How far would you go to make your presentation more personable?

July 22, 2008

Meet Will Gompertz. He isn’t funny. So he signed up for a 10-week comedy course – and then tried his gags out on a paying audience. He relives a terrifying ordeal
I can’t tell a joke. That’s OK: I can’t remove an appendix or parse a Latin sentence either; you just learn to avoid the things you can’t do. But sometimes you get mugged. It happened to me recently when I signed up to give some lectures on contemporary art on a P&O cruise ship. (By day, I’m director of Tate Media, the arm of the galleries that makes TV programmes, runs the website and produces public events.) P&O wanted my talk to include some “laughs”. Laughs? In an art lecture? But it was too late: I’d signed the contract. So I enrolled on a stand-up comedy course.
For the next 10 weeks, every Wednesday evening, in a room above a pub in central London, I learned how to be funny. My tutor was called Chris, and he was the spitting image of Neil from The Young Ones. My fellow students were a mixed bag: wannabe comedians, writers, ad agency types – eight of us in all. Chris provided a microphone that didn’t plug in, a tiny whiteboard you could barely read, and a dog-eared print-out listing the contents of each lesson. There was a relaxed, almost romantic feel to the whole enterprise – until I read through the notes to lesson 10. For lesson 10, we had to perform a real live stand-up gig, in a real venue, in front of a real, paying audience. I hadn’t signed up for this. It’s one thing using jokes to liven up an art lecture; it’s quite another performing in front of a bunch of beered-up hedonists who have paid hard cash.

I know I couldn’t/wouldn’t go this far but this is what Will Gompertz, Director of Tate Media did what would you do to enliven your presentations? For the full story head over to the Guardian Arts Section.

3 People reacted on this

  1. There is something liberating about doing something that scares you a lot.
    In fact, I just did the same thing (a standup class ending with a live performance) in new York. And I have the youtube video to prove it:
    If you don’t step outside of your own borders occasionally, they’ll keep shrinking on you, constantly making your range of choices and potential smaller and smaller.
    As a presenter especially, it’s crucial to try something completely new. And to be prepared to suck :o)

  2. I admire your bravery Alexander – it’s funny the things that scare us…swimming with sharks looks more preferable to me than doing stand up comedy! Mind you,I haven’t taken the plunge with the sharks either – I may need to add that to my list of things to be done very soon!

  3. I like this approach to life. My most significant examples were gettign a job as a ski guide in a french ski resort when I couldn’t ski or speak french and a job as a deckhand on a 187 foot schooner when I couldn’t sail. Both tings owrked out in the end. Working with people requires doing so in a way that requires the same approach. Anyone who thinks that they ‘know’ what they are working with when they engage in any depth with someone else is deluding themselves and everyone else. People are literally infinitely diverse and unique. Each and every time we put ourselves in the position of meeting someone are doing the equivalent of learnign to ski, sail, do stand up etc all over again. Assumptions about what who the other person is or what they want from us are the termites of the relationship. Its why I love this work so much, it constantly demands that we use the natural ear mouth ratio – something I mostly struggle to achieve.

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