By Sarah Wroble, Account Supervisor at William Mills Agency
“Just work and listen to what the audience is responding to…Keep that and throw out everything else.” -Joan Rivers
This sound advice Joan Rivers gave to young comedians can also be applied to virtually any career in any industry. Joan knew the impact of truly connecting with her audience by picking up on even subtle cues they gave her. There are so many PR lessons that any financial company can learn from comedians like the beloved Joan Rivers, especially as it relates to knowing how to communicate effectively and work with people, and win over the audience. Thankfully, humor runs in my family so I followed up with my cousin, Grammy-Award nominated Judy Tenuta, Joan Rivers’ friend and fellow performer, to find out just how she captivates her audience.
To relate fully to the audience, make sure you are completely confident in the material you are to share. Judy believes in utilizing different senses when it comes to preparing for any big opportunity, specifically hearing and sight. She tape records her shows so that she can listen to her material and figure out ways to improve her delivery to make the most impact on her audience for the next performance. And just before any show, the self-proclaimed “Love Goddess” practices delivering her jokes in front of the mirror. “I hear some comedians say that they never practice; they just go out there and wing it…They are SO LYING!” She believes the more one practices, the more at ease one will be in front of others.
Judy also has a good grasp of her preferred audience. “My safe audience is Baby Boomers, women and gays. But if I know I’m speaking in front of people I’m not used to performing in front of, say, young tourists — I’m going to have to prepare even more and find content that can relate to that new audience.” When I called her, she was preparing to perform for a big charity event befitting children with congenital heart defects. Judy said she was busy researching the charity, the age range of the audience at the event, etc. “Here’s what I know about an audience. They want to feel like you are doing something special for them…that you can relate specifically to them.”
When All Else Fails, Be Flexible
While preparation is key, Judy believes that it is equally important to leave some room for improvisation. “It’s like I’m a parent preparing for a baby. If I know I’m having a girl, I tell those who ask that I’m naming her Mary, my favorite name. But when the baby is born and I look at her for the very first time, I may decide she looks more like a Sarah than a Mary. It’s the same thing with an audience. I’m going to prepare for it, but when I’m backstage or mingling with some of the people, I may see something completely different and I’m going to adjust accordingly. It’s best to deal with what is happening in the moment. There’s always a way to be relevant.”
Generosity with Clients Goes a Long Way
Judy made several guest appearances on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers and was one of the first comedians to appear on the show in 1986. She remembers how Joan went out of her way to make her guests feel important by focusing all her attention on them. The food alone that Joan provided backstage rivaled any chef’s trademark cuisine. Judy recalled one particular performance when Joan flew her and her mom, my Aunt Jo, to New York and put them up at an expensive suite at the Plaza Hotel for a special segment profiling female comedians and their mothers. “I thought it was so generous of Joan to not only bring the talent, but to have the talent bring their moms so that they could also be celebrated. And it was such a memorable experience for my mom and a moment in my career I will never forget.”
Lean on Others to Get Ahead
When asked about any final PR lessons that we can learn from comedians, Judy emphatically responded, “Network.” Judy believes successful professionals make an effort to build strong connections and are not afraid to tap into those connections for exciting new opportunities. “I need to take my own advice. I suppose it’s not too late to take Betty White out to lunch. She’s getting all my work these days anyways!”