How comics can teach you to be a better communicator

WHAT&rsquo;S the difference between a pizza and a banker? Now, you might say that now is not the time for joking in the City, and indeed some might argue that the Square Mile already has more than its fair share of comedians. But I say that there are not enough. One of the keys for business leaders is to communicate to their audiences, but they are often very bad at it. So I decided that the way to improve would be to look at the experts: stand-up comics.<br /><br />You might laugh, but most CEOs never go beyond a business school classroom when they are looking at how to communicate with an audience. They have a lot to learn from the likes of Russell Brand and Eddie Izzard (although their clothing choices might be left to the professionals).<br /><br />The fact is that comics have a knack of instantly connecting with their audience. They can hold a room full of people in the palm of their hand and deliver their messages with precision and clarity. They also strive to constantly put on an outstanding show. Can you think of any businesspeople who can do the same?<br /><br />As a business speaker and executive coach, I started thinking about what CEOs can learn from comics. And so I watched hours of videos and attended London comedy clubs large and small. I soon began to see that there were common threads shared by all top-performers. To put all my theories to the test I wrote and, with quite a few butterflies in my stomach, delivered a stand-up comedy routine. And to make sure I didn&rsquo;t back out at the last minute I invited 30 of my corporate clients, including CEOs and directors of big companies, to see me perform at the Laughing Horse comedy club in Camden. (Every single one of them turned up.) Let&rsquo;s just say that I really enjoyed the experience, but I have no plans to give up my day job.<br /><br />Based on my stand-up comedy experience here is my take on ways that you can become a more effective communicator.<br /><br />Firstly, comics work hard to produce original material that bears their trademark. They don&rsquo;t plagiarise. Ask yourself if you can be more original in your approach. For example, in my routine I tried to be contrarian and argued that the best thing for business would be if everybody was apathetic. If nobody cared or did any work, it would be far better for the environment. The idea was original and therefore memorable.<br /><br /><strong>OFF-THE-CUFF</strong><br />Secondly, a good stand-up comic&rsquo;s performance appears totally spontaneous, almost as if he has just walked into the venue and is talking off-the-cuff. The reality is quite different. They spend hours honing their material and practicing their routines. I spent 20 hours preparing for a 10-minute routine and I can assure you that the more you practice, the better it is.<br /><br />Thirdly, stand-up comedians don&rsquo;t use bullet points to deliver their messages, they use stories, which engage their audience on an emotional level and are remembered. For example, I did a story about Columbus reaching America and not being bothered to do anything, just lying on the beach, slapping on the sun-tan lotion and buying a time-share. That brought the idea to life. There&rsquo;s a technique called the nested loop, basically, stories within stories. Ronnie Corbert used that a lot in his monologues.<br /><br />Fourthly, comics see even the most mundane things in a different way. This helps spark ideas as they write their material. How can you enhance your problem solving skills by seeing things from a different perspective?<br /><br />Fifthly, they understand the power of face-to-face communication. Comics know that the best way to perform is face-to-face in front of an audience, not by sending brief impersonal emails. Are there times when it would be more effective if you had a face-to-face meeting rather than fire off a brief email from your Blackberry?<br /><br />Sixthly, comics will monitor their performance and even work out how many laughs they get per minute of material. They then tweak their routine to increase the amount of laughter they receive. What performance criteria do you put in place for yourself?And finally, they understand brand. Comedians work hard to develop their own unique identity, something that sets them apart from the crowd. Think of Jack Dee or Al Murray, the pub landlord, who have very unique personas. Following their lead, I took on a cynical, apathetic character that would engage the audience.<br /><br />Comics might seen unlikely role-models for businesspeople, but studying these good communicators can really help you reach your objectives. Oh, and by the way, the punchline is: &ldquo;a pizza can feed a family&rdquo;.<br /><br />Roger Edward Jones is a London based business speaker, executive coach and author of What Can Chief Executives Learn From Stand-Up Comedians?, runner-up in the business category at the 2009 San Francisco Book Festival. RRP: &pound;7.99.;