My heart raced as adrenaline pumped through my body. l felt like thoroughbred entering the starting gate at the Kentucky Derby – rearing and ready to go. I’d been here so often before—those quiet moments just before you walk on stage.
The self-talk begins – with “don’t forget your lines,” “don’t trip,” and “don’t embarrass yourself.” But after thousands of presentations in my career, I’ve learned to adjust my self-talk to positive thoughts like “you’ve practiced and earned the right to be here,” “enjoy the moment,” and “don’t be hard on yourself when you mess up.”
But this time was different. I’d never performed a stand-up comedy routine in front of a live audience, 200 paying customers, including 20 family members and friends expecting to laugh. My anxiety emanated from potentially forgetting lines, bombing, or embarrassing myself and others.
I took three deep breaths. Then, I heard, “Let’s give a round of applause for Preston Poh…Pohr…Preston Poore…”
Here goes nothing. I bounced on stage and delivered my opening line. Who would have ever thought I’d perform a comedy routine at Atlanta’s The Punchline?
I’ve long wanted to learn the ins and outs of writing and delivering humorous content. It all began when I saw an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on Jeff Justice’s Comedy Workshoppe. He’d been teaching comedic skills for 30 years and had roughly 3,000 people graduate from his class.
Why? I love to write and speak. Over the years, I’ve developed the ability to tell stories that stir every human emotional reaction except laughter. Let’s say I’m better at drama than comedy; a little intense and less laid back. I wanted to improve my ability to relate and connect with others.
Laughter enables human connection and accelerates bonding. Impromptu jokes among friends and family come easily to me. But I lacked confidence in intentionally tickling someone’s funny bone. During the Comedy Workshoppe, I discovered comedy is serious business; both art, and science. Over six weeks, I found my sense of humor and how to deliver it.
Here’s how the process worked. During each session, I was required to read a joke I’d written to Jeff and my 20 fellow participants. Jeff then provided feedback on how to improve the joke. I’d go home, integrate the input, rewrite the original joke, and create a new one. Then, the process began all over again.
For example, here’s the first joke I wrote about tipping:
I’m a little offended by the Covid era touchscreen payment systems. You know, the ones where you can tip before your meal, 18%, 20%, 25%, and you’re forced to choose. Ever notice there’s rarely a “no tip” option? It’s like they’re hustling me. How about adding a “isn’t a tip premature right now?” option… or a “how dare you!” option… or a “just give me my food and please don’t spit in it” option?
Here’s the final joke after Jeff and his team’s input:
Tonight, I was placing my order at Chipotle, and the cashier twisted the screen around, expecting a tip. HAVE YOU SEEN THAT? Doesn’t that drive you crazy? The display shows all of these options, like 20% and 30%. I asked, “where’s the just give me a freakin’ burrito and don’t spit in it option?”
The rewritten joke is tighter, recent, and has a more robust punchline. I wrote two “toppers” that expanded upon the original joke. We aimed to write and deliver a page and a half of the material at graduation. Eventually, I ended up with 15 jokes to tell over four minutes.
Before sharing my thoughts on how the routine went, let me pass along six brief insights I gained from the Comedy Workshoppe experience.
Feedback. Jeff told us that he wouldn’t let us fail if we worked hard and gracefully accepted feedback. Jeff and his team would rewrite jokes to shorten set-ups or strengthen punch lines. I always wanted to soak in the feedback provided by a professional comedian, someone who’s been there and done that. After all, I did pay $600 to participate in the workshop. Also, I observed that many people don’t accept feedback gracefully or ignore it all together. Many became defensive and argued with Jeff when he provided feedback or offered suggestions on how to improve. A couple of the aspiring comics rejected his joke developmental edits and delivery feedback all together. Listening to feedback, filtering through the essential parts, and implementing it will only make you better. Fools don’t listen and fail.
