Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Expert Speaking Seminar at The World Series of Comedy !

If you follow my blog you already know that my usual topic for my posts have to do with how some of the famous comedians I have worked with in the past made me a better speaker and communicator by giving me priceless advice while I was working with them. As a matter of fact I wrote a book about this very topic called "Secrets from the Greenroom" A comedian's inside techniques for effective speaking. This post deals with several up and coming professional comedians who have inspired me with their performance and their participation in the World Series of Comedy held in Las Vegas in late September.

Corporate Speaker David Michael
Expert Speaker David Michael in Las Vegas

I was invited by executive producer of the event Joe Lowers to give a seminar on my book to the comedians and attendees of this event as well as attend some of the shows and elimination rounds of the contest itself. The contest starts at the beginning of the year and has several rounds across the country in an effort to find the funniest comedians. In September, all the finalists gather in Las Vegas for a week of competition and to eventually crown a winner. It is the premier comedy competition in the country. My seminar was greeted by several comedians anxious to get into the corporate world as expert speakers on such topics as wellness, corporate speaking, punch up writers for script and several other topics. I focused mainly on the sweeping movement in the corporate world of using professional comedians as public speaking coaches and their expertise as communication experts for presentations. After the seminar I had a chance to get to know some of the comedians and was blown away by some of the fantastic stories of some of these young, middle aged and retired people who have entered the world of stand up. I was immediately energized by sharing stories with my fellow comedians and was inspired by the comradery that still exists among people who communicate at the highest level of public speaking. The sacrifices some of these performers made just to be able to do this craft for a living were truly inspiring. I met dozens of comics and it would take me forever to tell you all the stories from these budding stars. So I will instead list some of the names of the comedians I met and you can go to their Facebook page or website and enjoy their stories and videos and hopefully hire them! A few of these up and coming stars are Ken Garr, Rachel McDowell, Brad Stewart, Heather Jones, Joe Dungan, Anthony De Guzman Jr., Steve Lee, P.J. McGuire, Phil Johnson, Dave Williamson, Ken Townsend, Eric Shantz, David Tobey, Luke Soin, Lauren Kirshner, Cory Michaelis, Jerry Corley, Garry Roy, Myke Herlihy, Skyler Payne, Joe Eberle, Ray Love, Sandra Risser, Dave DeLuca, Jason Dudey, Greg Willett, Dougie Almeida, Jason London, Cheryl Anderson, Hollie Himmelman, Michael Beers, Matt McClowry and eventual winner Thai Rivera !

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Lewis Black Made Me A Better Speaker !

Being a professional comedian is a roller coaster ride at best. It is a difficult business surrounded by incredible highs and lows and that's if you’re lucky. A comedian’s success is defined by his or her success in winning over a room full of people. Speaking in front of an audience in business is very similar. The queries of will they listen to me, how will I do, will I forget anything and, ultimately, I hope I don't bomb are shared major concerns of both endeavors. The underlying premise of both is that if you can effectively communicate your message to an audience then you will most assuredly be successful. Now while all these concerns are important, most speakers overlook a very important factor when presenting and that is how to connect with the audience. Comedians are experts at this technique because it is essential. We have to relate with the audience within the first 15 to 30 seconds. If we don't, it’s going to be a long night. If you’re thinking that this is a relatively short time, you’re right. However, it is possible to achieve this by immediately becoming someone with whom your audience can identify. Being a comedian, you also find out a lot about the audience. How they will react, what they want to hear and how they want their material or information delivered. Audiences want to listen to speakers with whom they can identify. Comedians know that when someone starts speaking behind a microphone the audience members immediately start to assimilate in their minds that they are either like this person or not. If they feel they are like you, they will immediately begin connecting with you. Without this connection, it can be a long uphill battle for the comedian. During the first few minutes, comedians will usually craft a few jokes about what we think everyone in the audience has experienced. Some of the most popular topics for us are local destinations in the area of the venue we are performing that are likely to be familiar to the audience. For instance, when we perform in Pittsburgh it’s the Primanti’s sandwich with coleslaw and fries on it or the mention of one of the sports teams. If you are speaking in Pittsburgh and you open with I am from (anywhere usa) but I am a big Pittsburgh Steelers fan and I can't wait to eat a Primanti’s sandwich you will have full attention and support of the group. By saying you are a Steeler’s fan you immediately elicit an emotional and prideful feeling in the audience and they will immediately identify with you. Steeler’s fans stick together. Therefore, in a matter of seconds you have created excitement, comradery and a bond all within a few moments. You can use this technique for any city applying any positive aspect applicable to that particular area. This technique also works in reverse. For instance, sometimes when a Pittsburgh comedian is in Cleveland or a vice versa we sometimes tell the emcee to omit where we are from to avoid a negative response. The last thing you want is for someone to boo you before you speak a word! After we get them laughing we sometimes tell them and in some instances never at all.

