I was invited to a comedy show last night featuring Wanda Sykes and Keith Robinson.

I admit that I accepted the invitation in the hopes that I would bring home some new insights that I could use with my clients.  Wanda and Keith did not disappoint.  Here are a few tricks that I myself can’t wait to incorporate into my next presentation:

Get rid of all extraneous words.  These two comics could run a clinic on how to deliver an opening sentence, a set-up, and a punch line without a whole lot of foolishness in between.  The biggest laughs came after their most artful delivery. The soft chuckles came when Wanda stumbled over her words and started “umming” and “ahhing.”  I’m not sure Keith stumbled once. Ums, ahs, basicallys and ya knows are verbal road blocks that keep the sender’s message from reaching the receiver.

Don’t fiddle and diddle.  There was a famous sports announcer in Boston who is still known for his running commentary of Celtics games.  If a point guard was taking his sweet time getting a play set up, Johnny Most would accuse him of “fiddlin’ and diddlin’.” A colorful way of saying, “You’re wasting our time.” Keith Robinson had a clever way of introducing his topic up front.  It helped keep the audience’s interest.

Find your rhythm early.  Audiences like consistency as much as they like surprises.  The only way to leave a lasting impression with your key points and profound insights is to give them a platform.  Your pacing, timing and flow are the important lows that enable the highs.

Weave the Main Thread.  The most impressive skill of the night was the elegant and clever way both comedians wove disparate topics together into a seamless presentation. The topics ranged from politics to race to sexuality to menopause (Wanda, not Keith) but the only way to bundle all those topics into a tapestry of big laughs is to make them converge and connect at regular intervals.  The #1 technique used expertly by both comedians:  transitions.  Clever ones, simple ones, funny ones.  When Wanda faltered in these moments, we lost the connection. People checked their phones to see what time it was.

Oh, and one other thing:  Book yourself a warm-up act.  Keith had the audience on a high by the time he introduced Wanda.  I’m wondering where I can find a Keith for my next presentation.

– Barbara