Delivery. Comedy is 90% delivery, as with any presentation. I’ve made thousands of presentations over my lifetime; dare I say, 10,000. I can easily throw up some PowerPoint slides on a screen and discuss the key points. But a stand-up comedy routine isn’t a presentation. Delivering a routine is more like acting. You’ve got to remember your lines, how to say your lines, and when to say your lines. It takes much more brain power to remember the set, from the opening joke to the closing call back. I’ve often said, “practice breeds confidence.” So, I practiced over 50 times while on walks, working out, in front of my ever-patient wife, driving, shopping, and almost anywhere.
Imperfection. My performance is far from perfect. Even with all the practice, I stumbled through some of my lines, lost where I was sometimes. Why? I’d never experienced an audience laughing at my original material or the distractions in a comedy club – waitpersons taking orders and serving drinks, sidebar conversations—a lot to process. After spending a lifetime trying to be perfect in front of others, I displayed some vulnerabilities. In the imperfections, I found myself connecting with the audience. I wasn’t polished, but I was relatable. I let my guard down and enjoyed being on stage, sharing some of my humorous takes and connecting with the audience. Additionally, I found that some improvising helps better connect with the audience.
Let ‘em laugh. Jeff hammered me during practice because I always talked over the audience’s laughter. During practice, I’d move to the next joke, more concerned about delivering the content than connecting with the audience. Jeff told me, “If they laugh, enjoy the moment. If they keep laughing, enjoy the moment as long as they do.” The laughter is the payoff. I get the high.
Encouragement. One of my fellow participants, Jason, took the workshop to challenge himself. During the first session, he told us that public speaking scared him to death. Like Jerry Seinfeld said, “People would rather be in the casket than deliver the eulogy.” But Jason’s stuff was hilarious. After watching him struggle on stage a couple of times, I sneaked up behind him and whispered words of encouragement. I told him that his content was fantastic, to have confidence, and believe in himself. Encouragement is oxygen to the soul. I watched Jason gain confidence during the workshop, and he ultimately delivered a hilarious graduation routine. After graduation, he approached me and thanked me for the encouragement; he said it helped him overcome his fear and believe in himself.
Stretch. John Maxwell’s Law of the Rubber Band states, “True life begins at the end of our comfort zone, and we arrive there by stretching.” I wanted to enlarge my comfort zone to become a more effective speaker and writer. My wife, Carla, will tell you that there were many nights I came home from the workshop frustrated. I struggled with self-confidence and potentially failing. I haven’t been pushed like that in years. But it was good, and I grew. You can too!
Back to The Punchline. I wrote four minutes’ worth of material but was on stage for approximately seven minutes. Why? A couple of reasons; I forgot my lines, and I let ’em laugh. I blinked, and it was over.
I got to stand on the stage where all the famous comedians performed, from Richard Prior to Robin Williams, Chris Rock to Jerry Seinfeld. All the greats. What a terrifying, humbling, and satisfying experience! I highly recommend Jeff Justice’s Comedy Workshoppe to anyone who wants to grow.
Would I do it again? Yes. Do I want to perform another comedy routine someday? Never say never. But I haven’t any desire to be a stand-up comic. No, that was never the aim. I desired to learn how to better connect with an audience or reader. Not only to educate, inspire, or make them cry but also to infuse some humor and make ‘em laugh.
So, where do I go from here? I want to integrate humor appropriately into my writing and speaking. I say appropriate because Jeff cautioned me never to tell jokes in front of a corporate audience. It can go wrong quickly. I witnessed it when a pro golf commentator presented at a Coca-Cola Company meeting and told off-color jokes. Everyone in the audience was uncomfortable, and the leaders who arranged the comic almost lost their jobs. It’s not worth it. But you can use humor to make a point.
