I recently spent an action packed, laughter-filled weekend with Jack Milner, on his stand-up comedy course. The course was held at Diorama Arts in London, pictured here. Even the trees outside it are comic. Yes, they are 20 foot off of the ground!
I’m always looking to push my presentation and speaking skills, and Jack certainly did that! I’d highly recommend the course to anyone interested in comedy, especially if you are looking to go on to the stand up circuit.
People really can be taught to be funny – I’m convinced Jack could turn almost anyone into a comic. Stand up comedy is a good way to develop your creativity and to improve your confidence. The experience of being thrown on stage with an audience that is demanding a laugh from you is quite terrifying. It was the first time I have been nervous on a stage for a long time, but very rewarding all the same.
We can take ourselves far too seriously in the business world. It is a shame, as a good laugh can go a long way to defusing any crisis. Comedy is a creative art, but it is also a skill that can be learnt and honed. Some people are naturally funny, but that is just a temporary head start. Anyone can learn to get a laugh from an audience, even if not everyone will go on to become a world-class comedy superstar.
Some presentation trainers approach comedy with great caution. A blanket fear is misplaced, although some caution is required. It is true that there are some forms of humour that are simply not appropriate in a presentation. However, it is the content, rather than the context, that makes humour inappropriate.
I’ve worked with some of the world’s best leaders, and seen them use comedy to amazing effect. Victimless humour, or humour where you make yourself the victim can be great. Note (as mentioned in the Al Gore analysis) that you do need to be careful when you make yourself the victim of the humour – don’t do it in a way that is going to damage your credibility.
Comedy is a powerful tool for leadership and presenting, as Jack Milner says, “If they are laughing, they are listening”. Laughter provides a natural release mechanism for the tension that builds up in fraught situations. It is hard to be angry when you are laughing too.
To understand the role of laughter in leadership, check out Daniel Goleman’s book on Emotional intelligence: The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership into the Science of Results. Laughter is the fastest way to create emotional resonance in a group. This can be used to quickly get an audience on your side, or to bond a team you are leading.
Comedy is great for your mental health too, it has even been shown to fight off depression. Go on, learn to get a laugh. It will be a great investment of your time.