What To Do When Nobody Laughs

Pitching A Tech Startup – Best Practices

The most fun I’ve had doing live comedy in years has been as a judge on “Snark Tank” – a show where tech entrepreneurs pitch their new products to be questioned by investors and roasted by stand-up comedians.

But as a comedian, it’s painful when the tech startup founders present their ideas.

These innovators often have great ideas that could change the world, but they can’t explain, let alone sell their products. And so they fall flat before we can have fun roasting the idea.

If you’re ever doing a tech pitch – whether it’s to be roasted by us, or to raise actual money from actual venture capitalists, here are some basic public speaking and presentation concepts to apply – lest your pitch die.

The order of your presentation matters. 
A lot.

I don’t care about your qualifications until I understand and like your idea.

Here’s how I suggest you structure your pitch:

1. Tell me what the problem is

Pick one of the following:

a) Give a quick statement of fact. Make sure it’s something most people wouldn’t instantly disagree with.

For example: Most men want to dress well but don’t want to spend the time learning how.

b) Do a “quick show of hands, who here (insert something most people will raise their hands for that’s related to your product)”

For example: “Fellas in the room, quick show of hands, who here would change their clothes if it was guaranteed to make you look better and get compliments, without you having to learn anything about fashion?” (most hands will go up!)

c) Tell a QUICK, COMPELLING story.
The story can be personal if it applies to the product you’re pitching.

For example: “I didn’t have a girlfriend until I turned thirty. Then my fashionable friend gave me a makeover, and I’ve been unstoppable ever since. And I thought, is there a way to automate his fashion knowledge to the masses of misdressed men?”

2. Tell me what the hell your idea is and how it will solve the problem you just described.

Explain your idea to me like I’m a fifth grader. 
Not because I’m dumb. But because I want to get excited about the idea first before my analytical brain starts processing it. Also, save the tech mumbo jumbo for the Q&A. Just get me to understand the idea.

For example: “My app takes a few photos of you, asks you some personality and budget questions, then displays killer outfits that will actually look good on you. And it displays the clothing on a photo of you.”

3. Give me details and screen shots

Now that I’m excited about your idea, I want to see and learn more! Plus this establishes you’ve actually done some work and haven’t spent all your seed money on foosball tables.

For example: “Here’s some screenshots of the questions. And here’s the output. And when you adjust the budget, the clothing changes. And we can keep suggesting outfits forever. We also train the data one what you’ve previously liked, we have something like a Netflix recommendation system but for clothing.”

4. Briefly mention the market size and competitors

Personally this one is optional and I would skip it. Unless you’re pitching in an area nobody has heard of, we’ll assume it’s a large market and people want it. Don’t waste your time or our attention on details. You can also just throw this fact into a sentence without having a whole slide on it.

For example: “Men’s clothing is a ten billion dollar industry.”

5. Tell me why you and your team are the right people to make it happen.

Keep this as brief as possible. And make it interesting. I don’t really care to hear your whole resume.

For example: I’ve built and sold two previous apps for seven-figures a pop. And my co-founder was voted GQ’s most fashionable lawyer.”

6. Ideally wrap it up with something cool that ties into your opening story.

Everyone loves a good story. If you can tie up something from the start of your presentation it’ll feel like a strong ending.

For example, “And I’m happy to report, that although we’ve only been in beta for six months, we’ve had our first user that upgraded their wardrobe report getting engaged. Automate your wardrobe, find your wife.”

7. End by saying, “Thank you. Any questions?”

Make it clear that you’re done. Instead of mumbling and meandering until someone has to interrupt you.

  • Everyone hates a long, boring pitch deck with lots of text. Yet for some reason, almost everyone creates a long boring pitch deck with lots of text.
  • Have 5 words per slide max. 2 words is better. Just give me a heading and a related picture and then talk.
  • Don’t ever read a slide.
    Type out what you should say for each slide into the notes and memorize it. But don’t put it on the screen for everyone to see. Otherwise, people read the screen instead of listening to you.
  • Sound excited about your idea. If you’re bored by it, why should we care?

