I am hardly the most experienced of stand ups. Before last Saturday I had done three gigs – a total of about 24 minutes standing up in front of strangers trying to make them laugh. Admittedly this is 24 minutes more than most people, but still not really a career.
But I knew the basics.
First, start with a couple of bankers; a couple of lines almost certain to get at least a giggle. This calms everyone down, reassures the audience that they are not going to have to worry about you, and then you can drift off into the more bizarre and log winded stories.
Second, even if inside you are shaking like a new and over enthusiastic belly dancer, make sure you exude confidence and calmness. Otherwise your audience will sense your fear. Like animals, they can smell it.
Thirdly, mock the place you are in, or better still, the place nearby that they will all mock. Doesn’t need to be funny; does need to be geographically accurate.
But last week was different. Bridgwater’s Got Talent. A talent contest which I’d been invited to enter. The only comic on the bill, I was surrounded by ludicrously talented young people. I was, literally (and I am using literally literally here) more than twice the age of anyone else on stage. Including the compere.
And being a family gig I couldn’t use my tried and tested material about bodily fluids and the negative consequences of maleness. I also could not swear. To add to the challenge I was on at 745 in the evening with an audience that wasn’t really drinking.
So judge for yourselves, but given the circumstances I was grateful for the polite laughter and not disappointed that I didn’t get the much sought after wave after wave of laughter as one gag segues beautifully into the next and the crescendo of guffaws gradually hits a high point at exactly the right moment. The nirvana for comics; the moment that banishes the self doubt for at least half an hour, or until the valium and vodka kicks in
So thank you Bridgwater; a fun evening and good lesson for me. But I doubt you’ll be devastated to hear that I probably won’t be back! Or if I do return, it’ll be as a belly dancer.
This blog post first appeared in Somerset magazine in 2015.
I like words. First; last; in-between: in my mind they’re all good.
I have my favourites: “onomatopoeia” just sounds right and “edgy” appears, well, edgy. “Somnambulant” makes me feel drowsy even saying it, whereas “vibrant” is a little disturbing if said too loudly. I spent most of my university years describing things “ontologically” or arguments as “ontologically sound”. Somehow I managed to achieve a theology degree without ever really understanding what ontology actually was. But it seems to fit anywhere. Whatever it is, it’s great.
But even though English is a rich, resonant and colourful language, you have to go to the continent to get the true richness of words. Some foreign words are just so packed full of meaning that they are very difficult to translate, even though we will all recognise the feeling or concept they try to convey.
Take Spanish for example. “Sombremesa” means the period of time after a meal when you have food-induced conversations with the people you have shared the meal with. Perfect. And we have all been there.
Or Italian. “Culaccino” is the mark left on a table by a cold glass. Nice. Just writing it makes me thirsty, and longing to book a holiday.
Russian is a little more edgy (see what I did there?). “Pochemuchka” sounds a little harsh, and when you realise that it refers to someone who asks a lot of questions, in fact probably too many questions, the harshness takes on a sinister feel. Polonium anyone?
But my absolute favourite, probably because it seems to happen to me a lot, is far closer to home. In Scots there is wonderful word: “tartle”. It describes beautifully that panicky hesitation we all experience just before you have to introduce someone whose name you should remember but can’t. Social oblivion and worse looms.
So the next time you relax somnambulantly into a sombremesa with your friends having experienced the joy of a culaccino filled lunch without a pochemuchka in sight, just remember that you have the joy of words to thank. Ontologically anyway.
Ten Top Tips for a PR campaign (part one)
There are so many ways to launch a PR campaign. And I would guess that most fail. So, here are my ten top tips (there are always ten, don’t ask why, it is just the way life is…) for a decent campaign.
So that’s 1 – 5 out of the way, 6 – 10 will follow soon. Watch this space.
This blog post first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.
It is play season in my daughters’ school.
I don’t mean that the kids are just playing all day now that SATS are done. Perish the thought.
And I don’t mean that the educational establishment has given up the long battle and finally agreed that Minecraft does in fact count as an exam subject and so can happily fill the school day.
No, it is time for the thespians to emerge; for speech to be enunciated in a slightly forced way as if speaking a new language for the very first time; for makeup and cross dressing to be brought firmly, fairly and non-judgementally into the mainstream.
It is the year 6 play.
We have had months of rehearsing, long evenings of line learning, and the CD on constant repeat so that the same songs rattle round my head as if a careless neurosurgeon had lost his iPad with the setting on “Disney songs”.
Finally, Aladdin was performed this week.
And very good it was too. The jokes were hardly Jimmy Carr (no bad thing) but generated a guffaw or two. The story was well known but still dramatic. The action was fast moving, and performed without a safety net. Everyone remembered their lines, and no one froze. Some songs were genuinely moving, and voices shockingly good. The crowds cheered and clapped and paid their £2.50 without a word of complaint.
