Team building: are you some kind of comedian?

Forget outward-bound courses: if team building and communication skills are your goal, a comedy workshop is just the ticket....

Forget outward-bound courses: if team building and communication skills are your goal, a comedy workshop is just the ticket. Roisin Woolnough steps into the spotlight

The lights were on, I was centre stage and all around was a sea of laughing faces. Or at least, this is what I hoped the scene would be when I made my first stab at stand-up comedy. Admittedly, my audience was only 20-strong and not a heckler among them, but I am still proud of my five minutes of fame.

My debut comedy appearance was the culmination of a day spent on a Jongleurs School of Comedy workshop, during which, along with 13 other wannabes, I was taught the rudiments of performing on stage.

However, learning how to crack a good gag was only one facet of the course. Primarily, it was an exercise in improving other skills, such as presentation and how to operate within a team. Which is why people like events manager Claire Connelly and myself, people whose jobs don't necessarily require us to make people laugh, found ourselves doing stand-up.

"I have to stand up and talk in front of people a lot at work, which can be nerve-wracking," explains Connelly. "I was very nervous about doing the course. In fact, I went on it because I thought there was no way I could get up in front of 20 people and do stand-up. But I did it. It was a challenge to myself and I came out of that day with the biggest smile on my face. It has definitely helped me to get over being embarrassed about myself when speaking in front of people."

Confidence

Keith Fields, a self-employed comedian who was our host for the day, thinks everyone has the ability to stand up in front of a crowd of people and make them laugh. The trick is, he says, knowing how to capture an audience and having the confidence to go for it.

Fields says he first conceived the idea of teaching people who don't do comedy for a living how to do stand-up after compering a corporate function where the whole event fell flat purely because the speakers lacked presentation skills.

"I talked to them afterwards and said we should have directed the presentation," says Fields. "Sometimes, giving presentations is something people feel they have to do and that it is a cross they have to bear. Yet it should be fun and it is really not that difficult to become a good presenter. You have to give people the feeling that they can do this."

Although I pride myself on having a fairly good sense of humour under ordinary circumstances, I was almost certain it would desert me under the glare of the spotlight. So it was a relief to find that everyone else on the course was experiencing the same doubts.

Fields kicked proceedings off by asking us all to express how we felt about the day ahead by making shapes out of Play-Doh. One woman created a figure of her throwing up in a toilet, while the majority expressed a desire to creep back under their duvets and cower.

Then followed some exercises during which we had to become various characters shouted out by Fields. You should try sidling up to a complete stranger in a flirtatious manner, the next minute to be shaking your fist at another. Definitely an ice-breaker.

Snake-like emotions

For me, though, the moment when I really had to shed any inhibitions I was harbouring was when I had to get up on the stage and pretend to be a snake. It sounds easy enough, but things get a bit tricky when you have to tell a story (without speaking) and express snake-like emotions. Having survived that, I felt ready for anything.

By this time, everyone in the group was feeling much more relaxed and we were all giving each other support and encouragement. Fields says this is a common occurrence. "Everyone faces a common foe - standing up at the end of the day - and they all bond during the day. That supportiveness is key," he says.

Although some people find it easier to abandon their inhibitions in front of complete strangers (after all, work colleagues always seem to have very long memories when it comes to remembering embarrassing incidents), my feeling was that the workshop would have been particularly useful for a group of people who all work together.

Even a team that meshes very well would find this a useful way to bond and communicate. Jim Andrews, managing director of media digital company Thincdigital, agrees. "It would be very useful for a team of people who you wanted to focus on something. I've done a lot of business things when you are taken off and do outward-bound exercises for motivational and team-building, but this was much more useful."

In fact, the only aspect to the course that I was unsure of was when we were given a talk by a real comedian. Although this was very interesting and entertaining, I am not sure that it added much on a personal level. That said, he did give us some useful tips on writing material and how to deliver it. It also gave us a welcome breather before the real moment of truth - stand-up time.

Andrews, who had attended a previous course, warned me, "The prospect of standing up in front of 20 people and trying to be funny is worse than bungee jumping."

This did little to calm my nerves, but, looking back, I can say bungee jumping must be pretty easy since getting up on that stage wasn't too hard. Whether I was funny or not didn't matter; the fact is I did it, I survived and I even enjoyed it.

Comedy workshop

Cost: £395 plus VAT per delegate. Discounts are available for groups

Workshop size: 20 people per day, although it is possible to negotiate a larger class if a company wanted to make a block booking

Contact: Scott Robinson, tour booker at Jongleurs 020-7564 2502

Forthcoming courses: 19 June, 27 September, 25 October

Venue: generally Jongleurs in Battersea, London, but Jongleurs is prepared to run it in its other venues or at a location chosen by a company

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