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Presenting Smartly|part one

Presenters can learn a lot from comedians on developing a better act. The process in how a presenter crafts, develops, and delivers a presentation is much the same in how a comedian puts together their act.

Presenters and comedians have much in common.

Presenters, like comedians, must share a unique point-of-view. Presenters must also share their unique point-of-view in a smart way, just as comedians must do. Good presenters and good comedians utilize the power of timing and pauses in their delivery. The very best presenters and comedians go the extra mile by managing to give the illusion of their on-stage performance being a dialogue and not a monologue.

Last fall I delivered a presentation sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned from comedians to hone my act. I put the slides up (without narration but with stand-up clips) as an online video. You can watch it here or click play below.

I’m always on the lookout for more lessons from comedians to help me improve as a presenter. HBO recently aired a program called, TALKING FUNNY. It’s a roundtable discussion between master comics Ricky Gervais, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K.

It’s brilliant. It’s a must watch for anyone in the presentation game.

These comics address so many issues presenters deal with in developing an act, relating to the audience, and finding the funny. Or in our case, finding the pithy, poignant takeaways for attendees to be influenced and inspired by.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing some of the many smart comedy lessons discussed in TALKING FUNNY. I’ll help to translate the comedy lessons into practical presentation lessons.

For example, there’s a discussion between these master comics about how long should a comedian keep the same material in their act. We presenters face the same issue… how long should we continue using the same slides with the same takeaways?

Chris Rock and Louis C.K. throw away their act every year. Meaning, they start from scratch every year and develop an entirely new act.

Jerry Seinfeld takes a different approach. He evolves his act over a long period of time. Jerry knows the first month he starts telling a joke it’s not going to go over as well as it will six months later, when he’s practiced and refined the bit.

In explaining his approach to crafting his act, Jerry relates it to a people management philosophy from legendary ceo Jack Welch: “I like to keep evolving … like how Jack Welch ran GE. Every year he would fire the bottom 10-percent. That’s the way I do it.

Jerry_Seinfeld

Yes, you read that right.

Jerry Seinfeld applies the Jack Welch 20/70/10 rule to his comedy act. Makes complete sense. Keep the great jokes (the 20%). Continue working on the average stuff (70%) until they become great jokes. And dump the bad jokes (10%) that have no potential to become great jokes.

Turns out, I’ve been using the 20/70/10 rule with crafting my presentations. 20% of my act is proven evergreen material. 70% of my presentations use newer examples with less practiced material. Some of that will become proven, evergreen material and some of it will be destined for the dumpster. And yes, 10% of my presentation material should be put in the dumpster today.

The point is, like Jerry, I cycle through my material. All of us presenters should cycle through our material. Some of us will be more like Chris Rock and Louis C.K. and start from scratch after cycling through all our material within a year. Others of us will be more like Jerry Seinfeld and Ricky Gervais and cycle through all our presentation material after a few years.

Expect more “Presently Smartly” lessons on the Brand Autopsy blog from HBO’s TALKING FUNNY roundtable discussion with master comics.

One Comment

  • Neal Stewart says:

    Great stuff. I really enjoyed watching this and thinking how I could implement some of these insights into my presentations. Thanks, John.