When watching a comedy show, were you surprised when the comedian referenced something from the start of the set? It was a satisfying feeling, wasn’t it?
I have a little secret to share with you. That was a callback, and it was intentional. I hope I didn’t ruin the magic for you!
Some comedy teachers would say callbacks play to the ego. Noticing the link between two seemingly unrelated ideas makes the audience feel smart, and then they laugh. I am not a psychologist, so I am not sure if this is true. However, I know it definitely works. Every comedian ruthlessly exploits callbacks.
Callbacks are deliberate and carefully constructed. Even in improv (unscripted) comedy, there are entire classes devoted to drilling callbacks.
You can add callbacks to conference talks too. I inserted a callback into my PyCon talk, Be A Brilliant Mentor. At the beginning of the talk, I gave examples of how mentoring can change the lives of the students we help. For the next 20 minutes, I shared my tips for mentoring and I might have seemed like some expert. In the final 30 seconds of the talk, I revealed that the “student” I mentioned was actually me.
Your talks will be more memorable and seem more impressive if you end on a callback. Although callbacks are an advanced public speaking skill, the payoff is so high that you should start practising it now.
For your next talk:
- Consider posing an interesting question at the start of the talk, and answer it at the very end.
- If you have a story, you can insert a twist or unexpected turn later in the talk.
- When you watch a good comedy show or conference talk, observe the callbacks. Is there a way to incorporate something similar in your next talk?