For millennials, 8 lessons from standup comedy

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Jessica Levco

I decided to try standup comedy.

It was the longest two-and-a-half minutes of my life. (Zing!)

Um…yeah. That’s pretty much how my set went.

Well, anyway, if you’re a millennial and you’ve got a big speech to prepare, there’s a lot you can learn from doing an open-mic session. If you don’t want to put yourself through that whole humiliating ordeal, though, you can just read what I learned. Here it goes:

Hire someone else to write your speech for you

I practiced some of my jokes in front of my mom. Afterward she said, “Oh, Jessie. There are just so many other things you’re good at. I don’t understand why you’re doing this. Couldn’t you just hire someone to write this for you?” That was a great idea. Before you even start writing your speech, pass it along to someone else.

Tell a story

If you can’t outsource your speech, remember this: People love stories. When I first started writing standup, I had a bunch of one-liners. I wasn’t saying anything substantial. There was no through-line to hold it all together. Most top comics—Cosby, Seinfeld, etc.—will start with an incident and extract the inherent humor. Is there a story about a company employee or a cute puppy that you can start with and then highlight your primary message? Something personal, heartwarming, or funny? Your audience will respond better to stories than to jargon and data.

Carry a pen and paper

Most of the comics in the room look like journalists—no, not twitchy with dark circles under their eyes. The good ones carried around notebooks and immediately jotted down what worked—and what didn’t—after their sets. When you’re planning for a speech, have a pen and paper with you at all times. Write on napkins at dinner. (Not cloth ones, though; decorum still matters.) You never know when a good idea is going to strike, so be prepared to write it down.

Always scribble

Don’t rely on inspiration to help you come up with something. Write whenever you can. Brainstorm new introductions and conclusions to your speech. If you write 10 versions of your speech, at least one of them will be good. Hopefully.

Know your audience

I was performing in a bar filled with twenty-something, underemployed dudes in plaid shirts. Your audience will most likely be different from mine—and significantly more sober (probably). Think about who will be at your speech or presentation. Are you speaking to stakeholders? CEOs? Your staff? Know who is sitting in the seats—and tailor your speech to them.

Practice your speech

Once I had my set, I practiced in front of friends and colleagues. (I stopped calling my mom.) I got different responses from everybody—ranging from “crickets” to chuckles. Looking back on it, I’m not sure whether practicing this in front of people made my set better or worse. Instead of looking for approval, I should’ve spent more time working on my delivery in front of the mirror—and laughing hilariously at myself. (I’m a great audience.)

Watch other speakers

Before I threw myself on stage, I went to a few standup shows around Chicago. If you’re looking for inspiration, watch some speakers on YouTube. Do you have colleagues who speak well during meetings? Watch what they do—and if you have your notebook handy (of course you do), take notes.

Learn to relax—and don’t forget to have fun!

I was nervous when I got on stage, so I sped through a few of my jokes. I forgot to allow time for audience reaction—and when people did laugh, in my head, I thought, “Wait…are they reallylaughing? I’m not prepared for this! I need to find Sarah Silverman’s agent after this set is over!” If your speech has a few punchlines, don’t skim over them. Let the moments soak in—and enjoy the fact that you’ve got everyone’s attention—whether they like it or not. 

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A millennial’s survival guide to attending a gala event

ImageJessica Levco

Recently, I went to a party I wasn’t invited to.

Now, I didn’t crash it. Through a friend, I got a free $1,000 ticket to attend my first gala at Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

It. Was. Unbelievable.

As a millennial in the PR and communications field, you might find yourself at glitzy galas, award ceremonies, and other A-events, saying to yourself, “I don’t belong here! How did this happen? I’m craving a burrito.”

Once you finally calm down—or get something to eat (they probably won’t serve burritos)—you’ll need to adapt to your new settings and act like a professional.

Here’s how:

Pay attention to place settings. Don’t let all the fancy silverware intimidate you. Remember, start with the outside utensils and work your way in. Still unsure? Wait, watch, imitate. Someone else will have a clue, even if you don’t.

Avoid sitcom-style antics. If there’s an auction, don’t pretend to bid on something that costs $30,000. Even if you think you’re being funny, the auctioneer won’t laugh.

Have adult conversations. You never know who will be sitting at your table. Speak clearly. Most likely, someone will ask you what you do, so be prepared to recite your elevator pitch. And don’t forget business cards—you could wind up making valuable connections.

Bathrooms are the best spot for eavesdropping. If you need a break from the dance floor, go to the bathroom. That’s the best spot for gossip. (Note: Not sure whether this applies to men.) My time in the bathroom felt like “Real Housewives: Toilet Edition.” You just won’t believe the stuff women talk about. This can be especially helpful if you’re marketing a product or service to a higher-end clientele and need to know your audience better—or really, if you just like gossip.

