Friday 27 June 2008

Comic timing!

Are you in sales? Are you a salesperson? No, you may answer. Are you sure? Isn't everyone in sales?! Aren't we all trying to "close" all the time. Every time you convince someone of something a sale is made. We are all trying persuade people all the time. Selling is, as the saying goes, about the gentle art of persuasion.

To sell one needs to listen. Yes, selling is more about listening than about talking. And this has a lot to do with timing. One needs to know when to listen, especially in the context of selling in the corporate environment. Persuading a customer to buy a new service is more about listening than anything else.

To sell one needs to build trust. That is where listening comes in. If people trust you it is easier to persuade them of your point of view. How does one build trust? Well, for one thing, always be honest, and be consistent and reliable. And of course, listen! Making people feel comfortable is key. Humour always helps. Making people smile and laugh, as opposed to aggression and ruthlessness, is always a good thing.

So, with that introductory detour down stating the bleeding obvious lane, I want to introduce the hero of our story here today, the comedian. Comedy is all about timing. Now, time must be the ultimate story teller, because people always says that time will tell.

Let's see, we have scratched the selling surface, and now we are talking about comedians, time and storytelling. Selling is about listening, and, comedy is also about listening. Seriously, a stand-up comedian, for example, needs to listen more than they talk. They need to be "with" their audience all the time. Now this implies that comedy is also about selling, and it is. A stand-up comic has to close a deal every 10 to 15 seconds.

Let's look at the make-up of a comedian for a brief moment. Good comedians often have insight and vision – they see humour where others don’t and they show us a more colourful and funnier way of seeing the world. Comedians need entrepreneurial flair - like a photographer who is not afraid to get up close, they need to take advantage of exploitable moments. I was one told that greatest comedy, like the most inspired entrepreneurship, is about managing risk - the comedian needs to push the envelope, and manage the risk.

Now, a comedian also has to maintain the trust of their audience. If comedian looks at their watch or reads notes scribbled on their hand then the trust with the audience will be broken. A comedian can't take out notes on stage. Imagine David Copperfield taking out notes and going "So how do I make the lion disappear again". We all wonder how magic tricks are performed. If we ever see how the trick is done the illusion will be over, and our trust and curiosity diminished.

Stand-up comedy is like magic. The best comedians make it look so easy but it is not at all. So much work goes into each minute of the artist's performance. There is so much preparation and planning - it is a craft as well as an art. And a magician, like a comedian, can never show how the trick is done. If a comic pulls out crib notes then the illusion is lost and the magic disappears. A comedian ultimately has to memorize so much - this is part of the magic.

The other thing about selling, is one has to have fun. A comedian has to have fun with their audience - it can’t be clinical. One has to have heart! The guy on stage has to be laughing too. He has to be in to it. He has to be friends with everyone - he has to be a part of the group.

So, to recap, selling is all about persuasion, and, persuading an audience to laugh is about selling. Now, a person with a sense of humour doesn't necessarily make for a good stand-up comic. This has a lot do with discipline and practice. Even the best athletes, for example, who often make it look easier than it actually is, need to practice and practice. And so do comedians. And sales people! A sense of humour does not allow for a stand-up comedy show - practice does - the sense of humour lets you prepare your material.

Athletes aren't born to win races, for example. They are born with an inclination, a purpose. The rest requires discipline and practice - it requires training. In the same way, a comedian is born with an inclination - a sense of humour. Again, it requires discipline, hard work and training. Selling too is a discipline. The best sales guys have a system and a framework, a way to keep yourself on track. A way of discipline, and it requires a lot of hard work. Hard work that is made to look easy.

A comedian, like a sales person, needs something to sell. Something they believe in, something they would use themselves. We are talking about material. The sense of humour is what leads to the material. The passion is what leads to the products and services that a sales person touts.

Now, when it comes to delivery, less is more. Like saying I love you too often - it can be destructive, like you're making up for a lack of something. It is hard deliver less. It is easy to go on and on. Think of email, why do people send out such long emails? I once heard someone say "I would make my email shorter but I just don't have time". It takes effort to simplify things.

To conclude we better end off on a punch line. So, for starters, let's remind everyone that laughter is the best medicine. So, always go out on a high note. When you got their imaginations captured, end it, and say good night. When the sale is closed, that's it! Never push it too far (because we all tend too). And as for a funny ending, well, I am going to finish off and get home, I am not feeling quite myself today. I guess what I am trying to say is that I want to get home so I can feel myself.

Posted by Ronnie Apteker


Anonymous said...

Good stuff! I think the odd thing with humor is that no matter what - someone will like it. People love good humor and bad humor (like bad comedy movies). No one wants to watch a bad drama! Also depends on what you are talking about too - if you have a new perspective on life. Last comic standing last week had international comics, which was hilarious - maybe even because their jokes didn't fully translate. The french guy was amazing - Arnaud Collery ( - he didn't make it all the way but had great insight of cultural differences.