Lastly, I leave you with a top-five list I developed with some of my fellow participants during a workshop exercise. We were challenged to create titles for the upcoming Rolling Stones tour that reference their age. All in fun…
#5 – The Jumping Jack Defibrillator Tour
#4 – The Can’t Get No Satisfaction Viagra Tour
#3 – The Depends for The Devil Tour
#2 – The Wild Horses Go to the Glue Factory Tour
#1 – The We’re Still Alive, and the Beatles Aren’t Tour
Oh yeah! One more thought. Jeff sent me a post-graduation email with the following line, “Super set! I know you loved last night as much as the audience loved you! Great sex!” I was flattered.
And now, here’s my PG-13 routine. Enjoy!
Please feel free to share the video with your family and friends. Many thanks!
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“Get ready to hand out the visas,” the Executive directed.
The company plane and its C-suite passengers were en route to Bogotá, Colombia, for a brief market visit and boondoggle.
To enter Colombia, each passenger needed a visa along with their passport. The Executive delegated the visa application process to an assistant and asked that the permits be available to distribute just before arriving in Bogotá.
The five-hour flight began with a festive atmosphere. Cocktails were flowing, and conversations quickly moved from professional to personal.
Upon the final approach, the Executive directed the Assistant, “get ready to hand out the visas.”
The Assistant proudly produced an envelope from his portfolio and began distributing the visas. But something was wrong.
Guess what? I’ll bet you’re already there.
The Assistant secured Visa gift cards instead of the required travel visas.
No travel visas meant no entry into Colombia. No entry into Colombia meant no market visit or boondoggle.
The Executive began yelling at the Assistant and shouted, “How could you possibly screw this up?”
“I thought this was a pleasure trip, and you wanted Visa gift cards to cover discretionary expenses,” the Assistant replied. “You said nothing about travel visas. Oh, I’m so sorry…”
That’s right, none of the executives had travel visas to enter Colombia. The plane had to turn around and go back home.
Can you imagine the embarrassment? And the frustration? So much wasted time. After some berating by the Executive, the Assistant ducked his tail and sat down in the back of the plane. The rest of the flight was quiet, oozing with disappointment.
Communication at its finest. But who’s to blame?
The Executive? Yes. She assumed that the directive was clear and understood.
The Assistant? Yes. He assumed what was meant by the directive and acted erroneously.
It made me laugh when I heard the story and thought, “what we have here is a problem to communicate.”
But then I realized, I’ve been on both sides of the coin.
Being in a leadership position can test your communication skills. You must be able to connect with others to work together to reach your shared goals.
You have plenty of company if you think you need some help in this area. According to HR Technologist, almost 57% of employees report being given inadequate directions, and 69% of managers say they’re uncomfortable communicating with employees in general.
With practice and effort, you can turn this situation around. Study this quick guide to essential communication skills that leaders need.
- Plan. Before you speak, take time to reflect. Know your purpose, so you can develop strategies and systems that match your values. Be sure to choose appropriate times and channels for what you have to say.
- Simplify your message. Your employees may feel inundated with too much information. Format your emails and memos with bullets and headlines to make them easier to read. Consider using quick graphics to replace a long speech.
- Stay in touch. Provide frequent opportunities for updates and discussions. Schedule staff meetings and one-on-ones. Publish a staff newsletter. Make yourself visible and approachable.
- Tell stories. A compelling anecdote can inspire your team and unite them around a common mission. Focus on concrete examples and emotional appeal. Build a plot around one or two main points.
- Pay attention. How observant are you? Knowing your surroundings will help you keep up with informal conversations and nonverbal cues.
- Ask questions. If you want to know what your team is thinking, go straight to the source. Ask open-ended questions that give others the chance to elaborate on their responses. Avoid biased wording that could influence their answers.
- Welcome feedback. Encourage your team to let you know how they think you’re doing. Thank them for their honest and constructive input and use it to enhance your performance. Hold meetings to invite their input before making decisions and collaborate on action plans when possible.
- Let go of judgments. What’s the difference between hearing and listening? As a leader, it’s essential to use your mind as well as your ears. Let others finish what they’re saying without interrupting or thinking about your response. Try to put yourself in their position.
