A few steps to reach the microphone, a split-second spin to face the audience ‒ and the adrenaline jolts the brain into rapid speech. Whether it’s on stage, at a conference or in an office meeting, some people love that initial chemical surge. Most, however, find it daunting.
Research has shown that three quarters of people suffer from glossophobia, or the fear of public speaking. According to the National Institute of Mental Health it affects 74% of Americans ‒ far more than those who are afraid of death, spiders, darkness, heights or flying. Nor is it gender specific: National Institute data reveals that 73% of men and 75% of women are affected. That sudden dryness of the mouth, a shortness of breath, even a slight sweat ‒ all brought on by the need to talk in front of an audience ‒ is something most of us can relate to.
Of course there are several training and relaxation techniques you could try. But there’s also a fun way: stand-up comedy.
Telling a joke has serious benefits
It may seem odd to learn to tell jokes so that you sound good when presenting the annual results, but what was once considered a lowbrow art or an act of rebellion has become an increasingly popular tool for companies looking to improve their managers’ presentation skills.
There are at least a dozen comedy courses in London targeting the business community. There’s City Lit, the centre for adult learning, which offers classes with comedy directors such as Chris Head, who also runs sessions for Google and creative agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Or Funny Women, a community of female comedians who offer “stand up to stand out” workshops to show companies “how to add humour to their armoury of talents”.
It sounds fun, but how does it work? Logan Murray, comedian, director and author of Be a Great Stand Up, believes it’s all about communication. “The ability to be funny is a natural trait and we use it every day,” he says. “A big component of stand-up comedy is showing that you are a human being. Making people laugh goes beyond speaking to an audience. It creates an environment where communication flows better and change happens; this is similar to what managers do.”
Logan’s corporate workshops are designed to teach people how to create that crucial element of surprise that makes people burst into laughter. He also works on helping people build the confidence to express feelings and emotions while they are speaking.
Get out there and do it
Logan usually works with TV stars, but among his corporate students there are university professors, career coaches, managers and lawyers. Russ Ayres, a clinical hypnotherapist, took the course because he wanted to give more while presenting in public. “My confidence on stage has moved to a whole new level,” he says.
Journalist and writer Viv Groskop is also one of Murray’s acolytes. In an extreme experiment, she did 100 gigs in 100 days in pursuit of her dream to become a stand-up comedian. She recorded her marathon in the book I laughed, I cried: How a woman took on stand-up and (almost) ruined her life. But it’s not just about comedy. Groskop also wants to know why, when the art of oratory has been practiced for 2,500 years, does speech anxiety still strike students, CEOs and celebrities? “It’s not so much that they’re scared of speaking; the speaking is okay,” she writes. “It’s that they’re scared of being humiliated, of making a fool of themselves. What people really want is to control others’ […] laughter.”
The good news is that doing stand-up comedy really did help her overcome those fears. “There are lots of things that stand up encourages that I wish more people would embrace in working life, especially in the realm of management,” says Groskop. “Have fun. Experiment. Let yourself go. Be honest, bold and fearless. There is only one way to make people listen to you regardless of whether you are a woman, a man or a mongoose: get out there and do it.”
@claudiacomms. Image credit: Shutterstock