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Comics at conferences

Freakonomics’ Stephne Dubner blogs about “The most embarrassing thing he’s ever done.”

Last week, Levitt and I gave a lecture at a conference in New Orleans. The format was unusual: instead of just getting up and talking, the lecture was supposed to be a moderated Q&A, and the moderator was a guy named Greg Schwem.

About an hour before the lecture, we gathered backstage with Schwem and a few other folks to talk over the details. It turns out that Schwem is a professional standup comic who does a lot of corporate work as an emcee, moderator, or whatever the situation calls for. He’s a really nice guy, and we started to discuss the ins and outs of stand-up comedy, including the excellent Seinfeld documentary, Comedian.
I told him that I’ve always thought that stand-up comedy must be incredibly hard: If you succeed, it looks so easy that anyone thinks they can do it; if you fail, it’s brutally obvious that you’re failing, and people start calling you names. (more…)

I had a similar experience at a conference I was keynoting a few weeks ago, the CEMA Summit.  I was the opening speaker, expecting the usual challenge of waking everyone up at 8:30 am. This guy gets up to introduce me, and I was expecting the usual muddled read of my bio.

But Lou Santini was the man they hired, a professional comic and emcee who did a fantastic 20 min. routine that got people laughing and excited. I felt like Letterman, with my own professional warm-up act. (I also had no idea that it was going to happen … it might have been a hard act to follow for someone with a dull presentation, but I’m pretty zippy.)

Next time you plan a conference, consider hiring a professional host instead of having a staffer or volunteer do it.  Throughout the day Lou kept things moving and kept the energy way high. (Hire Lou.)

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  1. Adam Lawrence August 20, 2007 at 8:49 am #

    I agree completely – but then, I’m a professional stand-up comic as well as a presenter and experience designer.
    The world of business could learn a heck of a lot from the world of showbiz, especially as people realize more and more that business is all about experience and emotion – precisely what showbiz has been working on for centuries.
    And presenters specifically could learn a bunch from stand-ups – how about starting with your second best material, finishing with the best? Using hard consonants to strengthen a message? And understanding that the presentation is YOU, not your Powerpoint slides…
    If I may plug myself, I write a little about what showbiz can teach bigbiz over at
    Click on the “comedy” tag for a quick start…

  2. Lou Santini March 7, 2008 at 9:36 pm #

    Hey, Andy, I was just “googling” myself and I came across your kind words just now after such a long time ago…I can’t thank you enough. I enjoyed your presentation and your book tremendously and have used some of the ideas when coaching my comedy students! Hope all is well on your end!

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