I’m in the sh*t! Approximately 50 eyeballs are directing piercing looks at me: some looks express pity, a few others feel more like rubberneck looks.

 

Do I even see boredom in those eyes over there!? No surprise. After all I’ve been standing here lonely in front of this crowd, not saying a single word for 10 minutes. I start to sweat.

“You’re losing your audience, Frank! Do something. Retrieve your joy. We don’t like you if you’re having doubts.” This damn clown must be kidding me! He’s to blame in the first place for putting me into this absolutely awkward situation. Today, with some distance between me and this intense experience, I know that he helped me to find a strategy for being a better communicator and manager.

A workshop of a different kind

The challenge: Stand in front of the audience and just stay there

Usually…usually I’m a self-confident person. I enjoy opportunities which enable me get my point or ideas across. I don’t mind standing in front of a crowd. I have made quite a few good experiences with pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. All of this made me one of three people who raised their hand when Peter Shub, the clown (yes, he is a real clown and comedian; in fact quite a successful one), challenged me and my colleagues in a workshop of a different kind: applying principles of comedy to captivate audiences in life and in business.

“Which of you guys wants to do a solo exercise that will push you beyond your comfort zone? It might be a bit painful, but you’ll probably not get the opportunity again.”

The challenge: “Enter the room. Stand in front of the audience and just stay there. You’re not allowed to talk. Your task is to feel the pleasure of just being there as long as possible. The moment we as the audience sense that you’re starting to lose your pleasure, we’ll ask you to leave. So you better try to keep our attention.”

 

How strong and secure is your stance really?

So I’m standing there “on stage” surrounded by my colleagues – ready for the challenge. I take a deep breath and a secure stance. I smile. It feels like a secure environment. Some of my colleagues chuckle – they’re finding the unfamiliar setting and the fact that I’m being put on the spot quite entertaining. But after just a short while the situation isn’t unfamiliar anymore. It’s become ordinary and boring.

Just a few minutes until Peter pushes me further outside of my comfort zone

Peter steps in: “You’re losing your audience, Frank! Do something.” All eyes are on me. I know that I’m the only one who can change this by getting in the driver’s seat. But how? After all I’m not allowed to talk. I try to interact with some of my most trusted colleagues by exchanging views and smiles. They are my social anchor points. It does the job… unfortunately only for a couple of seconds. With every facial expression of pity and skepticism that I believe to observe, my self-confidence is dwindling. Just a tiny bit. But it adds up. After some time I feel more and more like being in the sh*t, as they say in theater.

The pleasure of being ridiculous

Peter tries to support me with getting creative while making the situation harder at the same time.

He makes me run round in a circle, high-fiving everyone in the room. “Cheesy!” is the first thought that comes to my mind. But as soon as I finish the round I have to admit that the exercise does make me smile for a moment – a short moment of returning joy, fun and self-confidence.

Peter is a real clown and comedian – in fact quite a successful one

Just a few minutes until Peter pushes me further outside of my comfort zone. He asks me to pretend I’m talking to an imaginative 3-day-old baby. This feels anything but authentic to me…rather foolish and ridiculous. But the moment I start I seem to have the full attention of the audience again. After a while we find something that entertains the audience for a bit longer. It allows me to regain strength and feel pleasure whenever my self-confidence is decreasing; even though this specific trick wouldn’t work in a meeting or an official presentation. The trick that worked for me: …will remain the secret of the workshop group (Sorry). In fact the solution that worked for this specific situation doesn’t matter at all. Because I found more than a simple answer for a problem that can have many shapes anyway.

“I earned an experience that can be applied to many situations; so intense, that I will be able to always remember my learnings – even in the most stressful situation.”

Frank Thomas, Senior Manager Content Strategy

 

Here are my key learnings:

  • There’s a lot we can learn from comedy when it comes to success in life and business. Both is a lot about being able to keep your audience’s attention and coming across as interesting and likeable.
  • You can and should remind yourself to take a strong and self-confident posture when facing an audience. But people will still be able to tell whether or not you are truly enjoying what you do. Your body doesn’t lie.
  • Therefore you need to search for and train strategies that enable you to truly retrieve joy in what you are doing whenever it seems to go down the drain. Watch your audience and, whenever you seem to lose them don’t react with self-doubts (which will make it worse) but apply your tactics. Think, for example, about how you could change the rhythm of your presentation, speech or conversation. Because…
  • …people switch off as soon as things become predictable. Perfection is boring. Understanding this will help you to…
  • …accept and admit when you are not able to apply your strategies to retrieve pleasure. Laugh about mistakes and situations that make you look ridiculous. Failure is part of the game – everybody knows, because we are all humans. People listen to people they like. Facing mistakes with humor and openly will make you much more likeable and thus a better and more convincing presenter.

For more tips to rock your next presentation, click here.

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