As co-founder and managing partner of Peppercomm, Flagship’s US agency partner, I personally started doing stand-up comedy about ten years ago – employing a comedy coach to help me develop my stand-up skills outside the office. But I soon realised that whilst I was honing my stand-up routine, I also saw improvements in my day job, particularly during presentations and meetings. I felt more confident using humour, was listening more intently and holding the audience’s attention more effectively. At that point it occurred to me that my colleagues could benefit from comedy too.
And so a business revolution was born. We introduced the concept of comedy to the management committee and it wasn’t long before the whole company was undergoing comedy training, from the chief executive to the interns. It was so successful that in 2012, we launched the Comedy Experience, offering stand-up training as a service to clients. We have also brought our routine across the pond, recently introducing the idea to Flagship in the UK.
That’s not to say we don’t encounter scepticism. Most participants are terrified when they find out they have to do a stand-up routine. Others simply don’t see the point. However, once we explain to them that comedy isn’t about trying to be funny, it’s about telling a story, they start to understand how the process works. By the end we’ve usually won them all over.
A typical comedy session involves time spent discussing the benefits of using comedy in business, before explaining some of the most popular techniques that comedians use in their routines. Brave participants are then asked to improvise a stand-up routine in front of the group, before receiving detailed one-to-one feedback on their performance and how they can hone their skills.
What is constantly surprising for me and participants is how funny everybody is – and it’s usually the people you least expect who are the funniest. It also gives everybody an enormous confidence boost, because they have broken down that psychological barrier and made people laugh. We also see huge benefits for team relationships – both improving bonds between existing teams and building new ones.
Comedy helps to break the ice, makes people feel comfortable and enables them to show their vulnerability. This helps bring people together in a really genuine way as they see a different side to each other and rally around them, wanting them to succeed. It builds authentic relationships; one of the reasons it can be such an effective leadership tool.
Once the training is over participants take the skills they’ve learned into their everyday jobs. Not only does it build confidence, presentation and listening skills, but using comedy at work boosts employee satisfaction. Peppercomm is a case in point, recently ranking as the best place to work in New York City. With research showing happy employees have 31 per cent higher productivity, what’s not to like?
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