Lots of public speakers and business leaders look to stand-up comedians for lessons on how to communicate. Recently I spent some time with some incredibly high level entrepreneurs as a part of a business retreat my leadership coach invited me to attend. Eventually the discussion turned to public speaking and audience engagement. One of the business leaders asked me if I ever listened to stand-up comedians to improve my public speaking.
The answer is yes. I listen to a lot of stand-up comedy and I don't necessarily listen for the funny content. (Warning! There is a lot of terrible content in the stand-up world. This is not an endorsement of that unhealthy content.) You can learn a lot about public speaking from listening to how a stand up comedian delivers their content and from paying attention to how the audience is reacting.
While obviously our content is life giving many preachers struggle in the delivery of their content, sometimes with little self-awareness. Too often preachers feel like they are "good enough" communicators and stop trying to get better. The good often think they are good enough. The great are always looking for ways to get better. Everyone can improve and there are some great communication lessons pastors can learn from comedians.
Here are 5 reasons why stand-up comedians are generally better communicators than pastors and some takeaways to help pastors grow as communicators.
1. Their future depends on it. Stand-up comedians are absolutely dependent upon audience connection and engagement. If they fail to connect with their audience, their financial and professional future as a stand-up comedian is in serious jeopardy. They have to connect. They have to be good. They have to engage their audience or they are out of a job and can't put food on their table.
Takeaway - Your financial and professional future may not be as dependent on your ability to engage your audience, but make no mistake: If you want to have a future as a communicator in the church you will have to continue to grow and learn how to engage an ever changing audience in a ever changing culture. People are still searching. Don't let poor communication be a stumbling block for a searching audience.
2. Their audience isn't very forgiving. Stand-up comedians have to engage an audience that is at a show to be entertained. This audience has paid for tickets, and those tickets come with an expectation to have an amazing evening of laughter. Those expectations better not meet disappointment. When laughter isn't the result of their investment the audience typically isn't very forgiving. Heckling is a common experience for comedians. The feedback they get from their audience is honest and even unfiltered by social etiquette. Great comedians know how to leverage this feedback to get better.
Takeaway - Search for honest feedback. This is a lot harder for pastors because the church audience is very forgiving and very gracious. Let's face it you could deliver the best sermon of your life one week and follow it up with the worst sermon the next week and you will still have a line of people telling you the same thing after each of those sermons. "Great sermon today preacher, really appreciate you bringing the word." Search for people who will give you honest and constructive feedback. Don't ask them for encouragement. Ask them for help.
3. They can immediately tell if they are bombing. Instant and honest feedback comes from reading and engaging their audience during the delivery of their content. A stand-up comedian can tell when he is connecting and when he is losing his audience. They learn how to pivot to keep or build engagement.
Takeaway - Pay attention to your audience during the delivery of your sermon. To do this you have to break away from your notes. Once you break away from your notes you can really engage and read your audience. Are they locked in? Are they drifting? Have you lost them? If so learn how to pivot or adjust to draw them back in.
4. They spend a ton of time with other stand-up comedians working on their jokes and delivery. Stand-up comedians hang out with other comedians. They refine their craft over coffee after the club closes. Often the jokes they are preparing are delivered first to their peers. They don't just talk about the content of their set, they talk about the nuances of their delivery. Most importantly comedians appreciate other comedians. They root for each other and learn from each other and value the unique aspects of their peers approach to a craft they love.
Takeaway - Spend time with preachers who are really good communicators and talk about what works and what doesn't work. Be engaged with other high level communicators and learn from each other. Talk about content but also talk about delivery and the nuances to building engagement with a congregation during a message. Be humble enough to ask for help and care enough about others to offer help to others.
5. They absolutely love making people laugh. The audience is a comedian's focus and a laugh is their goal. Content and delivery drives audience engagement but ask a stand-up comedian what their favorite part of being a stand-up comedian is and they won't tell you that it's their jokes. What drives a comedian is laughter. They are driven by their audiences's reaction to their content.
Takeaway - Your content is so important, but sometime you can't filter it by what you like or want to say. You have to stay absolutely focused on your audience and what God is wanting to show them. Don't fall in love with your jokes, or your delivery. Fall in love with watching God use you and your gifts to change lives.
Navigating the stand-up world is not for the easily offended or the faint of heart. But when you find a comedian with quality and healthy content, the lessons you can learn from their delivery are priceless and you can use those lessons to improve your communication when you preach.
How do you improve your preaching or speaking?
Your voice matters.