I’ve always known performing stand-up comedy is hard; really hard! The good comedians make it look effortless but it takes a lot of work and a lot of trial and error.
I know because I’ve had acting and improv training and I watched a good friend work at being a stand-up for many years. It had a lot of rewards but also a lot of pitfalls.
Back in March, I was asked to participate in a fundraiser for Women Writing for (a) Change; a highly regarded organization of writers in the Cincinnati area. I have a lot of respect for this group, I’ve met and grown several friendships and I’ve come a long way honing my writing skills too!
At first, I hesitated, this takes courage! Then after thinking it through, I decided to go for it!
It was an honor to be asked. Plus, I suffered from stage fright in the past and overcoming this debilitating fear has been one of my proudest accomplishments. I also coach people on how to overcome their debilitating stage fright. Performing live stand-up comedy on stage would certainly remind me as to how far I’ve come. Accepting this opportunity (or challenge) would be an example of me walking the talk!
Emails were sent and I was accepted.
Four and half months later it was show time! I might be partial but the night was exceptional! The comedy club was packed to capacity with members of WWf(a)C and their friends. Everyone was in a great mood, ready to laugh and the 12 of us performing, gave them a very fun night!
Since I had an amazing, life-changing time, I wanted to share what I learned. You may not be doing a stand-up routine any time soon but these tips will definitely help with your next presentation!
1.Stay Calm and Stop the Negative Self Talk Even When Things Look Really Bad…
Two weeks before the show we had a rehearsal complete with a microphone. My rehearsal did not go well. In a word, I sucked. Actually, I below sucked. I thought I had it down. I didn’t and as I could feel my fellow comics’ attention slipping away I got faster, louder and more… crazy. It was bad, really bad and I panicked. I wanted to run away and say “sorry, I’m sure I will be ill that night but you guys will be terrific!” I didn’t….
Instead, after about a day of borderline freaking out, I calmed down and got to work. By calming down, I was able to look objectively at myself and the piece I wrote. The components were all there. The overall piece was funny (at least we thought it was), it just needed some tweaking to keep it moving.
I calmed down and quieted my negative thoughts by simply getting to work. In the past, I may have tried to back out or worse, just let myself power through, and have a bad experience!
2. Tweak What You Have But Also Try Suggestions
During rehearsals I only had an outline of my story. Our mentor, Terri Foltz, said I needed to write it all out, I didn’t but after my bad rehearsal, I didn’t argue, I just did It. Stand-up is different from a presentation, there are no PowerPoints or notes. Jokes have punchlines that need to be set-up and delivered. Writing it out makes sure the beats are in place. During your presentation, if you have points that need to be made and understood, writing them out will be helpful.
I also took some of the suggestions offered to me and seriously reviewed the critiques. This takes trust. Getting calm first helps though. When I was calm, I knew which suggestions were good and where my instincts were good. Otherwise, I would have just gone from one suggestion to the next and not focus on MY point of view.
Once written, I kept saying the piece out loud to Charlie (my husband) as though I was telling my friends what happened over dinner. This kept it conversational and I felt immediately if the flow of the story felt right. I adjusted the piece accordingly with input from Charlie.
3. Speak to Your Audience but Peak Their Interest
Most of the people in the audience would be my age, so it was easy to speak to them. However, the story I told was a bit different. My topic was “getting married for the first time at 51.”
I then made sure that the main skeleton of my story had not been done before by checking in with the comedy group.
4. Memorization as a Way to Get Comfortable, Even intimate, with Your Material
I had never memorized 5 minutes of anything before besides song lyrics. It was daunting because I knew skipping a part would mean a joke would fall flat. BUT I also knew that being too memorized could leave me sounding stiff.
In order to get the sequence down, I just kept saying it over and over in my head. In the car, in the shower, on the elliptical, everywhere. This helped with sounding conversational. I needed to make sure I could recall the lines easily and effortlessly.
As odd as this sounds, memorization helped me be more spontaneous. Since I knew where I was going next I was able to work with the reaction of the audience.
5. Practice Out Loud
There’s only one way to practice any presentation, elevator pitch or stand-up routine. You have to practice it out loud, standing up.
I stood with a pretend microphone aka a big pen and did it out loud over and over again. Just like when I work on a presentation.
If you have stage fright this will trigger you and that’s perfect!! Just keep going! NOW is the time to be triggered, not on stage.
6. Invoke the 24 Hour Rule
I tend to get nervous, so I don’t need more energy on performance days. Therefore, 24 hours before a presentation I don’t have sugar, caffeine or alcohol. I keep my food clean, I work out and stay hydrated. This works best for me. I just sip water beforehand. However, right afterwards, I knocked back a nice big Cosmo!
7. Slow Down, Keep Going and Have Fun!
Once on stage, since I knew my material extremely well, I was able to just wait for the laughs (fortunately, they came!), confidently move through my set and even ad lib where appropriate.
I really had an amazing time with a very generous audience! The stars were definitely aligned! All of us did an amazing job and it really felt like we were a team. By the time I got up there, I also knew I had done the best job of preparing that I could and I felt ready.
I hope you find these tips will do the same for you, so you too can have a brilliant moment in the spotlight! You deserve it!
Eva Lewandowski MBA, is a certified Life Coach, certified EFT Practitioner, seminar leader, speaker and co-host of a weekly internet radio show “Corporate Talk with Charlie and Eva”. She is also a 30 year veteran of Corporate America as an IT consultant. Using the skills she learned in acting classes, life coaching and EFT certification training as well as her struggle with debilitating stage fright, she created, Stand Up and Be Heard!, a program that teaches professionals how to overcome their fear of the spotlight. She is also the author of “Put on Your Phone Face: Tips and Techniques for teleconferences and conference calls”.