  • Memorize but don’t read it like a robot. Know your product and how to explain it but just talk like a person. You don’t have to get the words written perfectly. Also deliver your pitch like we’re two buddies at a bar, not investors in a big, formal boardroom. Do this even if you’re presenting in a formal boardroom!
  • Follow proper mic technique – learn more about that here.

  • Time out your presentation. Even if you’re allowed five minutes, three minutes is better. If people are excited about the idea, they’ll ask follow-up questions.
  • Don’t respond to each roast point.
    Only reply if one of us asks a legit question, or if you’re sure you have a funny or insightful response. Otherwise, let the judges get their jokes in and be a good, smiling-sport about it.

  • Don’t take it personally. Our job is to get the audience laughing. Sometimes that might come at your expense. Welcome to the arena 🙂

Want private coaching to properly prep your tech pitch? Contact us.

Proper Comedy Mic Technique

There’s no “correct” answer – it’s a matter of preference, but be deliberate about it.

If keeping it in the mic stand

  • Remember righty tighty, lefty loosey.
    Adjust the mic stand to your height, don’t contort your body into weird shapes to fit the existing mic stand’s height.
  • Use both hands for emphasis, and minimize the amount of time you’re holding the mic stand.

If taking the microphone out of the mic stand

  • Look at the audience while taking the mic out of the mic stand. You don’t have to stare at the stand. Believe in yourself that you know how to take out a mic. Or better yet – practice it in advance.
  • Pick up the mic stand by the middle.
    You want your hand where it’s thicker and the two pieces connect. Do not hold it higher, as that’s how mic stands tend to fall apart.
  • Make sure to move the mic stand behind you.
    Don’t leave it in front of you as that creates a psychological barrier with the audience
  • The microphone should be at a forty-five-degree angle to you. Don’t put it directly below your chin on a ninety-degree angle or horizontally on a hundred-eighty-degree angle.
  • Make sure you hear yourself amplified loud, but not so loud that it hurts the audience’s ears.
  • Move mic closer when whispering, pull mic all the way away when screaming.
  • Don’t cup the top of the microphone like a rapper, it will create bad vocal distortion.
  • Don’t play with the wire at the bottom of the microphone, bad things will happen.
  • Don’t nod too much, makes you seem nervous.
  • Don’t play with the mic cord, it’s distracting and makes you seem nervous.
  • Talk slower than you think you should
  • If you’re doing crowd work to someone specific, look at them. Otherwise:
  • You should look 2/3rds of the way into the audience. So if the venue goes 10 rows back, look into the eyes of the people in the 7th row.
  • Don’t look all the way to the left or all the way to the right of the audience, as this makes the people on the other end feel left out. Only look 2/3rds of the way to the left or right. So if the room is 20 seats wide, ignore the last 4 seats in each direction.
  • If you’ve taken the mic out of the mic stand, put it back in as you’re starting your last joke.
  • Don’t wait after saying, “thank you, good night,” to turn around, find the mic stand and start putting it back in as the emcee is approaching the stage. This looks awkward.
  • If you’ve forgotten to put the mic back in the mic stand, just hand the microphone to the host and let them reset the mic stand.
  • Smile and take in your applause. Wait in the center of the stage until the emcee has returned and shaken your hand. Then leave. Don’t run off stage until the emcee is on stage.

What To Do If I Get Heckled?

You’re performing your prepared jokes, when all of a sudden, someone in the audience yells something out. What do you?!? Oh, and you have one second to decide, no pressure!

First, make sure the comment isn’t just someone muttering in the front row that nobody else heard but you, as you can often ignore such minor interruptions.

Next, repeat what they said into the microphone. This gives your brain an extra second or two to assess the situation and makes sure everyone in the audience heard what was said, which increases the odds that your response will get a big room laugh.

Next, quickly figure out what kind of “audience member yelling things out” interruption it is you’re dealing with, then respond accordingly.

