Last weekend I attended a Work in Progress comedy night in Tunbridge Wells at the Trinity Theatre.
Having attended various comedy shows I knew what to expect and was looking forward to a laugh and seeing someone famous. The Trinity Theatre is a small venue and perfect for getting up close and personal to a live act. I can’t deny that I wasn’t apprehensive, especially when we sat down in the third row. To avoid getting picked on I stayed low in my seat and sat back to enjoy the show.
The show was entitled ‘work in progress’ and it wasn’t until the comedian explained what the show was about did my brain connect. A Work in Progress show uses a method where comedians test out new material on the public. By performing their material they get to see first-hand which material works and which doesn’t.
The show lasted one hour and forty minutes. The comedian was prepared with a check list and at points in the show stopped to mark off the success of the joke by gauging the laughter response. He explained that he takes his work in progress show to different regions to test out his material to a wide demographic.
The comedian worked the material and the audience throughout the show. He held us in the palm of his hand with precision timing. He knew when to speed up or slow down the show depending on our reactions. He interacted with us and threw himself into the audience gauntlet by asking questions. Bearing in mind he had no control over what might get said, my hat goes off to him for this incredibly brave approach.
The show was recorded so that it could be replayed and analysed. We were told that the results would be reviewed, condensed and adapted to create a one-hour live show that will be as entertaining as possible and suitable for a variety of people.
After the show had finished and I had massaged the laughter aches out of my cheeks, I got thinking about how this method could be applied to business. A comedian is ultimately a business. Their brand is themselves, their jokes are their products, their stage is their office and their customers sit in the audience. And to keep their customers coming back they need to constantly update their material and ensure it is funny.
Established small businesses will have a defined brand, a list of products or services, an office based on the go, and an established customer base. But to remain competitive the business needs to evolve without going against the grain of the brand. New customers need to be won and old ones need nurturing. Products and services need to be changed, updated and what better way to test these by using the work in progress method.
Before launching new products and services:
Working with your customers and focus groups, requesting and getting feedback will provide you with the answers of what is truly needed, rather than what you think is needed. You won’t always know what a customer wants or when they need it so don’t be afraid to test out everything you have. Give your customers a choice and in turn letting you make the right choices for your business.
And if this approach makes you nervous, be grateful you don’t have to stand up in front of hundreds or thousands of people and make them laugh.