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The Magazine for Growing Companies STRATEGY October 2011 Sales Badabing, badaboom Can doing standup help close the deal? In her previous career, Alison Meyerstein was a lawyer. So as she steps onto the stage for her first comedy act, there is one small detail she knows she must clarify. “I feel obliged to give a legal disclaimer,” she says.“Lawyers aren’t funny.” Meyerstein gets a laugh. She and her colleagues at Peppercom, a New York City–based PR agency, are, in fact, all getting pretty good at delivering one-liners. That’s no accident. Three years ago, Steve Cody, Peppercom’s co-founder and managing partner, hired a professional comic to train his staff in the art of standup. Clayton Fletcher, who regularly performs at the New York Comedy Club, comes in three or four times a year to meet with new employees and verse them in proper comedic technique, from setting up a punch line to timing its delivery. The training isn’t just for fun. Many of the skills used in crafting a standup routine, Cody says, are essential for winning over prospective clients. “If you’re a good comedian, you’re probably a good presenter,” says Cody. For the company’s latest workshop, held last June, about a dozen employees gather in a room at the New York Comedy Club, eating pizza while Fletcher presents a 40-minute rundown of what goes into a successful standup act. Like all performers, he says, comedians strive to establish an emotional connection with their audience. “Lewis Black, he’s always miserable,” he says, “but he gets some release from sharing.” Fletcher runs through a list of rhetorical devices commonly used in standup routines. He explains how to establish a roll structure, or a succession of punch lines, and how to set up a reference to a previous joke, known as a callback. He gives the participants 10 minutes to sketch out ideas for jokes. Then, one after another, each employee climbs the stage and delivers a three-minute act. Anything for a Laugh Jason Green, an account executive for the New York PR agency Peppercom, in his debut comedy routine “If you’re a good comedian, you’re probably a good presenter.” Most of the participants mine personal anecdotes for humor. Self-deprecating humor proves to be a successful tactic. “When I was 8, I was in my aunt’s wedding,” Laura Bedrossian tells the group. “My sister’s very cute, so she got to be a flower girl. What do I get to be? Yes, a ring bearer.” Account executive Jason Green isn’t afraid to take aim at the instructor—or his boss. “I want to thank Clayton for the comedy training, and for proving to all of us that four-button sport coats do in fact exist,” he jokes. “Steve may have lent it to him.” Throughout the afternoon, Fletcher dispenses advice that applies as readily to a sales pitch as to the stage. At the beginning of the workshop, he reassures the group that nerves, channeled correctly, can enhance a presentation. “Things that make you nervous are generally things you care about,” he says. He advises the participants that body movements such as crossing one’s arms and turning to the side create a barrier between the performer and the audience. Fletcher COURTESY COMPANY

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