  1. Someone responds to your jokes by saying something out loud that they think is helpful to the joke (but almost always isn’t)
    Acknowledge their suggestion and either riff off of it, say something witty or show how it’s unfunny and sarcastically thank them
  2. Someone doesn’t realize your statement or question was rhetorical and that they weren’t supposed to actually answer it
    This is similar to #1. After you acknowledge the comment, start taking shorter pauses than usual between setup lines so they don’t jump in again. Some audiences are more A.D.D. than others and can’t handle any silence, especially if it’s right after a fake question.
  3. Someone says something along the lines of “Jesus Christ” or “Oh God” when you do an edgier joke
    You can either smile and laugh extra without really addressing it. Or you can say something along the lines of “it’s gonna get worse.” Or admit  “You’re right, that’s a rough one” and then make your next joke even edgier. Showing the audience you understand you’re crossing the line, and then crossing it even more can cause a bigger laugh because going further after apologizing isn’t expected.
  4. Someone is drunk and just yelling out sounds or words that don’t make any sense
    Admit to being genuinely confused about the sound, maybe even mimic the sound, but don’t give them time to respond. If they do respond, it’s usually so nonsensical you can just laugh or stare at them and then move on without another response. You can always make a comment about them needing another drink too. The key here is to get back to your material ASAP. The audience tends to tolerate these kinds of heckles less than any other, so you can ignore it after the first time and talk over them.
  5. Someone yells out, “You suck”, “I’m funnier than you”, etc.
    This is what most people think of when you mention hecklers. These are also the least common ones. In this case, it matters if the rest of the audience has been laughing and is with you, or if they’ve all turned on you. Assuming the rest of the audience likes you, try to agree with the heckler while one-upping them. Don’t resort to insulting them unless they’ve yelled out more than once.
  • Don’t get too mean, too quick
    If you acknowledge the situation and respond with something that isn’t too mean the first time, they’ll usually stop. A lot of times the person (and rest of the audience) thinks they’re just being helpful (situations #1 and #2 above) so they don’t understand why you went from likeable to jerk.

    If you don’t have a witty in-the-moment response something like “Thank you for your opinion sir, I can take it from here” or “Ok, no more alcohol for that one” usually works for the first interruption.

    Don’t get mean, call the audience member names or tell them to shut up until they interrupt for a third time. And make sure the rest of the audience is against them at that point.
  • Ignoring the problem makes it worse
    If you ignore the first comment, then they’ll almost certainly say something else. Plus the audience starts wondering why you haven’t responded to the comment and while they’re thinking about that, they stop listening to you and your next joke.

    If you respond to the interruption and the audience member says something again, try to not respond directly. Stare at them for a second or two and then say “annnnnd back to me” or just a “that’s nice.”
  • If the audience member or audience in general has already been chatty before you
    Some audiences are just talkative and want you to talk and interact with them instead of just listening to you do material. This isn’t really “heckling,” this is crowd work, even if you’re not the one who decided to start it. When you’re trying to work on new material having to spend time talking to the audience can get annoying but you just gotta go with it. It’s also important to make it seem like the interruptions are “fun” and don’t bother you.
  • If the comedians before you were doing so much crowd work that the audience thinks it’s supposed to be a back-and-forth
    Sometimes the comeidans before you talk to the crowd so much, the audience starts chatting with all performers, even those who just want to do material. In such an instance, you want to be extra nice when responding, as this is how they were trained and will be confused if you verbally attack them.
  • Use the improv rule of “yes and”
    Agree with whatever the audience member says and then add some additional information. This usually works because if you seem defensive, you’ve lost. Even something like, “You suck!” can be turned into “Yes, I do suck. And you can’t afford me. Why are you propositioning me anyway?”

Heckling is just like with the rest of stand-up, you best learn by doing it. It still helps to read, ask questions and be prepared, but you need the actual game reps.

