Posted by: wordsmithsuk | September 25, 2011

Presentation skills with comedy – how to use comedy and improvisation to teach self-presentation and public speaking


This review was first published on trainingzone. http://www.trainingzone.co.uk/

The other day I read a story about a police officer who responded to a domestic violence call after having completed a course of ‘humour training’. As the officer walked to the front door, she heard the sound of an argument inside. Suddenly a television crashed through the window, landing in the garden. She knocked on the door. “Who is it?” yelled an angry voice. “TV repair,” the officer replied. Her riposte amused the quarrelling husband and wife and made handling a tense situation easier.

So comedy training does work – and I’ve always wondered how it’s done. The author is Gerry Maguire Thompson a comedian and trainer who runs courses on how to use comedy and improvisation to teach self-presentation and public speaking. These events are probably top of the list if you want to learn how to make your own training events more fun. In his preface, Robert Holden says that Gerry can help people ‘to use humour, play, creativity and fun to find your perfect self’. This is a big promise – but how far is it fulfilled in the pages of this book?  It starts off quite well with a quick tour of the essence of comedy, and why comedy is a useful tool for learning and development. Then Gerry moves on to provide some guidelines for running a comedy based training session. Most of this is valuable stuff for trainers and facilitators – how to create the right ambience, some useful icebreakers, a few guiding principles and how to run a wide range of training activities for developing presentation skills.

Unfortunately, things start to go downhill when Gerry gives us a lecture on comedy genres – stand-up, sketches etc. It’s all too general to be useful in the context of the topic being addressed. Then we get  ‘teaching people how to be funny’, which is another generic session on tricks of the trade.  These later sections exemplify the key problems with the book: who is it for and what is its specific purpose? After looking at it a few times I’m still not sure if the book is aimed at trainers who are trying to teach others to be funny. Or is its purpose to help trainers and facilitators to inject a bit of humour into their own courses and events? Or is he simply telling learners how to use comedy as part of their development? If it is the former then the target audience is going to be quite limited. And if it is either of the last two,  it doesn’t succeed because there is too much general information with few clues on how to make it work.

I don’t want to be too negative as some of the activities described here would be useful additions to many training courses and other events. However, the book would be most valuable as a handout pack on Gerry’s training courses. You probably have to hear the content delivered by the author himself in order to understand how to put it into practice.Anyway, I’m still waiting to ‘find my perfect self’. Where did I put it?

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