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These three micro skills helped me get better at standup comedy

Earlier this week, I performed my first standup comedy act. Although I was quite nervous before I went on stage, I had a lot of fun once I was up there. Looking at my video afterwards, I could see that I was laughing along and having a good time.

There are people who can write fantastic jokes, but aren't good standup comedians. There are people who are fantastic public speakers, but aren't good standup comedians. It takes a combination of these two, among other things like handling different audiences, tailoring the jokes to the audience, performing to a dead crowd (one that isn't laughing), etc.

One of my goals for this year is to get better at each of these things, and hope that they all add up to making me a better standup comedian.

In preparation for my first act, I focused on three key micro skills.

Number one was good jokes. Just like a movie with a great cast can quickly fall flat if the plot is poor, the perfect delivery and on-stage presence will come to nothing if the jokes are bad. So, I spent several days writing and fine-tuning jokes, putting them together into a coherent narrative so that I wouldn't sound like I was sounding off random jokes that I had heard somewhere or made up. Before I got this script ready, I didn't even think about delivery and the steps that come after.

Number two was delivery. While telling a joke, the tone of voice, the stress on certain parts of the sentence, the pauses and timing are all very important. Which is why, if you just hand over the script to the audience for them to read, it might not be half as funny as you saying it out loud to them with your managed tone, timing and pauses. And I focused on getting the delivery right by reading the script aloud, without worrying about whether I'd remember it or not. And to make this process quicker, I read the script aloud with all the tone and pauses and I recorded it, so that I could listen to it and see it what it feels like if I were in the audience listening to it. Then I fine-tuned accordingly.

Number three was memory. There are three ways one can do standup comedy (or any kind of public speaking for that matter). The first way is to just hold a script and read off of it. This is the worst kind where you are almost guaranteed to fail to connect with the audience. The second way is to use cue cards (the equivalent of powerpoint slides but for yourself). These are hints to jog your memory when you forget what you're supposed to say next. This is better than reading off a script, but still isn't ideal. The third (and the best) way is to memorize the entire script word for word. And this is where my recording helped. I just listed to my own recording again and again until the words were lodged in my memory. Now you can wake me up in my sleep and I'll still be able to deliver the entire script as intended.

It can be overwhelming to think about and plan for a standup comedy act when you haven't done it before. And it was very much the case for me. But breaking it down into micro skills that I could master made it easier.

The approach works everywhere. If you want to get better at football, "playing football" has several micro skills like building up your strength to hold off other players, building up your stamina to last a ninety minute game of intensity, speed and agility to dribble past players, shooting, passing, ball control, positioning, keeping a calm head.

Whatever it is that you are trying to do, if the task seems overwhelming, break it down into micro skills and start getting better at each of them individually. In the end, they will all add up. And more importantly, you can quickly spot what little additions you can make to your micro skillset to become really good at a whole new field.

For example, if I add the micro skill of facial expressions and body language to the micro skills needed for doing standup comedy, I can be an actor.

Start identifying micro skills and getting better at them.

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