I went to see a high school friend, Jen Grant, perform her stand-up routine at Yuk-Yuk’s last week and I learned a lot about the power of a great presenter. The place was nearly empty - an audience of about 12 people. Before the show, I sat there thinking, “Man, this is going to be tough.” The Yuk-Yuk’s manager did well. He squished us all into the front two rows and set the chairs up so we’d be right next to each other. He made the room feel smaller than it was. In spite of his efforts the first comedian out (not my friend) didn’t handle it well. My impression was that it had put him off and he had trouble hiding it or changing his routine to suit a smaller group. It was awkward at times and we didn’t laugh a lot. I kept thinking, “Too bad the audience is so small.” My opinion changed, however, after my friend’s performance. Jen used the intimacy to her advantage, made us all laugh hard, and it seemed like she could stay on stage forever. She didn’t let it phase her or, if it did, she refused to let it show.
As presenters it is our job to commit to our story and be flexible enough to respond to less than ideal situations. You may be looking at a sea of dead pan faces, your key decision maker may have skipped your presentation, your technology might fail. Be flexible, don’t let it faze you and remember, you are there for them - your audience. Whoever they may be and whatever mood they may be in.
After the Yuk-Yuk’s show, Jen told me about her training at Second City in Improv. I’ve done other classes and I think improv is the best training you can get in flexible thinking, risk-taking, and active listening - all important skills for great presentations.
And check out Jen Grant’s comedy act. She is great storytelling in action.