Booking conference gigs – think big and start small

Hi Dave – I just joined your email list. I do humor and did my first two stand-up open mics… rough crowd. Someone threw a cup of ice at one of the other comedians. My goal: to get some gigs entertaining at travel conferences. I have a bunch of funny travel stories. Any idea who I approach? A booking agent? I’m new to this, so any thoughts are appreciated. – R.R.

Brick by brick

Hey R.R. – Only one cup of ice and you call it a rough crowd? Welcome to the world of open mics. No wonder you want to perform at conference / corporate gigs. They’re usually better behaved and the most they’d throw at you are icy stares if you’re not funny…

What you really need to concentrate on is getting more experience performing in front of an audience. Two stand-up open mics are a great start, but you need a LOT more. It’s key for working not only on your material, but also timing and delivery – and avoiding icy stares.

That can only be learned through on stage experience.

So, in addition to getting more performing experience, my suggestion for you right now would be to focus on writing. Specifically – since you mentioned it – writing funny travel stories. It’s a topic that interests you and what you want to share with an audience.

I mean, after all, you mentioned it…

“Now, that’s interesting!”

This is true for anyone who writes, whether it’s comedy material, a speaker’s presentation, short stories, epic novels… and the list goes on and on. If you don’t find it interesting, chances are your audience won’t either.

There are many different writing techniques to help you get started, or if you’ve already started, how to organize your efforts into a working comedy set or presentation. I’ve shared more than a few in past FAQs And Answers and what I call “the best comedy writing advice ever” from a legendary (I kid you not) comedian in my book How To Be A Working Corporate Comedian.

I mean, after all, that’s what you’re referring to…

In the meantime, pick topics that you really want to talk about. In your case, travel stories.

Start small.

What I mean by that is to work on coming up with a short five minute set or presentation. It’s like writing a book. You may have an outline for an entire novel, but you still have to write it one chapter at a time. To use an old saying to back me up:

“Don’t bite off more than you chew.”

Put together what you feel is a great five minute presentation. Fill it out. Use colors (my favorite term for great descriptions). If it’s about travel – take your audience on the journey with you through colors and experiences. And since we’re also talking about humor, be creative and funny with your writing.

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The next step is to try it out in front of an audience. If you’re a stand up comedian, hit all the open mic clubs in your area as many times as they’ll let you on stage. But since you’re looking to break into the corporate market as a comedian or humorous speaker, volunteer to do your short presentation at local business organizations and special interest group during their breakfast, lunch, or dinner meetings.

For free.

Why free? Because it’s a practice session for you. Like open mics for comedians, these organizations are doing YOU the favor – not the other way around.

I’ve written a lot about this concept in past FAQs And Answers. It’s the open mic circuit for corporate entertainers and the best way to put together a presentation. But remember, keep it squeaky clean and G-rated (another concept I’ve shared a lot about in past articles).

That’s the ONLY way to work in this market. Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

Once your five minutes works on an audience (gets laughs), start writing another five minutes and trying it out in front of live audiences. Repeat the process. When that works, guess what?

You’ll have TEN minutes of working material.

For talent agents booking corporate shows and event planners, the term conference means more than just a simple breakfast, lunch, or dinner meeting. It basically describes more of an event that can be spread out over time – for instance, a few days or an entire weekend – and can include keynotes, training seminars, break-out sessions, field trips, banquets, entertainment, awards ceremonies, and other programs that make up the entire conference.

And to have a successful conference, businesses, organizations and meeting planners want successful presentations from proven presenters. Make sense? It needs to if you want to work in the conference market.

When it comes to entertainment (comedians and humorous speakers), conferences usually schedule 45 minutes to an hour of performance time. Keynote speakers, break-out sessions and training seminars are different types of programs than what your question pertains to, so I’ll save writing that epic article for another time.

Event planners will call agents, watch videos and ask other event planners or clients for recommendations. They want a comedian or humorous speaker who has proven he/she can provide the entertainment or entertaining message they need for this particular conference.

Why?

Because they paid good money and want their money’s worth and…

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If this conference gets good word-of-mouth, everyone and more will want to attend the next one. That reeks of success in the business world!

The best way to break in is to think big and start small.

Focus on your material and get stage experience. Build your presentation or comedy set “chapter by chapter.” On stage experience will help develop your delivery style and timing while also helping you get rid of material that doesn’t work and concentrate on creating new material that does.

The only way to do this is through continued writing and performing. And the only way to know for sure if it works or not is from audience reaction. An audience will always tell you. It’s a process and hopefully this advice will take some time off the learning curve.

Finally, I wouldn’t think about contacting a booking agent or event planner until you’re truly confident you can deliver the goods. That means proven (audience tested) material from an experienced comedian or humorous speaker.

You’ll have a good idea you’re ready when your free gigs start leading to paying gigs. Someone in the audience might hand you a business card after a performance and ask if you’re available for their next meeting or conference. I’ve seen it happen – a lot. And when it does, just be prepared to ask…

“Where, when and how much are you gonna pay me?”

When it happens on a consistent basis, booking agents will be looking to work with you. Why? Because YOUR proven experience will help them attract paying clients. I’ve seen it happen – a lot.

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