Five Ways To Crush Stage Fright Like a Comedy Superstar

11 Ways to crush your first stand-up comedy performance

So you’re toying with the idea of stepping onto a stage and making an audience laugh?

Maybe your friends always say, “you’re funny.” Maybe you watch comedy obsessively and think, “I could do better.” Maybe you just wanna have some fun while improving your public speaking skills. Perhaps you’ve even jotted down a few jokes. Well, buckle up for eleven tips to to turn your comedy daydreams into a laugh roaring reality.

  1. Start ASAP – no excuses! Procrastination kills creativity. The longer you wait, the easier it will be to make excuses and never try to get on stage. Find an open mic night, new talent show or comedy class and sign up.

    If it’s an open mic night or new talent night, give yourself an aggressive but realistic deadline – sign up for anywhere from two to four weeks from now. You want enough time to prepare, but not so much time that you get second thoughts.

    If you’re signing up for a comedy class, you can pick one that starts tomorrow. Classes are usually multiple weeks and provide structure and prompts to help you generate ideas.

    Related reading: 8 critical facts you must know before taking any stand-up comedy class

  2. Write out what you’re going to say. Do not just wing it! Think about and write out some funny anecdotes and observations from your life. Mark where you think the laughs will be. Go through this multiple times and keep revising it. You want as few lines between the laughs as possible.

    Most open mics or new talent shows will give a brand new person between 2 and 6 minutes on stage. One typed-up page generally takes three to five minutes to perform.

  3. Talk to yourself. Don’t get on stage without first saying and hearing your ideas out loud. The way we write often sounds more academic and awkward than how we talk. You want to make sure the words sound like a human is speaking, not like Siri is reciting from memory something you wrote.

  4. Test the waters with a friendly face. If you have a positive, trustworthy friend, run your jokes by them and see where they laugh. But be careful here, you don’t want to lose your confidence before you start. If you have a lot of negative and/or humorless people in your life, skip this step.

  5. Keep a note card handy. Even the best minds go blank under the spotlight. Avoid awkward silence by keeping a trusty note card in your pocket that has the main bullet points of your jokes. Don’t pull it out unless you must. Most of the time, just knowing you have this safety net will help you not need to use it.

  6. Talk slower. Even slower! Nervous energy can turn you into The Flash of comedy. Audiences need a second to process what you just said. Slow and steady increases laughs. If you think you’re talking too slow, slow down some more. Embrace the art of the pause—it’s your secret weapon.

  7. Record your triumph. Capture the glory of your first stand-up performance. Your phone on a tripod will do. If the club offers a video of your set, pay them, it’s worth the higher quality. You want to have proof of your first time. It also helps to review where the laughs were. That way you can iterate your jokes for future performances.

  8. When you see a red light or cell phone light held up high by the emcee, that means you have one minute to wrap it up. Pay attention to the light signal. If you’re not sure, before you go on, ask the host, “Where’s the light?” Venues and other comedians hate when a brand-new comedian goes on significantly longer than allotted.

  9. Continue until you finish all your jokes or time runs out. You’ll probably get laughs and lose track of time. Even if the crowd is quiet, stay up there and keep talking. It’s all part of the wild, unpredictable world of stand-up.

  10. Nerves are normal, embrace the jitters. You’re stepping outside your comfort zone so a few butterflies, nerves and adrenaline are expected. Tina Fey said it best, “I tell myself I’m not nervous, I’m just excited. And sometimes, right before SNL goes on the air, I get so excited I want to pee my pants.”

    If you’re up there and still feel nervous for more than the first minute, acknowledge it with the audience and the truth of the situation will probably get a laugh. Even better if you write a joke about how nervous you are.

  11. Lower the stakes – it’s about fun not fame (yet). You’re not gonna get a Netflix special or a sitcom deal from your first time ever on stage – this isn’t the 1980’s! You’re on that stage to have fun. Enjoy the thrill, embrace the nerves, and savor every moment.

Want to try performing stand-up but not sure what to say or how to write a joke? Click here to learn more about our New York City stand-up comedy classes.