Good comedians drag you into their world using some very simple 'connection' tricks.
What they want is for you to come out of their gig thinking ‘that was hilarious because it actually happened to me too!'. Why? Because that means they’ve connected with you – you’ll laugh more and, importantly for future ticket sales, you’ll remember them.
This, a feeling of being ‘similar’ to others, is the basis for all human relationships – comedians just hijack it for stage-gain. In this context, having ‘things in common’, being ‘like peas in a pod’, describing a friend as being ‘a brutha from another mutha/sista from another mista’ all point towards the same thing – we love to feel connected via similarity – consciously or subconsciously.
Knowing this, on the basis that it would be impossible for a comic to know the individual laugh-preferences of each audience member, comedians use something else to connect with groups – situational relevance. They paint a picture of situations that we ‘all’ find ourselves in to show you they’re the same as you – even though you live wildly different lives. What kind of situations?
Making an age-related 'joke' at the automated supermarket check-out when you're asked for ID to buy alcohol;
Trying to put on a ‘I’m not suspicious face’ at airport Passport Control;
Discussing ludicrously minute details of your chosen method of transport that day at the start of a business meeting...
…they’re all aimed at establishing a sense of ‘togetherness’ (i.e. we’ve all been there!).
How is this relevant to the workplace? Well, it’s not about making people laugh. It is, however, about making people feel comfortable that you’ve thought about the situations they might be in that are affected by your subject-matter. So, next time you’re presenting technical information and you think it’s too dry to make it interesting, consider doing the following:
A good story presents a challenge, trigger event/obstacle, a journey and then resolution. There can also be a hero (that might go on the journey through the information) and a villain (that might have created the challenge, trigger or obstacle). In the situational relevance context, you’ve got to place yourself in the ‘hero’ category. You’re solving a problem for your audience and with your audience (which is why interactivity is so crucial later on in your talk).
Don’t panic. Telling stories at work is not about showing off your hilarious life experience – stories don’t have to be funny. They just need to pull your audience into a shared world by giving them situational relevance. You need to show them that you inhabit this world with them – creating trust, rapport and a team approach. The technical nature of your material then becomes less relevant.
Your stories don’t have to be long – they can be quick. They just need to be focused in the right way and communicated at the start of your talk to set a tone and build a platform for a deeper exploration.
Stories should involve you – the more ‘personal detail’ the better. Personal disclosure increases trust – it’s higher risk but higher reward too…
To focus when preparing (and before you even start writing the actual talk) take a piece of A4 and answer the following questions:
(i) What caused (i) you to be in the room with them (ii) today? (the TRIGGER EVENT). This must include both you and the topic.
(ii) In what situations does this trigger event impact on the audience? (the SITUATIONAL RELEVANCE).
(iii) What are the risks associated with not understanding this information? (THE CHALLENGE/JOURNEY).
(iv) How can the information you are about to impart help the audience in a real, tangible way? (RESOLUTION – you’re the hero)
Remember, technical information becomes relevant to people at work when they know how it plays out in ‘real life’. This is especially true if it helps them avoid risk, time-wasting, mistakes and reduces fear.
If you can then tie a story into the structure of your talk (i.e. by linking each section of the talk to one of the situations identified at the start with technical information ‘pinned’ to each section for clarity) you’ll find that by doing the above you’ve already created a macro-structure for your talk.
Winner, winner, chicken dinner.