It's been said that the fear of public speaking is up there with the fear of death. Ironically, the next thing that is thought to happen after death is a gruelling self-promotional presentation, from which the location of the eternal soul is decided. With this in mind, you would think more people would be more keen to practice public speaking while alive. Yet most people avoid public speaking at all costs.
Think back to childhood. When the adults are talking, the children are told to be quiet and not interrupt. ‘Children,’ they say, ‘should be seen and not heard.’ These huge flawless people run the world. They are bigger, stronger, and more important than you. Talking in front of them is a privilege and you have to learn that.
So the first choice as a child is to speak up anyway, so basically stage a rebellion against the adults. As a small child this can be extremely daunting, and besides the adults are the ones who decide whether or not you get chocolate, so it’s definitely not worth the risk.
The other choice is to wait until the adults give you permission to talk. It’s a family dinner and the adults are getting bored of talking to each other and all of a sudden the limelight is on you. “Child, get up in front of all us adults and tell us what you have been doing at school”. This is a big moment! After being told to be quiet for so long, all of a sudden you have to satisfy them with an entertaining school-based impro set. No pressure.
The next day you are sitting in class talking quietly with a friend about something that is a lot more interesting than what the lesson is about. The big adult in the front of the class notices and shouts to you, “If that is so interesting, get up and tell the rest of the class!” Although this is an obvious trap, what can you do? The adult has spoken, now get up and do what you are told. Perform, monkey!
So, it’s little surprise that later in life people are apprehensive about public speaking. We are conditioned to think of it as a big, scary, and important thing that we have to get right. Given the choice most adults therefore avoid it and only give it a go when they are formally expected to such as being a best man and reading out a brilliant comedic and poetic speech downloaded from the Internet.
A little attitude adjustment and change in strategy can make a big difference. Start off by treating public speaking as you do with any other activity that you are new at. Seldom do people participate in Formula 1 driving when they are on their learners drivers license. Have realistic expectations about how good you need to be at first, because if you expect yourself to be perfect then that’s just setting yourself up for failure.
Get in the habit of putting yourself in positions where you are likely to fail. It will be a while before you are a brilliant speaker, so the sooner you get used to getting it wrong and realise that’s not so bad, the quicker you can get on with focusing on improving.
And don’t try to get good at everything at once. When planning your next talk, pick a single aspect of the performance to focus on. Maybe just focus on how you use your hands, your voice, or timing. Trying to improve too many things at once adds too much pressure so don’t set it up to be so difficult. Small improvements add up to big ones if you stick at it.
If you've ever worked in an office then I'm sure you know what I mean when I say that sock selection is one of the most important, heck maybe even the most important thing when it comes to long-term success. I'm going to discuss the different iterations of sock attire that I've experienced and the effect each has.
Black socks. Basically this means you are boring. The only exception is if you are wearing either a white or bright yellow suit, as they'd be an adequate contrast. But otherwise, if you wear black socks in business then you are destined for a mediocre future. But at least you are not alone.
Colourful socks. This means you want to stand out, but are only happy to do it in subtle ways. If this is you then take the next step of wearing short trousers so the coloured socks show through. Doing so will make you feel a freedom you've never felt before and your business success will soar.
Funny socks. If the funniest thing about you is a joke on your socks, most of which are not at all funny, then I'm sorry. I'm sorry because you are a bigger joke than your socks, and as you continue your business career you will just become and older and more worn joke. Harsh? Truth can hurt.
No socks. You are a maverick who doesn't care about the health and scent of your feet. If you have no socks, you likely also don't have shoes, and maybe in time you can also bring yourself to be brave enough to lose the trousers. And then my friend, your business career will take a whole different direction.
Conclusion. Who said there'd be a conclusion?
I’ve worked in offices for a long time. I’ve been involved officially in comedy for a shorter time. I like both. When people hear that I do comedy they often assume that I’ll write my comedy jokes based on my experience of working in an office, and for a few of them I do but for most of them I don’t. And for those few that I do, they are completely made up, so not really based on my actual work in an office. Unless by “office” you mean the office in my mind where I write my jokes, although I don’t write jokes about my mind office either. Unless you laughed when you read that bit I just wrote about the mind office, and if you did then it was a joke about my mind office, and if you didn’t then it wasn’t.
In real offices I find that the humour tends to be situational, in that the behavioural responses people have to office situations can be humourous. For instance, I’m typing this in an office, and I just typed the word “humourous” and the word processing tool I am using automatically “corrected” it to humorous, without one of the all so important u characters. I guess my computer mistook me for an American, or someone who can’t spell. Or is that the same thing? I found that chain of thought to be funny because of the stance I took in pretending that I think that Americans spell wrong because they don’t know how to spell rather than the fact that their language is based upon English from the old days before “British English" changed to how it is now.