Lewis Black...Old  Yeller

Lewis Black is probably one of the best comedians to implement this technique. I had a few opportunities to work with Lewis, learned, and laughed a lot with him behind the Greenroom door. To be able to work with big stars in this business is such a big kick but when you get to work with such an intelligent and creative mind like Lewis’s it’s icing on the cake. He did something that I think is just genius. He took the frustrations of everyman and put them so brilliantly into a character that all audiences can identify with and enjoy. He cleverly presents what so many people want to hear and say about social issues, politics and world affairs. These are all serious topics that are taboo for most comedians but he is able to deliver them through the eyes of a guy who is on the brink of insanity because he just can’t take it anymore. People identify with his character because they are frustrated over the same issues. The audience sympathizes with him as well as being thoroughly entertained. He also shows the absurdity of some of our common beliefs and how ridiculous they are when verbalized. It is a particularly useful tool for a speaker if you are able to talk about serious subjects and entertain your audience while making significant points. To be able to communicate regarding a serious subject is imperative to success in business presentations. Moreover, of course, being able to do it while your audience is identifying, sympathizing and laughing with you is priceless. I once asked Lewis in the midst of his rising fame how he came up with such a brilliant character and how satisfying it was to be able to take such serious subjects and make the masses laugh and he just looked at me with those squinting eyes and said, “What?” A typical response from a humble superstar who has transformed communication from the stage and has become so popular that on August 24 he will be the first stand up comedian to perform a live pay per view event from Atlantic City called Old Yeller- Live from the Borgata.

Monday, July 15, 2013

How Seinfeld And Tim Allen Made Me A Better Speaker !


The Callback !

The technique and definition of the call back as described in Wikipedia is extremely accurate. It states, "A callback, in terms of Comedy, is a joke which refers to one previously told in the set. The second joke is often presented in a different context than the one used in the initial joke. Callbacks are usually used near or at the end of a set, as the aim is to create the biggest laugh at the end of a comic set. The main principle behind the callback is to make the audience feel a sense of familiarity with the subject matter, as well as the comedian. It helps create audience rapport. When the second joke is told, it induces a feeling similar to that of being told a personal or in-joke".

Now if you have seen a live comedy show you know what this definition is referring to and if you haven't, watch Seinfeld. Jerry is a comedian who uses his call backs in his television show to wrap up almost every show in the series. The last line of the show is usually a culmination of the entire show with just a few lines or a simple look. As one of the most successful television series in history, Jerry took the most powerful techniques comedians use and transferred it to television. Lines such as, "yada yada yada", "not that there’s anything wrong with that", " that's it for me thank you good night" and "no soup for you" have all been used to close his shows. The callbacks are so popular that these phrases are considered a pop culture phenomenon. People around the world use these on a daily basis with no need to reference the show.  The callback is a truly powerful tool to have at your disposal.

Can you imagine in business, when conducting a meeting or presenting a sales pitch, to be able to make your point and then later on in the presentation close by reiterating your original point utilizing a callback. An action or a few words can communicate volumes in just seconds. This technique will not only make you a more effective speaker but also more interesting to your clients. Comedians have known for years that this technique works like magic on an audience but Jerry Seinfeld took it to incredibly new heights when he incorporated into his television show.

Tim Allen, who has always been one of my favorite comedians, is also responsible for showing me the effective use of the callback. When I worked with Tim he was quickly becoming one of the biggest names on the comedy circuit. His act was based on his “Men Are Pigs” theme that all males are inherently apes. He would go into detail about the typical complaints woman had about men, such as, messy, football watching, beer drinking, and tool loving Neanderthals. He would imitate men communicating not with words but rather with guttural sounds of a caveman. Now a day’s everyone familiar with Tim and his two sitcoms and many movies are familiar with his act and that famous sound.

 When Tim Allen was working he used the callback repeatedly through his set with incredible success. His callback was the caveman guttural sound. Even though he spoke not a word, he was be able to communicate quite effectively by using inflections of the sound by keeping it low to voice displeasure, high to voice excitement and from low to high to voice a question or surprised. Of course, Tim went on to become one of the biggest comedians of our generation with his caveman routine and even though Tim doesn't perform as one of the first men on earth anymore, he is still “The Last Man Standing”.