson, sat next to me, comforted me, and then said:
Do the vacation that’s in front of you … not the one in your head.
I had to laugh. She had reminded me of my own lesson, but in a different context. It broke the spell of trying to make this vacation happen the way I’d planned it. By staying focused on the original plan in my head of what the vacation was supposed to be, I was ruining the vacation we actually could have. For the next three days we had a wonderful time doing the vacation in front of us.
So where’s the lesson for business? Same lesson, different contexts:
Do the meeting or presentation that’s in front of you … not the one in your head.
When faced with speaking in front of an audience, some people mistakenly memorize exactly what they are going to say. And that’s exactly what they present: a rigid string of language with little or no connection with the other participants.
This is like a surfer standing on the shore deciding how he’s going to ride a future wave. Later, when he catches a wave, he sticks to his plan, and of course he wipes out.
The only effective way for anyone to surf is to get up on the wave, read it, adjust to it, and all the while keep in mind the goal of having a great ride. Too many business professionals decide beforehand exactly how the meeting or presentation should go and then steamroll though it. And of course they wipe out.
What does work? Being in the present with your group and noticing if they’re enjoying and understanding the points or ideas you’re there to communicate. If you fail to connect with your listeners because you’re too busy doing the meeting or presentation in your head, you’ll miss the real one in front of you.