I've been battling a serious midlife crisis for most of my life.
In recent years, though, it seems to have escalated. I've tried everything from running to climbing rock and ice formations to studying improvisation and performing stand-up comedy. But I never, ever, thought one of my newfound hobbies might actually translate into a serious--significant--new revenue stream for my firm.
I began performing stand-up comedy about six years ago. After several so-so experiences, I was approached by a comedy coach named Clayton Fletcher. We struck a deal, and he began helping me improve my act. In addition to providing feedback after each show, Clayton videotaped my gigs. Then in the same way an NFL coach reviews game film with his team, Clayton would sit with me and evaluate my delivery, eye contact, pacing, audience rapport, and any number of other intangible aspects of my on-stage persona.
Slowly, but surely, I began noticing that my comedy bits weren't just improving; my business presentation skills were as well.
I mentioned this to Clayton and we decided to spring a trap on my senior managers. After a raucous, all-day offsite, I had Clayton walk into the conference room. I told my team he was there to teach them stand-up comedy techniques. I told them the training would help improve their presentation skills.
If looks could kill, you wouldn't be reading my column at this moment.
But, lo and behold, each and every manager performed stand-up. And, they were funny. More to the point, they bonded beautifully and pulled for one another to succeed. At the end of the inaugural, 90-minute session, they rose as one (well, not quite as one, but you get the point) and said: "We must do this training for every one of our employees!"
And, so we did. Soon, stand-up comedy training became part of our management-development program. It inculcated our culture, and propelled what had already been a work-hard-play-hard approach into a hip, irreverent philosophy in which self-deprecating humor is front and center.
Because stand-up comedy in the workplace was so novel, the industry trade press began covering us. Articles appeared in Ad Age, Adweek, PR News and others. Then, Inc. magazine dispatched a reporter to undergo the training and write about her experience. The result was a two-page feature. That, in turn, generated an eight-minute segment on MSNBC.
And, that's when the phone began to ring.
Prospects called asking if we could stage a stand-up training workshop for them. Soon, we realized we had a new business model on our hands. More than that, we saw that comedy training was intrinsic to many organizations' cultural wants and needs. In fact, many saw it as the single best team-building exercise they'd ever experienced. The work began pouring in.
For example, a consumer goods company hired us to use comedy to help them break down the silos that existed between three warring divisions. A pharmaceutical corporation hired us to help lab-coat technicians lose their dependency on PowerPoint, and better connect with the financial executives who approved budgets. A defense contractor is working with us to leverage comedy and storytelling as a way to make its communications more authentic.
In just the first six months of 2012, we've earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from what we now call Peppercom's Comedy Experience featuring Clayton Fletcher. Clayton takes the lead, explains the connection between comedy and business, and then asks participants to perform in front of a camera. I then help them, a la the NFL coach, in one-on-one sessions afterwards. The transformations are truly remarkable.
Comedy may not be your thing, but it has us laughing all the way to the bank. What are some of your personal passions and how can you turn them into revenue streams?