- Be inclusive. Diverse organizations need leaders who can relate to various audiences and create an atmosphere where each team member is valued and respected. That means building genuine relationships and recognizing individual and group contributions.
- Show empathy. Authentic connections depend on caring about the needs of others and being able to understand their thoughts and feelings. Developing a culture of empathy also promotes helpful behaviors and cooperation.
- Follow through. Actions do speak louder than words. To earn trust, it’s essential to lead by example. Deliver on your promises and ensure that your actions are consistent with what you say.
- Resolve conflicts. Effective communication can promote harmony, but some disagreements are to be expected. Stay calm and search for mutually beneficial solutions.
- Master technology. Keep your computer skills up to date so you can communicate online and off. Video calls and other tools are likely to remain popular in a climate of remote and hybrid work.
Successful leaders use communication skills to build trust and motivate others. Expressing yourself with clarity and compassion can help you to develop strong work relationships and guide your team to success.
Don’t be like the Executive and Assistant in the opening story. Be curious. Ask questions. Gain clarity. And above all else, seek first to understand, then to be understood. If you do, you’ll be a leader others will want to follow.
Want to uplevel your leadership and communication skills? Visit, http://www.prestonpoore.com, to learn more.
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Being an excellent conversationalist is part science and part art. For most of us, it takes practice to be successful at communicating.
There are plenty of little tricks and strategies you can use to enhance your conversation experience. You’ll enjoy your conversations more, and so will the other person. Conversation skills are great for advancing your career and social life.
Practice these 9 techniques to enhance your conversation skills:
- Lower your requirements for success. When it comes to making small talk at a party, too often we want to be the most amazing conversationalist the world has ever seen. It’s not necessary to be the “best” anything to leave a positive impression or to have a successful conversation. By lowering your performance requirement, you can relax and be a better conversation partner.
- Ask better questions. Ideally, you shouldn’t have to say too much during many conversations. Just a few, well-chosen questions can keep the other person talking for quite a while. Ask open-ended questions about something meaningful to the other person and just kick back and relax. Good questions are an easy way to keep the other person engaged in the conversation.
- Listen well. Listening is half of the conversation. Keep your eyes and attention on the other person. Think about what is being said. Avoid thinking about what you want to say next. Just keep your attention on what’s being said to you.
- Ensure that you’re both understood. Make sure you heard what you thought you heard. Verify that you’ve been understood, too. Good communication requires that the relayed information was received and understood.
- Wait your turn. Avoid interrupting someone. Just because you’re done listening doesn’t mean they were done speaking. Wait until the other person is done talking and then feel free to respond. The other person will appreciate the consideration.
- Be interesting. Unless there was recently a tornado or a record high temperature, no one other than a meteorologist wants to talk about the weather. Have a couple of good stories ready to go at a moment’s notice. One easy way to be interesting is to stay on top of current events. Watch the news while you sweat your cares away on the treadmill. However you manage it, ensure you know what’s going on in the world. If you know what the other person is passionate about, you can use that as a conversation topic.
- Be open and honest, but polite. Honesty and openness are refreshing. Too many people are overly concerned with being politically correct or socially acceptable. This isn’t an excuse to be rude but having an opinion that you’re willing to share puts you head and shoulders above most.
- Show enthusiasm for the chance to speak with the other person. Make the other person feel special.You know how good it feels when someone is excited to see you. See if you can create a similar feeling in the other person.
- End the conversation when the time is right. It’s better to go out on a high note than after the conversation has died. This way, they’ll be eager to speak with you again soon.
We aren’t taught how to be great conversationalists in school, but we should be. It’s a valuable skill that can help your career. It can also allow you to have a more enjoyable time at social events. It can give a great boost to your social life in general. Take advantage of every opportunity to work on your conversation skills.
If you want to learn more about leveling up your communication and leadership skills, visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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Negotiations can be challenging. Especially when it is over something emotional like buying a new home. We found a house we really liked during our move to Atlanta, but it was over-priced. After a long back and forth with a stubborn seller and a rude real estate agent, we finally agreed on a price.
