(July 25, 2022: Please note: this post has been updated since its 2017 creation to highlight Elon Musk’s now-abandoned pursuit of Twitter).
I *knew* I should’ve invented Twitter.
Was that funny? Was that NOT funny?? Why do I need your validation???
I wanted you to laugh at that joke, but don’t care if you didn’t.
One thing that became clear to me when I started performing stand-up comedy – is that normal people don’t attempt it.
We won’t get into everything that makes us/them “not normal” (LinkedIn only has so much cloud capacity), but needless to say, the idea of getting up in front of strangers and attempting to make them laugh is daunting to mostly…everyone. People tell me all the time “how do you DO that???”
When people learn that I write & perform stand-up, I frequently hear that attempting stand-up “takes guts”. That’s absurd. All stand-up takes is passion…for failure.
Making crowds laugh takes resiliency – which is a nice way of saying “the groundwork is hellish, but what a payoff”.
When I conceive a new comedic idea, I try it a maximum of five times. If it’s not getting laughs, I cut bait. In other words: I’m prepared to fail with it in front of five different audiences before cutting bait.
The odds of public failure is high. Each comedic idea is a puzzle that needs to be solved and requires vulnerability and discomfort.
I hear similar (but far less dramatic) declarations about a career in sales (“OMG. I could never do that!”). Many break out into sweats from even contemplating the pressure of prospecting, building rapport with strangers, asking pointed questions, listening, pitching, negotiations, and ringing tiny gongs in public. The correlation between the people who could “never do stand-up comedy” and the people who say they could “never be in sales” is higher than interest in the multiverse or confusion among the masses about what the hell it even is.
Comp plans aside, is sales really that much different? Sellers need to be vulnerable, experience discomfort, and absorb the losses.
The consequences of not getting laughs onstage are a mild loss of dignity, pride in self, and the realization that stuff you find funny – isn’t. The great news is that if you bomb your 3-5 minutes of stand-up, the audience judges you temporarily – and won’t remember you. Audiences aren’t as cruel as you think. Instead of replaying your ineptness over and over in their minds, you’ll be forgotten. Audiences rarely remember anyone once the show’s over. In the fact that if the crowd LOVED the headliner, he/she will likely be forever known as “That Last One” (hardly effective when building a “personal brand”).
The repercussions of failing in sales are slightly more drastic. If you don’t hit your quota, your employer asks you for your laptop back, while conveniently forgetting to pay you your base salary & commissions. Consider replacing that old headshot of you on LinkedIn where you’re folding your arms for no good reason. All of this is way more alarming. And uncomfortable.
With that said – confront the discomfort. When I first started in comedy and a joke sucked, I wallowed in the silence. With a bit more experience, I’d outright acknowledge the lack of laughs. The I wrote some “saver” jokes to not only acknowledge the silence, but were clever, surefire comebacks that got the crowd back on my side in a surefire way.
Suck at cold calling? Prepare yourself for the various possible failures and develop a plan to overcome them. Seek out coaching and accept the feedback. OR…listen to your calls and figure out why your prospects aren’t willing to have conversations…OR, do both.
Experiencing inadequacy when running discovery? Beef up your understanding of your target persona and their objectives, their stakeholders, their industry, and how the problems you solve impact them.
Feeling awkward asking tough questions about budget, decision-making, buying process? Your time’s valuable. Waste it on the wrong prospects, the quarter will come with not enough to show for it. It’s your quota, not their’s.
Wanna buy a large social media platform and control the public discourse? Be comfortable with failing to scrounge up $44 billion and 1 dollars.
Please contact me: jon at jonselig dot com.
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