Whether it's at the pub with a large group of mates, in the changing rooms after football or on a really awkward first date, we've all had one of those moments where we've taken a punt on a joke and it's completely backfired. When people find out that I have performed stand up comedy they often ask me what it's like to get heckled. If truth be told heckling was never much of a problem, it was far, far worse to receive no reaction at all and be stood in front of a large group of people as a sizeable wheel of tumbleweed rolled by.
In other posts on here I've talked a lot about preparation being vitally important to a successful speech. If a gag or an anecdote has been road tested on friends and received a positive response then it's highly likely that it's going to go down well on the big day. However, there's always a chance that despite practice, the right delivery and a genuinely lovely crowd, you just wont get the laugh that you're hoping for. I can't lie, this is never going to feel like a warm hug and even the best comedians and public speakers will be momentarily unsettled by a joke not hitting it's mark. What matters though is how you respond to this setback and continue with the rest of the speech.
Either of the comedy partners I have performed with would be happy to tell you how I went from having an ego the size of a planet to hiding behind the curtain when a joke went wrong. It is something that I've really had to work on over the years and is the secret to any successful public performance. Much like life, we never really know how something is going to go for us. Unexpected setbacks lie around every corner and there is always something that's going to throw us off our game if we let it.
So the million pound question then, what should you do if a segment of your speech fails to get the hearty laugh and standing ovation it deserves? Short answer, take a deep breath, have a wry little smile and crack on. A lot of comedians will acknowledge when a gag has gone wrong with a self deprecating remark that usually always raises a little laugh. The trouble with this can be the temptation to wander off script thinking that you are suddenly some sort of improvisational genius and in doing so lose the thread off your speech completely. It's perfectly normal and acceptable to feel a little ruffled at a time like this so let yourself feel the emotions and then get straight back on the horse. The joke is likely to have formed a tiny percentage of your speech and the audience probably haven't even realised how important it was to you. By continuing on to your next laugh you can quickly shut the door on the tumbleweed and get back into your rhythm. In every speech I have given there have been parts that I expected to tear the roof off that have got me a laugh but not the big reaction I was hoping for, only for the next throwaway remark to get the biggest cheer of the night. The unpredictability of doing any public performance is a big part of what makes it the stomach churning, vomit inducing, knee trembling roller coaster ride of pure adrenaline that will make you want to do it again as soon as you sit down. Don't let the fear beat you!
Oh yeah, if you do decide to make a run for the exit make sure you don't knock over the wedding cake on your way out. Bride and Grooms don't like that.