Find out who’ll be attending. Do you know who Gary Sinise is? I don’t, but everybody else does. Apparently, he’s really famous, and when I said, “Who is that guy?” everybody just looked at me like I was a weirdo. But hey! I was the only person at the table who could point out Eric Lefkosky, a major Groupon investor. I’m not sure if that was impressive or just made me look even weirder. Anyway, here’s what I’m trying to say: Scope out the scene before you go. Maybe you could look at pictures of attendees from last year’s event on the organization’s website. Also, note to self: Watch “Forrest Gump.” (Editor’s note: Remember, life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get.)

Don’t let the glitz go to your head. After the gala, my friends and I went out to some bars in the neighborhood. Pre-gala, I thought these were some pretty cool spots. Post-gala, all I could think was: “Meh.” I guess that’s what happens when you spend the evening with the movers and shakers.Instead of acting like a normal millennial at the bar, I just stood around and ate the gala macaroons I had smuggled into my purse. As crumbs flew out of my mouth, I regaled millennial bar-goers with high-end bathroom gossip and what duck confit tastes like. I quickly realized that nobody cares. So, after you’re done with your first gala, just drink a PBR and act your age again. If you played your cards right, you might get an invite to attend another one soon.

My millennial sister is moving to Texas

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Jessica Levco

I’m celebrating my four-year anniversary of living in Chicago.

This year, I’m turning into an adult—a real person, with real responsibilities. I bought a condo. I water my plants. I’ve run two half-marathons.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Four years ago, when I moved here, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no job, no friends (OK, OK, maybe one or two), no money, no food, nowhere to live—nothing.

But it’s amazing that over time, all those “no’s” have turned into “yes’s.”

Now, it’s my sister’s turn to make some “yes’s” of her own.

She graduated from college last May. After realizing that living with mom and dad isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, she’s moving to Austin, Texas this week with a friend of hers from college.

She keeps asking me for advice on how she should be living her life.

How do I buy a car? How much should I spend on rent? How do I get a job? How long should I boil water to make  spaghetti?

Millennials face an endless amount of questions when they first start out. Unfortunately, I don’t have an endless amount of answers.

But maybe you do. Readers: what advice would you give to my sister? 

Millennials: How are you navigating adulthood?

Jessica Levco

Recently, I was lucky enough to see that classic Chicago sunset from the top of a rooftop deck, right in front of Millennium Park. From a bird’s eye view, you can see how the Windy City is organized on a grid system. I realized that no matter which way you walk in Chicago, you always know where you’ll end up.

If only life as a millennial could be that linear. But as a twenty-something, you’ll find yourself re-routing, doing U-turns, or winding up on dead-end streets. Sometimes, it’s hard just getting started.

One day, you’ve got a job—the next, the Recession forces your employer to lay you off. Maybe you spend all day at work looking at grad school programs in Brazil. Perhaps your degree in Holistic Underwater Basket Weaving isn’t paying the bills. Whatever situation you find yourself in, it seems like the paths are always changing.

You constantly have to ask yourself: “What road do you want to go down?”

Up until college, you didn’t even think about this. The only question you had to ask was, “Should I go to a frat or a house party tonight?” Basically, you knew what was expected of you (and what you expected out of your weekends). Get good grades to go to college; Get good grades in college; and get a good job. You thought were following a grid or at least, a reasonable plan.

If you’re a recent college grad, you might now be realizing that you’ll have to throw your internal grid system away. Part of becoming an adult is figuring out how to create your own path.

Maybe a good strategy is not knowing (or caring) where you’re going. Sure, you might hit a few dead ends and have to turn-around, but isn’t that better than admitting hopeless confusion? If you wander from street to street, you make the decisions yourself. Nobody will tell you what road to go down. Even if they did, you probably wouldn’t listen.

So, that being said, here’s the best, non-directional and most clichéd advice my mom ever gave me: “You never know what’s around the corner.”

That’s true. Even when you’re living on a grid.

(Image via)

Living Off the Grid: 5 Surprising Benefits

By Jenny Fukumoto

I lost my iPhone for the first time last weekend. I don’t expect that to come as a shock, since many millennials I know are currently on phone No. 3…or No. 30.

I was “disconnected” for five and a half days. I resorted to involuntary seclusion, as I didn’t want to miss a possible email or tweet from the hotel I left my phone at. I even considered skipping my weekly trek to Jewel Osco, but finally got tired of eating leftovers.

So for five and a half days there was a monkey wrench thrown into my smart phone-infused life. But as I reflect, I realize there were 5 surprising benefits of living “off the grid”:

1. I did not check my work email during non-work hours. And it felt sooooo good!

2. I lived in the moment. While waiting for the bus, I didn’t check my email or text someone back. I instead waited and really looked at my surroundings. I might even go so far as to write I smelled the roses — and the other various scents of Chicago.

3. There was no need to tell people where I was or what I was doing. Without Foursquare, Facebook and Twitter, I didn’t have the impulse to check-in, or share information about my day.

4. I paid more attention to my boyfriend. On our date night, I didn’t have the phone on the table; I didn’t need to text or call anyone back.

5. I had one less battery to worry about charging. How many times have you forgotten to charge your phone, only to have it die when you’re out and about?

Though it was a very humbling experience, I will not be sad if I never have to go through disconnection again!

Can you add to my list? Let us know!