Another example of situational humour in the office is meetings. How I laugh! Inside. The funniest thing I find about meetings, and brace yourself before I tell you this because you may just get yourself into trouser trouble if you don’t, it’s the bit of the meeting where the meeting seems to end but it keeps going on. “So okay I think we’ve covered everything…” good it’s time to go… “Except five other things” awww please please let me go… “Ok now we’ve definitely finished, bye to everyone on the conference call, we are hanging up now” Ok so time to go now… oh no but hang on there is a little post conference call unofficial meeting where people get a bit more social and say what they really think, which then inevitably leads into getting back on topic of what was said in the meeting and repeating it a couple dozen more times. Ok so come to think of it, that situation isn’t funny at all rather a bit annoying.
So I’m going to keep searching for funny office things, so far I have automatically correcting word processors which you cannot deny was definitely funny, and we have meetings which wasn’t. Oh I know what’s funny about offices, it’s people fishing for attention. That’s definitely funny, and funnier when they don’t get the attention and keep amping it up in hope that people around them finally give in. “Oh what a morning!” <pause, nothing>… “Yeah the gym this morning… owww” <pause, nothing> “How many exercises does my personal trainer expect me to do?” <pause, nothing>… “Pay attention to me!!! I did so much exercise this morning that I nearly puked, surely that is worth your attention isn’t it? Surely that’s a thing that makes sense to do, exercise so much that you nearly puke while some scam artist stand over you and shouts that you need to do more exercises and definitely puke!” <pause, nothing>.
But then work life isn’t all about finding humour in things is it? Surely you be serious about it, rather than trying to make yourself happy and spread it around to others in the hope that it lightens their day up just a little. Definitely not, that would be ridiculous. Next thing you know everyone would start enjoying working in the office, get more productive, make more money, then go home happy, and their partners would think something suspicious is going on and leave them. So I must insist that you turn off your sense of humour in the office, leave it at the door, put it in one of those umbrella bags, and live out your day with a blank look on your face and darkness in your heart. You’ll fit in better.
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My love of comedy started when I was a child and I first watched The Young Ones and Blackadder. I didn't always understand the more grownup jokes, but enjoyed what I could understand. My tastes branched out over the years to a variety of different comedy styles, and I now enjoy a range from some of the world's most well known comedians to rather niche and unusual acts.
A few years back I attended a training event in the UK called Comedy in NLP, at which I learned a great deal and experienced how fun it could be to play up comedically. After the course I started writing down anything I could think of that I considered funny. I quickly realised that humour was all around me, especially in business.
Lately I have decided to get involved in stand-up comedy and comedy writing. I have had a lot of encouragement from my friends and colleagues in business, but also a bit of confusion. Do comedy and business mix? Is trying to fit both of these things together akin to selling guns in a Christian book shop? After giving this some thought I concluded that business and comedy have a lot in common, and that the skills and attitudes in comedy are not only compatible but also very useful in business.
Comedians tend to have light hearted attitudes toward their subject manner, even if their persona is to show discontent. Most people in business who have high levels of stress have far too rigid attitudes, make things more important than they are, and have too serious a manner about them. They mistake "taking things seriously" for "being serious", and mistake "being professional" for "being boring." People who bring a light-hearted attitude to their work tend to have much less stress, reduce stress of those around them, and get a lot more done.
There are many artificial methods out there for building rapport, most of which are over-complicated and mechanical. I like to keep things simple. Think about situations where you see people who truly have rapport with each other, such as guys hanging about in the pub after work - almost inevitably such situations involve humourous banter and gentle ribbing. The same kind of humourous banter builds rapport in a business environment, albeit usually with a little less colourful language and beverages.
Flexibility of State
Comedians move between different states of mind and body depending on what they are portraying in their set. A comedian might intentionally play confused during one piece of material, angrily rant during another piece, and then have a jovial manner about a third. In business, the ability to move intentionally between states can help people adapt to situations around them, and in times of difficulty to move from being worried and unhappy, to resourceful and focused.
Attention to Language
A comedian pays attention to peculiarities in language, and plays with words in order to create humour. Communication is one of the most important skills in most areas of business, and being able to analyse and understand peoples' use of language can help in a big way. Models such as NLP and Metaphors of Business are testament to this.
Looking at Thing Differently
A comedian looks at things in different ways, and applies thought from one subject to other unrelated subjects. When these observations are portrayed, it causes laughter in those who hadn't yet made such connections. Being successful in the workplace also involves being able to look at things differently, which assists problem solving and the ability to formulate new ideas.
I welcome any thoughts, comments, observations.
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