The power of stand-up comedy in training

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Getting staff to deliver a stand-up routine is great for confidence, self-awareness, team building and retention

There’s much to be said for standing in a room of strangers and reeling off a set that only a handful of people might find funny. It takes guts, requires you to think on your feet, and ultimately, a willingness to go along for the ride. That’s why I’ve introduced it as a training tool at my company.

Ever look at your training budgets and wince? Trying to cater for an individual’s training needs is expensive, and it can be hard to see the payoff. You can end up with training existing in silos – and it shouldn’t. And if you can’t give your people what they feel they need to progress, what reason are you giving them to stay put?

That’s why stand-up comedy is a great training tool – it doesn’t feel like ‘work'. People are more motivated by learning broader life skills than those that only apply to their job. Taking people outside their comfort zone not only creates a sense of achievement, but it’s a great team bonding exercise and softens even the spikiest edges.

The skills to be gained from stand-up are extensive. Developing a routine requires layers of anecdotes, gags and stories – a skill that’s universally useful, regardless of your industry or job function. The key is working out what type of comedian you want to be, just as you might consider how you want to be perceived by your team. In an interview or business pitch situation: what do you need to do to bag the job or the account? In stand-up: how are you going to secure that second gig?

Here’s three things we can all learn from stand-up:

1. Deal with hecklers quickly

Any comedian will tell you that dealing with hecklers can actually lead to the funniest part of the set – not because their response is the funniest, but because they’ve had to think on their feet. People appreciate speed and skill much more than a well-crafted joke.

2. The power of three

We’re predisposed to remember things better when they come in threes. If you look closely you’ll see this everywhere: storytelling, political speeches,even ‘Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman’ gags. Comedians use the rule of three to construct jokes all the time. Try it for yourself and see the impact it has on people you talk to, both in their engagement and retention.

3. Address what people are thinking and move on

If a comedian looks like a young Tony Blair you’ll often hear them open with ‘I know what you’re thinking: Tony Blair is looking good for his age'. On the surface this sounds like a cheap gag, but it’s more than that. The comedian knows that the audience is sat there thinking ‘this guy reminds me of someone', and all the time they’re thinking that they aren’t listening to the comedian’s jokes. So they get it out of the way. We can all learn to think about what our audience might be thinking and then address it so they can focus on you.

Stand-up comedy is an art, but one that everyone can master with the right coaching. Once we have the right tools for our job at our disposal we naturally become more confident. If you teach people life skills that they can relate to they are much more likely to find the training valuable and fulfilling, thus helping retention. This is turn will help attract best talent. And that’s no laughing matter…

Jonathan Fraser is chief strategy officer at Exposure Digital

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