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.

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