Standup comedy is the hardest type of public speaking. I’ve given speeches, I’ve taught small sections, presented to small groups, done formal and informal presentations, lectured hundreds of people, given presentations to schools, teachers, administrators, done product pitches to large and small groups of investors, done improv, emceed different types of performances, done standup comedy, and probably other public speaking I can’t think of now.
Public speaking is hard in general—if you don’t do it often presenting to a small class can be a challenge. You have to figure out what you want to say, how you’ll present it, if you’ll use visual aids, how long it can take, what is right for this audience, etc. But now small presentations are easy.
Immediate and Transparent Feedback
The reason that small presentations are easy now, is because standup comedy is so much harder. When you give a speech, the audience usually claps at the end. When you do improv, you have team members to rely on. When you do standup, there is immediate feedback from the audience—you are expecting a laugh and you either get one or you don’t.
This type of immediate feedback is what separates standup comedy from other forms of public speaking. You can get immediate feedback in other types of presentations, and work off the audience, but negative feedback is not nearly as transparent as it is with standup. Even if a speech goes poorly, the overall audience demeanor is relatively similar. The success of a standup routine is immediately obvious to everyone in the audience.
Practice Harder Than You Play
Once you do standup, audiences for other presentations seem extremely forgiving. There is no equivalent to “bombing” a standup routine in a speech or pitch. They can go very poorly, but the dynamics are completely different. Since standup is hard, even high stakes presentations in other areas seem much easier. I give big presentations for our company to teachers, investors, and large audiences, and doing this with rehearsed material on a familiar subject matter with a visual aid and an attentive audience is easy compared to standup.
Like other areas, practice helps you improve public speaking. But if you practice above your level, if you practice with a type of public speaking which is much scarier than the type you routinely do, then those big presentations will suddenly feel a lot easier.