What Stand-Up Comedians Can Teach Us About Making Great Presentations

Whether you like to make presentations or not, and whether you are self-employed, are in business for yourself, or are a freelancer, you still probably have to. The good news about giving a presentation is that it can be an acquired skill. Sure, some people are natural salespeople and speakers, but there are plenty more who have had to learn how to do it, and do it well.

Like, for instance, stand-up comedians. Every stand-up, no matter how naturally funny they are, has honed their stand-up skill. And it is a skill. It takes work. They learned how to be great in front of an audience and so can you, even if your audience is just an audience of two potential customers.

If you want to become good at presentations, whether it is a sales pitch, a speech, or what have you, stand-ups have a few tips to keep in mind.

5 Secrets to Great Sales Presentations for the Self-Employed

1. Don’t wing it: The very best stand-ups know what they are going to say, and practice, practice, practice. They write down the bit, memorize it, work it, revise it, and do it again. Their magic, of course, is that they make it sound fresh every time.


At a minimum, for the amateur, you might want to create a PowerPoint and know what you want to say for each slide. Then present the speech or slide show alone or with a trusted pal or your spouse, and then give it again. And then again.

Take the comedian, please. Comics go on stage almost nightly and figure out what works and what does not. You can see this process in the movie Comedian. In it, Jerry Seinfeld creates a new act and we watch him refine it on stage, and then refine it some more. The detail is impressive, as is the willingness to bomb, to be wrong, and to make corrections.

George Carlin worked and re-worked every bit. He wrote and re-wrote.

You can also read about the same process in Steve Martin’s great book, Born Standing Up. In it, Martin relays what it took for him to become the first “rock star” comedian back in the late 70s. What it took (aside from impeccable timing and gut-busting humor of course), was precision. He was incredibly precise about his act, continually refining and adjusting it along the way.

Of course we are not asking you to be a comedian, rather, we are suggesting that any stand-up, salesperson, freelance professional, or speaker who excels at presenting works at it. They work at being as precise and exact. They don’t wing it and hope for the best.

2. Don’t be boring: There is not a right way to give a presentation. Of course you have to be professional and knowledgeable, that is a given. But too many freelance business people end up being far too stiff because they try and fit into some preconceived notion of what they should be doing or sounding like. Better: Be your best self. Be personable, humorous if possible (that almost always helps), smart… whatever it is that makes you, you. Being professional is not the same as being boring.

Again, think about great comedians. The best ones are unique . . . and the rest tend to try and be like someone who is unique.

3. If you use PowerPoint, make your slides enjoyable: Of course, you do not want to just read your slides, but almost as inexcusable is having too many slides, or slides with way too much information. A few key bullet points usually should suffice, and even better: use visuals. People absorb information either visually, through words, or audibly. Use all three.

Check out the book Brain Rules: What Every Presenter Needs to Know by John Medina. There are a lot of excellent lessons to be learned in the book, but a main one is that visuals are a better use of PowerPoint space than words.

4. Say something different: Having a unique take is what makes you memorable – for the right reason. It could be a surprising statistic, an unconventional quote, or a personal story. Who can forget Carlin’s 7 dirty words?

The important thing is that you offer information that they would otherwise not have. That will make you, your business, and your presentation memorable.

5. Know when to stop talking: Don’t you hate those salespeople who never know when to to shut up? Don’t be one of them. Know when to stop, like we know how to stop an article when it’s done.

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