SO there I was at Nancy's Bordello, waiting to perform (no, it is not a brothel, it’s a comedy venue in Newcastle).
It was my first try at real stand-up comedy and the professional before me had died a death.
Like many venues, there are no wings. You wait to go on in full view of the audience, like a convict awaiting sentence. The compere announced me, my bowels turned to water and I thought: what on Earth am I doing here?
Apart from masochism, the reason I turned to stand-up comedy was to improve my presentation technique.
Like most people who have to talk for a living, I’d reached for the stars and never even got off the ground.
Aren’t conferences dull? Look around at the audience at most and you’ll see more kippers than Craster smokehouse. Many is the time I thought a stand-up comedian would put delegates out of their misery.
Then the light bulb went on in my cerebellum: stand-up comedians are the ultimate presenters, so they must know a thing or two that would help us amateurs.
And I was right. But they said I could only find out the secrets by doing it, not talking about it.
What have I learned? Here’s two to start with: the opener and your feet.
When a comedian comes on stage, they have at most 45 seconds to win over the audience.
It doesn’t matter what else they do. The first bit is the important bit.
Like wine-tasting in a restaurant, if your act gets corked you’re snookered. It is the same with presentations or public speaking.
So no more shuffling on, adjusting your notes, clearing your throat and thanking your host’s mother for inviting you.
By then your goose will have been cooked and you won’t revive it no matter how much CPR you do.
What’s the other thing I have learned?
You’ve heard the phrase, “the ayes have it”. In the comedy world, it’s the feet what have it.
There’s an old comedians’ aphorism that if the audience can see your feet they will trust you. And you need trust to build rapport.
This also applies to presentations and public speaking, in spades. So, no more standing behind a lectern or top table. Get out and let your Hush Puppies make friends.
Back to Nancy’s Bordello: how did I get on (or rather, did I get off in one piece)?
I’m glad to say I did. I got some good laughs, a round of applause and unfortunately, a nasty dose of the I-must-do-more-of-this-or-I-will- die-itis.
Serves me right for dabbling.
:: Dr Ray Lowry is former dentist and academic from Tyneside who now works as comedian, after-dinner speaker and presentation coach