It seemed that we gave a lot more than we got during the negotiation process, and I wasn’t willing to budge anymore. We went through the due diligence period and conducted an inspection. All went well until the day of closing.
Before closing, I walked through the house and noticed water damage and a big hole in the laundry room drywall. I was furious. Somehow the damage was missed in the inspection process, and the sellers didn’t disclose it to us.
This was the last straw!
I called my agent and told her I was very frustrated with the seller and agent’s unethical behavior. I demanded that the hole be fixed, or I’d delay closing. My agent conveyed the message to the seller.
Then, I went to closing.
Closing is always interesting…You have the sellers and their agent, you and your agent and the closing attorney around a big table. I’ve found that the meeting can be brief and transactional, or it can be contentious.
I had a decision to make. Would I be forceful and ensure my demands would be met, or would I try to connect with the folks in the room to help the process go smoothly?
Here’s what I wrote in my journal to record the closing events:
Before the seller and their agent arrived, I told the closing attorney that I would withhold the equity check until we got the laundry room drywall issue resolved.
The sellers and their agent came into the conference room about 30 minutes later. Obviously, the seller’s agent came loaded for bear. The first thing she said to me was, ‘okay, what’s this I hear about not signing papers until the drywall issue is resolved?’
It was the moment of decision. How would I handle this situation?
I write and talk to others about Christian leadership in our communities, workplaces, and schools. Honoring God in all that we do, being a witness, making a positive difference, treating people with dignity and respect. Would I walk the talk?
I decided to take the high road.
Walk the talk. Be who I say I am.
Connect with the people in the room.
Defuse the situation.
Immediately, I redirected the conversation, spent time complimenting the sellers on the beautiful home, and said that we loved the neighborhood.
The mood instantly lifted, and we began getting to know one another.
I discovered that they go to Johnson Ferry Baptist Church (where we attended) and their kids went to Walton High School. She worked at Publix. He went to a small college in Mississippi.
After this, I asked, “so, tell me a little bit about the laundry room.”
They profusely apologized for the water damage and non-disclosure (not sure how they missed this as they had the room re-tiled a couple of months ago). They said it should cost $100 to repair.
I said, ok. No contingency is needed.
I told them that I trusted that they would take care of it. Then the seller’s agent sat back with a sense of relief and uttered in disbelief, “thank you.”
This is an excellent example of being a Christian and treating people well. The Lord allowed me to defuse the situation quickly. This was not manipulation but understanding and connecting with people. This was a hard negotiation but no need to hold a grudge at the end of the game. As the seller put it, “it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Three Ways to Live Out Your Faith in the Real World
- Walk the Talk. Be integrous. Let your actions demonstrate your faith. Be who you say you are. Live out your Christian beliefs. The Bible says, “The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin” (Proverbs 11:3 – The Message). In a flash moment, I decided to walk the talk, to live what I believed, and it kept me on track.
- Defuse Contentious Situations. Dale Carnegie taught me that the best way to win an argument is to avoid it. To prevent molehills from becoming mountains and win people to your way of thinking, begin in a friendly way. I recommend connecting with people through compliments or humor. It’s amazing how quickly the ice breaks and tension eases. The Bible says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24 – New American Standard Bible 95). When you defuse contentious situations, it will clear the path to alignment or agreement.
- The “How” Matters More Than The “What.” How you achieve a goal is often more important than what you do to get there. How you treat people matters. Deal with others well, and you will be dealt with well. Care about others. Take a genuine interest in them, and they will reciprocate. The Bible says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 – New Living Translation). I always remind people that we will be remembered not for what we did but for how we treated others.
If you walk the talk, defuse contentious situations, and know that the “how” matters more than the “what,” you will become a leader others will want to follow.
Do you want to level up your leadership skills? Visit my website, prestonpoore.com, today!
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
Let me help you reach your potential.
I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.