Stand-Up, And Be Remembered

Do you work long, hard hours? I don’t.

Not because I’m so smart (although I am good-looking).

It’s because in the world in which I live, my compensation is tied to value rather than effort. And so the law of diminishing returns applies.

For example, the kind of writing I’m typically hired to do – short format, zesty, sometimes funny – doesn’t get better by grinding away at it. In fact, it often gets worse.

And so I’ve learned to step away from the keyboard anytime I find myself pushing too hard.

I take a walk outside.

I call up some of my solo professional friends to shoot the breeze.

And, of course, I wander the Internet.

Yesterday morning, comedian Jim Gaffigan popped into my mind. I don’t know why, he just did. And so I Googled him and found a bunch of clips.

Much of what I found was from his various stand-up performances.

But there were an equal number of clips in which he was simply being interviewed: On Letterman, Conan, The Today Show, etc.

That’s when I noticed something that had never occurred to me before: When he’s chatting with the host, and while it may just look like off-the-cuff witty banter, he’s not chatting … he’s doing his act.

Consider these two examples…

First, watch this two-minute stand-up segment in which he talks about kale.

Then watch this interview on Conan, beginning at the 1:58 mark.

Did you see? On the subject of kale, it’s essentially the same “conversation” 
– all that’s changed is the setting.

I have to admit, for somebody like me who is often accused by his offspring (and, OK, clients, friends, relatives and pretty much everybody else) of repeatedly trying to tell the same jokes, I’m envious.

Not only are comedians not ridiculed for saying the same things over and over again, it’s expected … it’s how they fine-tune their craft.

But it’s more than just repetition. During those interviews, comedians speak as if it’s all coming off the top of their head, in the moment, for the first time.

It’s not, of course.

It’s carefully scripted and rehearsed, right down to the pauses and gestures. But it works best when it feels spontaneous.

Guess what? This is exactly the way you want to be when people ask you about the work you do: scripted and rehearsed, but with a feeling of spontaneity.

Unfortunately, most professionals settle on one of two equally ineffective extremes:

Some of them ramble on with whatever undercooked blah blah spills out in the moment. It may sound genuine, but it’s bound to be blurry, not well thought out, and inconsistent from day to day (insert your own political joke here).

Others do the opposite. They unload a benefit-laden “elevator statement.” While possibly impressive in the moment, these tend to be completely unmemorable and lacking the feel of an authentic conversation.

(“I help Fortune 100 companies reduce overhead costs by up to 35% using my 5-Star Cross-Promulgated, Reptilian Optimization program [trademark pending].”)

Instead, I recommend taking a page from the world of comedy: Develop a clear, brief, conversational description of the work you do and use it – word for word – every single time you are asked about your work.

Easier said than done, I understand. That’s why it’s one of the first things we work on in my six-month marketing program.  Here are three examples from current students in the course:

Elly van Laar: I am a mediator. I specialize in helping couples in divorce maintain mutual respect.

Helen Rose: I’m a Realtor. I specialize in helping seniors transition into homes that will meet their needs as they age.

Trisha Menchu: We are cost recovery specialists. We help public agencies recover overcharges from their utility providers.

Clear, simple, easy to remember and jargon-free.

They can be dropped into any conversation in just about any situation. And yet, like a comedian’s words on a talk show, they are intended to be memorized ahead of time.

Here’s the bottom line. As solos and small business owners, we live in a word of mouth world. That’s where the referrals, leads, prospects and, ultimately, clients come from.

Given how much of that word of mouth is a function of the actual words coming out of your actual mouth, it’s a good idea to spend some time now rehearsing for your next “gig.”

Gotta go. Colbert’s on the line and I need to plan what I’m going to say.

About the author

Michael Katz is a Boston-based marketing consultant and founder of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service firms stand out from the pack by positioning them as Likeable Experts. Get a free copy of his report, "The 5 Biggest Blocks to Writing a Monthly Newsletter (and how to overcome them)," here:


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