A few of the parents got involved too spending happy hours setting up lighting, running long leads, plugging things in and shouting “one two” into mikes as if the whole experience had robbed us of the ability to count any higher.
What did I learn?
Well, the small parts are the ones that really make the play. The principles do a great job, but it is perhaps the actor with one line, or just one action to bring props in at the right moment that impress me. These are the things that make it all professional and slick.
Teachers do give up their time freely to direct, act, sew, paint, coach and support. Not a big surprise to many I guess, but in my day I’m pretty sure they were all down the pub by 4.
And much as I may mock, an ensemble piece of theatre does bring out the community spirit in us all.
What I didn’t learn is how in fact to find a genie. The lamps in our house are all suddenly well-polished, but no puff of smoke and no wish in sight. But I’ll keep trying: the show must go on.
This article first appeared in the Somerset County Gazette.
I have recently acquired a new car. I can’t really say I bought it as it still belongs to the leasing company. But it feels like mine. We have christened him Albert.
As with all new cars, Albert assumes I am stupid. He automatically controls the lights and the wipers; sorts out my speed, tells me if I am too close to the car in front and actually brakes for me if he feels I am not taking his warnings seriously enough. He decides on my route, and beeps, very annoyed, if I get too close to anything that might hurt me. When I am foolish enough to try to reverse Albert immediately produces a screen giving a clear camera view of what is behind, with red lines on the screen that I mustn’t cross. What he seems to prefer is that I press a series of buttons so he can park without my intervention. It is quite scary to let go of the wheel and hand over control, but to be fair he does a far better job than me.
In a way this sums up many people’s parenting style. Our job is to keep the kids away from harm, to make sure they don’t get too close to danger; to plan out their route; make sure they can see clearly; not let them do anything stupid or too risky; to protect them from the elements and themselves and do as much for them as we can. Because to be blunt, we are better at it, having had far more practice. We’ve got the experience and a techy car; but our kids have no experience and the equivalent of an 8 year old Cortina
And so we very easily become the automated drivers of their lives.
But of course as they get older things change. Our children are now far better at many things than we are. They want to make their own decisions; take their own risks; try new things out; choose their own routes; sort out their own speed; park for themselves. This is tricky stuff and of course they will get some things wrong, but just as we did at their age, they will become better people as they learn from their mistakes.
The clincher is that I am not sure Albert trusts me: there will always be a bit of competition and irritation as he thinks he knows best, whereas I want to practice and become a better driver.
Hmm. I think I’ll turn the auto park off for a bit.
Customer engagement is a common phrase these days. Used by lots of people in many contexts, it is in danger of becoming one of those phrases that can mean just about anything! Like strategy. Or love!
So, here is my take on what it is, why it’s important and how you do it.
In short, if you know what your customers (users, funders, commissioners, stakeholders, etc.) think about you, your product or service and your future ideas, you will be more successful. It really is as simple as that. This is not reactive, it is not about abdicating responsibility for having ideas, but checking that you are trying to solve a problem that does actually exist, and in a way that the people who might use it think is sensible.
And engaging allows you to do this.
Engaging is not telling, not broadcasting, and not advertising. It is a conversation or discussion which aims at understanding the views of your audience. Using open questions and easy access platforms, you can gain insight into people’s views about what you do.
So start by working out who the people are and how to get to them! Easier said than done, but make sure that you are targeting the influencers as much as possible, the people whose views will have resonance with others. And remember to communicate in a way they want to be communicated with, not in the way that you feel comfortable with. Social media is vital, but only if your audience use it. I was working with a client recently and talking about all the whizzy modern ways we could send out information to her staff. Then she reminded me that her home helps did not have offices, computers or any real social media knowledge. So in this case a newsletter sent out with the payslips was the best plan.
Then give good content. Talk about what you are doing, and be frank about what you do not know. Much as it pains me to say it, people can see through PR. If you tell them your plans and ask for their help, most people are happy to give it.
Respecting individuals means incentivising. Why should people give you their time and opinions? One consultation I am involved in at present pays people a small amount in recognition of their efforts. Sometimes a free offer, or sample might work. At the very least, make sure they realise that you are grateful, and crucially that you WILL act on what they told you. There is nothing worse than giving your opinion and having it ignored.
Questionnaires, one to one interviews, formal market research, focus groups, insight interviews, open forums online…there are many options.
The key thing is to do it. Try, fail, learn and try again. And getting expert help is crucial.
Engagement works, and the only real failure is not doing it at all.
With introductions out of the way, (see below) we can move on to the second part of our look at what makes good press releases.
Like news stories, good press releases tend to adopt a standard journalistic structure, widely known as the ‘inverted pyramid’.
Essentially, this means thinking of what you’re writing as fitting into a triangle where the bigger, wider part is at the top and the point is at the bottom. (more…)