Standing up to be counted - stand up comedy

For the first half of my life my parents would have told you, sometimes proudly and sometimes through gritted teeth, I was a born performer.

From applying (unsuccessfully) for The X Factor as a teenager, to getting an A in drama. Somewhere along the line I lost my nerve, and over time it escalated into a phobia. The mind is a funny thing, and as the last few years passed the fear got worse, and the speaking didn’t even have to be particularly public; I’m a PR person – the ‘face’ of several brands, and often pitching to groups of people for new business. While I would get through them if I absolutely could not avoid it, I reached a point where I could make myself sick the night before, and waste days getting anxious.

Working in successful digital start-ups and as a media spokesperson (on paper) led to a raft of speaking opportunities, which I quietly declined; but I was frustrated with myself. I’m the first person at a conference to lambast line ups of the same old male experts but by leaving it up to other women to balance the bills, I was being a hypocrite.

I promised myself I would do something about it, leading me to sign up to Funny Women’s Stand up to Stand Out course, that aimed to teach people of all levels a range of skills they could use anywhere from the stage to the board room.

As well as inspiring me to pursue stand up comedy, these are some of the things I’ve learned.

Back Yourself 

The beauty about stand-up comedy is it’s entirely unpredictable. Something that resonates in one room could fall flat in another, and you won’t always get to know why. In that scenario all you can really do is your best, as how you react is only bit you can control, and that is hugely liberating. This is a principle you can apply to any kind of speaking and, unlikely comedy, you have the luxury of knowing your subject matter and speaking to an audience that is predisposed to hearing about it, whether it is at your company update or at a conference. And you don’t even have to make them laugh, just listen. If something doesn’t go to the script in the average scenario, nobody knows, and your only heckler is likely to be your internal voice, so keep your game face on and keep going.

Shake it off 

One of the most interesting things about admitting what I do outside of work is the amount of people who consider it their ‘worst nightmare’ and think it’s an act of extreme bravery, this even from senior professionals who are incredibly good at public speaking. This means that in a situation where you do have to speak, you need to remember that people are already impressed with you just for taking the mic and there is a lot of goodwill towards you so even if you do falter, they’ll be quick to forgive you.

Pay attention 

It’s really valuable to be an active listener. In stand up, not only does watching other acts on a stand up night stop you from obsessing and fixating on your bit, but it also gives you the opportunity to strengthen your set later by referencing a moment that you shared with the audience, so I tend to stay off my phone and get my nose out of my notes.

In a corporate environment, these rules can still apply. If you’ve been invited to a meeting, try to pay attention, even if it’s likely to be dull. If you’re presenting, it means you can tailor it to the vibe of the room, and even if you’re not, it’s a good habit to get into. The most boring meeting in the world can be improved hugely if everyone actively engages in it, and you’re likely to get more done when no one is running on autopilot so, where possible, avoid taking distracting devices into meetings.

Alternative reality 

One of the best things about doing stand-up is how it facilitates a complete switch off from my day job. My career has been a hugely defining element of my character and a lot of my social circle belong in similar roles which can narrow your world a bit if you let it. This interest has taken me out of my element, introducing me to new people and challenges and giving the workday a ‘hard stop’ when I have shows to do. I’ve been a huge fan of stand up comedy for my whole life, so getting to be on stage with comedians I have loved for years has been an absolute dream, coming from something that this time last year I would have described as my worst nightmare.

I have been hugely lucky to have alighted on this as I was starting my role at www.carwow.co.uk and they have not only been hugely supportive of it as a personal objective, they’ve also taken to heart what it means for me as a woman in automotive, an industry that has typically been acknowledged as very masculine. This was one of the reasons carwow sponsored the Funny Women Awards, the providers of the course that helps hundreds of women like me build the skills and confidence needed to represent ourselves in the board room and on conference stages all around the world, as well as finding the best women in comedy and raising up their voices in another industry that is still very unevenly balanced for genders. Yes we can.

Vix LeytonAbout the author

Vix Leyton has been working as a PR specialist for over a decade. Now at carwow, she has previously worked for household name brands from Confused.com, to one of the UK’s leading cashback sites, Quidco. She’s also a stand-up comedian.

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