Almost every time we tell someone we perform standup comedy, we get the same response: “Oh you’re so brave, I could never do that.” To which the reply is: “It’s not as hard as you think.” Sure, not everyone is funny, but anyone with the right guidance can get up and say some words they’ve written down in front of a room of people – despite what you might believe about yourself.
Public speaking is the worst thing many us can imagine doing. During your work or studies, you may have to present something to your peers, go for a job interview, justify your opinions, or face any number of public scenarios that might challenge your self-confidence.
As a comedian, you can feel like you’re only as good as your last gig. You can do the exact same routine to two different crowds on the same night and get completely different reactions – so you really need a solid base within yourself with which to work. Here are some things we’ve learned that might help anyone stand up to their fears of speaking in front of people.
Fake the first 10%
After your first laugh at a gig, you’ll tend to calm down and become yourself on stage. If you make a conscious effort to act the way you want to be perceived for the first five minutes, dissociate yourself and assume a self-assured character, you’ll get a better reaction. You’ll relax into yourself without even realising.
The Dr Pepper theory
Writing down what you’re thinking can help to unscramble your mind. In the case of fear of failure, write down “what’s the worst that can happen?” or “what am I afraid of?”. It’s unlikely to be a life-or-death situation. If the worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get the job or you don’t get a good grade, note what you’d do to make yourself feel better – anything from going out with your friends and calling your parents to writing down what you’d do differently. This will give you a sense of a future plan, which can ease the pressure and affect the way you conduct yourself.
People want you to do well
The audience is yours to lose, and unless you’ve made yourself some enemies there’s a lot of goodwill before you’ve even stepped in front of them. Use that goodwill as a platform to begin your performance.
Connect with ‘your’ crowd
Comedians learn to identify quickly who in the audience is going to respond best to a joke, a question, or even a heckle putdown. Finding people in the room who are engaged and may give verbal encouragement normally helps you give a more enthusiastic and idiosyncratic performance. Finding someone in the room who relates to the topic will help you speak more openly and passionately.
Use and lose your ego
Part of being at ease with yourself is learning how to leave your ego at the door (when necessary) and listen to criticism. It takes a lot of confidence to take feedback without seeing it as a permanent flaw within yourself. For example, if we’re on stage we’re always encouraging our ego to take over, because we need to own the room – but if we lose the crowd because we’ve misjudged the tone, we need to work hard to win them over again. As soon as a comedian starts blaming the audience, your ego has taken over when it shouldn’t have. It’s the same in any situation: if after a presentation someone offers you a way you could improve, they’re trying to help, so don’t let it dent your confidence – take it on board and use it for next time if you think they might have had a point.
Conversely, if someone tells you what you did wasn’t good, or you didn’t get a job when you did your absolute best, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It just means you weren’t right for the role. Not all feedback is worth taking to heart, and it’s your self-belief that helps you to differentiate between what is useful criticism and what isn’t.
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