At some point in our lives we will have to deliver a speech in public. Whether you dread the notion of speaking to large groups of people or savour the limelight, you could take a few pointers from the greats of stand-up comedy:
Practise, practise, practise
Even the most well-seasoned public speakers rehearse their speeches before ascending the podium. This is crucial, especially if you have stage fright or are naturally shy. There’s no shame in being unnerved at having to speak in front of a crowd, and it always helps to practise your material repeatedly to avoid the possibility of freezing up or forgetting what to say. You want to come across as neither robotic nor over-rehearsed, so be mindful of your tone and style of delivery. Excellent comedians are so natural on stage their material only seems unrehearsed.
Take, for example, award-winning comedian Tiffany Haddish’s post-win acceptance speech at the 2018 New York Film Critics Circle Awards – her engaging style of delivery, candour and zingy one-liners left a lasting impression on netizens.
Ramble on aimlessly is never ideal. Thus, the onus lies on to you to present your speech with clarity, coherence and a sense of direction. While a speech presented in a chronological order is understood most easily, other formats, such as recurring themes and cause-and-effect, are equally digestible. The magic of stand-up comedy lies in its structural genius – a joke consists of a set-up and a witty punchline. Similarly, your speech must follow a clear format in order to be effective.
Numerous publications have commented on the superior structure of Ali Wong’s comedy specials, which mimics the structure of a movie or play. Each of her jokes is a fragment of a carefully constructed ecosystem about her life, converging to give form to a single idea when she finally delivers the punchline.
Vulnerability makes you relatable
You want your audience to like and relate to you. You want to be seen as one of them, because you want them to be hooked on every word you say. One way to do that is to bare your soul without making it seem like a session on the therapist’s couch. Take a queue from Hannah Gadsby, whose Netflix comedy special “Nanette” highlights her blend of self-deprecating, self-reflexive jokes and ability to incorporate tidbits about art history. In short, talk about yourself – include facts relevant to the presentation or topic of discussion at hand. People will admire you for being forthright, even brave if the stories you tell are of a sensitive nature that relate to the topic at hand, and you’ll feel confident that you know your material.
Surprise the audience
Sometimes, your statements won’t produce the desired effect. Instead of reacting the way you want them to, the audience might surprise you by not receiving your comments well. They might be displeased or come across as completely indifferent, don’t feel discouraged by this – it does not necessarily mean you’re a bad speaker. Turn the scales in your favour by doing what comedians do – stating the obvious. Call the attendees out on their inertness. This does two things: relays to the viewers that you are constantly gauging their reactions and allows them to laugh at their inaction.