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How Stand-Up Comedy Helped Me Better Understand People

Internal Communication
Personal growth
Users Feedback

19 October, 2020

Deepak Paramanand, Product Lead at Hitachi, explains how his early efforts in stand-up comedy and experience of interaction between a performer and audience helped him better understand his colleagues and customers.

Problem

I attended the first TED conference in India in 2009 that was packed with emotional and inspiring talks by people who endured unspeakable hardships. The atmosphere was permeated by distress and gloom. However, at the end of the conference, a TED staff member would climb the stage and make jokes about every past speaker. For example, if someone was blind, they would make jokes about how that person could take advantage of disability parking spots. The speaker would laugh with the joke maker and lighten up the mood. I realized that one could use stand-up comedy to enhance interactions with people and understanding of other people.
 

Actions taken

The event I attended helped me understand, among other things, how important it is to be able to laugh at your own problems. I felt that being able to reflect on my own situation and laugh at it was profoundly transforming. I started doing comedy and laughing at my own self, my fears, and my shortcomings.
 

Then, I started going to a bar telling jokes. Initially, what I wanted was to be funny. It was about me, learning and connecting with my own self. I didn’t care if other people laughed or not. Later I learned that if I would make people laugh I would automatically be funny. Things gradually evolved from there.
 

Rather than arriving with my repertoire of ten jokes, I would research the audience trying to understand their stories, identities and problems. I started writing jokes for the audience. My jokes would become increasingly popular as I was researching more meticulously on the audience.
 

After a while I realized that I was able to apply my stand-up comedy experience at my workplace. Before arriving at any meeting, I would research in advance the attendees. Instead of pushing my agenda, I would ask them what was that they wanted and how they would want to accomplish that. I would also ask myself the same questions ahead of the meeting.
 

The outcome of the meetings, presentations to customers, or any other work-related interaction enhanced because of my stand-up comedy experience. I learned to always go in front of the audience prepared, research their needs and thoughts, and cater to them.
 

Also, I would use jokes to convey messages that would require self-reflection and are not easily digestible. I would tell a simple joke: This morning I woke up and had the courage to tell my wife that she was wrong. Then, while everyone would laugh I would further explicate and highlight the problem -- our willingness to accept our own wrongdoings and mistakes. Therefore, I would use a joke as a springboard for conversations about uncomfortable topics.
 

Lessons learned

  • The key mind shift happened when I realized that I didn’t desire anymore to become a comedian and when I didn’t care anymore about what I wanted, but when it became about the audience and what would make them laugh.
  • As a manager, customers and stakeholders are your main audience and you should work on solving their problems.
  • Oftentimes you come up with a joke that you find personally funny, but your audience will not laugh about it. Listen carefully to what is their response, and come up with jokes that will make them laugh. In the same way, approach your customers and stakeholders and offer them what they need.

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