Stand-up comedy, it seems to me, is to public speaking what Formula One is to driving. While the techniques employed at those extreme levels become slightly specialist, no-one has ever excelled at auto racing without first working on the basics of steering, gears and mirror-signal-manoeuvre. And, though many have tried, nobody thrives as a stand-up comedian without mastering the fundamental skills of public speaking.
As Oliver Double observes in this article about working the audience, “Take the audience away from stand-up comedy and it starts to look weird”. Well, yes. The same goes for public speaking of almost any variety. But he’s writing for a website read by actors, who are accustomed to the Fourth Wall (ie, never directly addressing the audience) and, even for those of us from a different background, it’s useful to be reminded of how totally integral the audience is to a speech or presentation.
Synergy is defined as: the interaction or cooperation of two or more organisations, substances or other agents to produce an effect greater than the sum of its parts. An audience with no-one to listen to cannot be called an audience; a speaker with no-one listening is still technically a speaker – but what’s the point? What we’re all aiming at as public speakers is to connect and create synergy with the audience.
To pull this off, you don’t have to be funny. As long as your talk is well thought-out and well rehearsed, you can energise a room without a single gag. It’s not about the jokes, it’s about the strength of the two-way communication you can generate while delivering a monologue.