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How Comedians Use Communication

You can laugh out loud while learning to be a more powerful communicator.  My homework assignment for you today is to watch stand-up comedy.

Even if your goal is not to be funny, studying comedians is a master class on commanding the spotlight and being memorable.  Great comedians are the best communicators in the world.

Comedy techniques adapt well for all kinds of public speakers and broadcasters.  When I instruct my clients to spend a half-hour studying clips of their favorite comedians, they come back later and say, “I get it.”

Try it.  Click on the links below, or search for your favorite comics.  Spend a few enjoyable minutes watching on-stage performances.  Pay attention to what they do, what they say, and how they say it.

Vocal dynamics.  Using your voice intentionally, shouting, whispering, using dramatic pauses, and slowing down.  Comedian Steven Wright made a career out of droning in a monotone, while Gilbert Gottfried projects in an exaggerated yell.  Comics often speed up or change their voice as they get to the punchline, which highlights the surprise of the joke.

In your work, it is natural to go into vocal auto-pilot.  It requires effort to choose where to project and inflect with enunciation.  If reading a script or teleprompter, avoid being monotone by rehearsing in advance and notating where you will add changes to vocal delivery.

Body language.  Whitney Cummings shakes her backside when discussing a dog’s “adorable little butt.” She mimes, covering her face with lipstick to fend off unwanted male attention.  She leans in, points, crouches, waves her arms, and conveys paragraphs through her eyes.

Most broadcasters and speakers focus too much on their words.  To improve your use of body language, “read” through your content — without speaking — while just making facial expressions and gestures.  Another tip: Watch TV or movies with the sound off and notice the gestures that actors use to add great power to their words.

Fewer words equal more power.  Most are amazed when they count the tiny number of words in a great joke.  Audiences get bored easily.  Using minimum verbiage to get from point A to point B helps retain interest.

Chris Rock is a word economy genius.  “Housewives are the smartest (people) on earth.  People think it’s the working woman.  No! Suckers work.  Smart people get other people to work for them.”

Almost all communication is improved by reducing word count and using fewer multi-syllable words.  Simplicity works.

Play (a version of) yourself.  Entertainers use self-deprecation and unfiltered honesty to connect with audiences.  Robin Williams made jokes about his addiction to alcohol and cocaine.  Chelsea Handler doesn’t filter her enthusiasm for drinking or sex.  Wanda Sykes shares her perspective as a gay, black woman.

Obviously, consider carefully what is appropriate to share with your audience and situation before saying something you cannot take back.  But infusing content with your point of view is the only way to have authenticity.  Audiences today expect to know your opinion, personal story, and inner thoughts and have a sense of how you feel.  Your personality is your brand, and audiences are not drawn to generic, cardboard-cutout presenters.