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How Sketch Comedy Helped Me Become a Better Speaker

For 2021, I set a goal for myself to take a comedy sketch writing class. I have been taking improv classes for over a year now, but sketch writing would be a new challenge for me. Whenever a funny scenario comes up in real life, I always say, “That could be an SNL sketch!,” but I never knew where to even start with writing it. In January, I signed up for the online Sketch Writing 101 Class at Rise Comedy. The class was only 4 weeks long with one class each Sunday for 2.5 hours, so it felt like an achievable goal. The first class we were told there would be homework, and we would be expected to write sketches on our own time. 

Each class we’d get a sketch assignment, pitch our ideas, and then pick one or two to write in full. At the next class, we would do a read through, give and get feedback and then punch-up (a comedy writer’s term meaning “to improve upon”) the jokes and concept. It was like our very own online writers’ room, and I enjoyed it way more than I thought I would.

During Sketch 101, I wrote a monologue based on my mom, a parody about anti-vaxxers in LA, and a premise-based sketch about a woman who pretends her stuffed animals are real pets on Zoom calls. My portfolio is ready if anyone is interested. 

Sketch 201 

I enjoyed 101 so much that I signed up for Sketch Writing 201, which started on March 28, 2021 and just wrapped up on April 18, 2021. Sketch 201 involved more collaborative writing with a partner, which was fun to write with different classmates. For 201, I co-wrote with my partners a sketch about 43-year-old ladies who love Disney way too much (this sketch was totally based on my friends and me) and a sketch about 3rd graders on strike at school. Again, my sketch portfolio is ready! SNL, call me! 😃

I really enjoyed 201 as well, and I plan to continue on with 301 when it is offered. I have never taken any creative writing classes before this EVER, and wow, have I been missing out! I loved the creative outlet! I know it will get harder as we start to put together an actual sketch show and cast people for parts, but one step at a time! 

Sketch Writing and Public Speaking

As I was going through my sketch classes this year, I couldn’t help but think about how the lessons of sketch comedy apply to public speaking as well. I didn’t take sketch writing to improve my public speaking skills, but I believe some of the key lessons can be helpful to anyone looking to improve their public speaking career, even for non-humorous speeches and presentations. 

Here are five lessons learned from Sketch Writing Class that can be applied to public speaking: 

  1. Don’t judge yourself, just keep writing! 

When you are starting out with a sketch or a topic, just get it all out on the page (aka word vomit or for a more pleasant term — free writing). Don’t let your brain filter you and tell you it’s stupid or not worth writing. Fight against your perfectionist tendencies. Just get it all out on the page, coherent or not, and you can edit later! If you keep it inside your head — like I have done for many sketch and speech ideas — then the world will never see it or hear it. The world needs to hear your message, and we want to hear your message after you have crafted it! The first step though is to get all those ideas down and then you will be able to better organize your ideas and message at that point. 

  1. Say “Yes, and…” to build on ideas. 

Once you have your ideas on paper, whether written or typed, then start building on those ideas instead of shutting them down. Sketch writing uses the principles of “Yes, and…” from improv to create funny scenarios and situations. Another phrase that gets used a lot is “If this is true, then what else is true?” When I was working with my sketch writing partner, I noticed she used the “Yes, and…” principle very well. Whatever idea I had, usually a stupid pun or joke, she would say, “YES! And then we can do this!” Working with her was so easy and fun! I hope to be able to collaborate with her more in the future!

  1. Point of view

Sketch writing and probably most creative writing classes (I assume) teach you to have a clear point of view. What are the characters’ points of view? What are you trying to say in your sketch? What message are you trying to convey here? All these are good questions to ask yourself as you are writing and planning your next presentation. If it is not clear to you what your message and point(s) of view are, then it won’t be clear to your audience. 

  1. Keep it simple! 

Once you have your point of view in mind, then keep it simple!  This goes for your sketch ideas and dialogue. Don’t hide your jokes. Don’t be cute and coy about it.  Make your jokes known and make sure your audience knows they are there. The same thing applies to public speaking with your message. Don’t hide your message or make it difficult for the audience to understand your message. At the same time, keep your message and call to action simple. Instead of a 10 bullet point list of things to do after hearing your speech, keep it short—1-3 points maximum so your audience can remember them and actually use what you taught them. 

  1. Rewrites, Rewrites, Rewrites! Edits, Edits, Edits! 

This is the part of sketch I struggle with the most. Ugh! In sketch class, they had a timeline of the drafts, and by Draft 4, the sketch was usually ready to go to production. That means four rewrites, and I don’t mean just fixing grammatical errors. Draft 1 to Draft 2 could involve totally different characters and premises depending on the feedback you got. Drafts 3 and 4 really focused on joke punch-ups and making sure every line was reviewed and a joke was added if it fit. 

I really struggle with rewrites and editing. Gabe Zichermann has a fantastic editing and iterative process, which he outlines in the A-Ha Method Course, but I can honestly say this is a part of my public speaking game that I need to improve ASAP. I have created a bad habit of “one speech and done” at my current Toastmasters club—meaning I give the speech, get feedback, and never really look at or think about the speech again. While that has helped me to get over my fear of public speaking, it will not help me much as a paid presenter. This is a top priority of mine right now as a speaker, and I am committed to working on this. 

Your speech and presentation may need a lot of edits and time at first. However, it will be absolutely worth all the effort put in when you finally give that amazing presentation, and your audience understands and loves your message.  

These lessons from sketch class have served me well, and I hope they will help you too! 

Overall, sketch writing class has taught me to not take myself too seriously and to be silly just for the sake of being silly. Sometimes the best sketches (Chopping Broccoli and  Spartan Cheerleaders for example) are the most memorable because they are just so silly and fun. I also love the timely political sketches and the sketches that call me out directly (Zillow SNL commercial and Murder Shows SNL song), but the simpler the sketch, the better!

There are so many great lessons to learn from creative writing that can be applied to public speaking. I hope you will take some of these lessons and apply them when preparing your next presentation. And to challenge yourself, I encourage you to try a creative writing class of any sort to generate more ideas for your future speeches. It doesn’t have to be comedy if that’s not your thing, but find a class that works for you and will help you improve your skills. Be creative, and your presentations and your audience will reap the benefits!

Big shout out and thank you to Nick Armstrong and the Rise Comedy Theater for an excellent and inspiring round of sketch writing classes! I am ready and excited for Sketch 301! 

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