How to be funny

Graham Davies the Presentation Coach

Graham Davies signing his books

I was honoured to be at the launch of Graham Davies’ book launch last Thursday in Mayfair in London. Graham Davies is not only a great presenter, ex-barrister, brutally funny after-dinner speaker and MC, he’s also the UK’s greatest presentation skills coach.

Which is why the book is usefully titled, ‘The Presentation Coach’. Anything else wouldn’t have said ‘presentation coach’ in quite the same way.

Nearly 200 people attended the book launch including, I’m told, lots of top new MPs and some very rich and successful people who were treated to champagne (in the form of a speech from Neil Sherlock) and then a sausage on a stick in the form of a speech from Mr Davies himself.

Comedy, as they say is a funny thing; the business of being funny is actually quite serious. Getting laughs with your presentation is only relevant if you want your talk to be remembered, and get paid lots of money.

What I’ve learnt from Graham is simple: take your presentations seriously: plan, prepare, research, enhance your performance persona, practice and continuously find places to perform. But don’t take yourself too seriously. You can tell from watching Graham Davies that he is so accomplished, he is able to be totally spontaneous and yet totally in control of the platform, while at the same time, punctuate each point he makes with an outrageously funny gag.

To be ‘funny’ on stage you can’t just rely on just being funny.

I’ve found, quite painfully, that being humorous is a wonderful thing to be but it’s not enough to be ‘funny’. Fortunately there are no recordings of my standup shows from the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006. All of my talks are humorous. It’s how I am all the time. It’s a state I find natural. It is the right-brain techniques I’m good at which allow me to cope with unexpected sudden change or problems when I’m on stage. It allows me to cope with heckling and to engage and win over audiences. But on its own it’s not enough to be actually ‘funny’ as my first audience found out back then. I spent the whole of the next day writing gags for the following night and performed a whole new show to claw back a tiny bit of self-respect by getting the greatest of gifts any ego can every receive: laughs from an audience.

Being funny is not a right brain skill as you may expect. It needs the addition of the cold, ruthless discipline of the logical left brain to be able to analyse and pinpoint the right one-liners, well timed gag setups and short routines. It’s the planning and detail that allows you to move from humorous to funny. To be funny we need both right and left brain working together.

And that’s why I’m reading ‘The Presentation Coach’ and that’s why you should too.

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