Women leading women

Doing the thing you think you cannot do

“Thank you very much Richmond, you’ve been a great audience” Claire came off the staging area…my heart was beating so hard in my chest I couldn’t hear what Gabby Logan was saying as she talked to Claire after her set. Oh, I think she’s finishing up…

I feel sick ….

And now ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome Julie Hall …

I stood up in front of the mic and looked out to the sea of faces before me… were they going to laugh?  had I done enough?  would I remember my script?

“It’s been 7 hours and 3245 days since my last cigarette…” and I was off.

“You must do the thing, you think you cannot do” Eleanor Roosevelt

This is one of my favourite quotes of all time … so when I was asked if I would perform 3 minutes of stand up comedy with 4 other business women at the Bingham Hotel last Tuesday evening, I had to say yes.

The Funny Women Challenge took me and 4 other brave (crazy?) business women, and turned us into stand up comics for a night, all in the name of charity (the New Victoria Medical Foundation).  I’m still not sure how Lorna Votier, the Charity Manager, persuaded us all to take leave of our senses and agree to stand up in front of a crowd and share a series of things we find funny.   But she did.

The fear

I have some experience standing up in front of a group and speaking, usually to groups of 15 – 30 women, occasionally to groups of 250, but never have I been as scared as I was in the lead up to my stand up debut.

Thankfully, I had some techniques to deal with fear as after doing the Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway workshop that is run by Di MacDowall for Women Unlimited (and are running again in February), but nothing could totally prepare me for the reality of my stand up experience.

Laughter keeps us sane and gives us joy and being funny comes naturally to most of us when we are talking with friends.  But scripting funny, is a whole other matter.   Karen Darby calls it a naked parachute jump.  By standing in front of a crowd and saying “this is what I think is funny, I hope you do too”, I was exposing myself (not literally – though that might really make them laugh!) to a group of people who did not know me and hoping that they would laugh with me.

“That is the best – to laugh with someone because you both think the same things are funny.” Gloria Vanderbilt

I learned a lot about myself and about comedy in the lead up to my performance but the lessons that I learned were not just about stand-up; they were about fear, bravery and self belief.  Alright, all I was hoping for was to come out the other side without making a complete ass of myself.  But in hindsight, I realised that there were some valuable lessons that came out of the experience…

Doing the thing…

Commit to the goal.  This is the key to everything.  Decide what you are going to do and then do it.  No excuses.   Make yourself accountable with no get out jail free card. I had committed to raising the money for charity and to standing up with these women.  They were counting on me, I was counting on them.  I probably would not have done my stand up without that accountability.

Preparation is everything. The more prepared we are, the easier it is.  Write copious notes.  Use mind maps.  Script out what you have to say or do.  Make sure you have a really strong foundation from which to do the thing.

Good enough is good enough.  This is another one of my favourite sayings.  As women, we often want to keep going until it’s absolutely perfect.  However, perfection is an elusive task master and eventually you have to say, “I think this is good enough” and you can tweak it going forward.  But stop developing and get it out there so that  you can get feedback.

Practise Practise Practise.  Practice has a lot of benefits, particularly if you are able to do it in front of other people.  You can get immediate feedback  on what you are doing and can see where the gaps are.   The more you practise, the more natural and easier it becomes.  Practise in the shower, in the car, in front of the mirror… Just keep practising until it feels comfortable.

Eat the elephant one piece at a time. If you have a daunting task ahead of you, break it down into bite sized chunks and just get started.   Write down the tasks / things that need to be done and do them one at a time.

Do what ever YOU need to do to prepare.  We are all different and all have different coping mechanisms… I went shopping in the afternoon (very cathartic!), had my makeup done (felt great) and took some quiet time out away from the crowd to calm myself and prepare.  What do you need to do to put yourself in the right place before your big moment?  Make sure you look after yourself and give yourself space

Relax. Show up 30 minutes early and find a quiet place to relax.  Quieten your mind and don’t drink any coffee or tea (seriously!).  Read your notes, prepare yourself, do a last minute practise… and then rest your mind.  There is nothing more you can do now other than embrace the moment.

Confront your demons. We all have them.  The nasty little voice that sits on your shoulder saying “what if you suck”, “what if you fail”, and in my case “what if they don’t laugh”.  Think about the worst that can happen and you’ll realise that the worst is not really that bad.  Really.  “What if you suck?” – well now you have learned that you need more practice and you will be better next time.  “What if you fail?” – well at least you have tried. Embrace the learning,  figure out what went wrong and try it again… think Thomas Edison

I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.  Thomas Edison

and “what if they don’t laugh?”  Well, I decided that it was only three minutes and I would probably never see 95% of the audience again and my humiliation would short lived (thankfully, they did laugh but I had mentally dealt with the what if they don’t scenario)

It will be alright on the night. Believe in yourself and your success.  Practice visualisation and imagine a great outcome.  It will put you in the right frame of mind and keep you calm.  And it really will be alright on the night.  You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish if you put  your mind to it.

But the best thing about confronting a fear and working through it, is that it removes all the barriers.  Every time I realise that fear is holding me back from doing something, I can look back on this experience and know that there is nothing to fear, but fear itself.

… and finally

Karen Darby, Julie Hall, Gabby Logan, Claire Pelenc, Mel Burgess, Nora Berge, Viv Groskop, Jan Ravens

I’d like to thank my 4 amazing co-comedienne’s who took the mantle and stood up alongside me.  Karen Darby, savvy chavvy mother and founder of Simply Switch and Call Britannia, Mel Burgess, hormonal hottie and Business Development Manager for Newsquest, the Claire Pelenc, Liverpudlian chocolate lover and regional director for Athena in Richmond and Twickenham and Lidl loving Fraulein Nora Berge, my new feisty German friend who is changing the lives of all the people who live in a village in Kenya.  Also, a big thank you to Gabby Logan who was hilarious as the MC and if you ever meet her in the street, make sure you tell how good she used to look (as you can see from the photo, she still looks fabulous!)

I’d also like to thank Viv Groskop and Elizabeth Seeley for their fantastic mentoring and support. Lorna Votier of the New Victoria Medical Foundation who persuaded me to take on this challenge (and who I think should do the challenge next time, what do you say Lorna?) and last but not least, Lynne Parker, the founder of Funny Women for her training, friendship and support.

Between us, we managed to raise around £4000 for the New Victoria Medical Foundation.  Which is an amazing accomplishment in itself and if you would like to donate to this fantastic charity and support the challenge, you can do so here on my sponsorship page.

Lynne also running a Funny Women Stand up to Stand Out workshop on January 29th, and you can find out more here and discover what all the fuss is about.

So what is the thing that you think you cannot do?  Why not give it a go – you might surprise yourself!

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2 Comments
  1. […] Read about challenger Julie Hall’s experience HERE […]

  2. Robert says

    I’m always a bit scared when I have to speak in front of a group. For me it’s just crucially important to be very well prepard (maybe even over-prepared). THis really helps me a lot. I just tell myself: “Well, maybe some people won’t like it, but at least I will know what I’m talking about and I should be able to answer most questions”.