Five Things I Learned about Speaking from Mike Birbiglia

Chris —  January 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

Mike Birbiglia developed a stand up monologue from his strange medical conditions and life failures. This became a hit story on The Moth, then This American Life, Broadway, Hollywood, and now a traveling show. I had the opportunity to see My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend this past Friday. As someone who loves public speaking and hopes to do more of it in the future, it wasn’t just a chance to laugh at a comedian, it was a master class. Here’s five things I learned from about speaking from @birbigs.

1. Make it feel like a conversation.
A friend who saw the show said that he couldn’t tell when the local introduction ended and the monologue began. The whole thing felt like sitting next to the guy at the party who has all the stories. Sure he talks the the entire time, but you don’t care, because it has the feel of a totally engaging conversation.

2. Comedy is a tool for making an argument.
My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend made me laugh for two straight hours, but it would be unfair to call Birbiglia a comedian. He is a storyteller, and beyond that, a communicator. Buried behind layers of self-depricating autobiography is his personal argument that for marriage, in a world where committed relationships don’t make any sense. Jokes, when used well, are disarming tools for making a point.

3. Vulnerability is a strength.
Birbiglia’s stories are based in a lifetime of social awkwardness and failed relationships. Rather than making him seem weak, this takes him off the stage, and on a level that anyone can identify with.

4. Tie it all together.
Every single line, even certain gesture, seemed to reappear by the end. Phrases and ideas built on one another to make a coherant whole. Reintroducing ideas at an unexpected time is not just a classic tool of comedy, it’s a method for reinforces meaningful ideas.

5. Take your audience on a journey.
By the end of the show, I felt like I had known Birbiglia from his awkward teenage years to his somewhat less awkward adult years. But he also took us on a journey from his staunch opposition to marriage to his wedding. Communication is a journey of taking people from one place to another.

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