What Leslie Nielsen, ‘Airplane!’ And ‘Naked Gun’ Star Can Teach Business Presenters

One of the funniest films of the 1980s has to be ‘Airplane’ – a parody of air travel – with Leslie Nielsen playing a deadpan role with a line that he became most known for. Amidst all the chaos going on in the movie, people would frequently say:

“Surely you can’t be serious!”

Nielsen’s character would reply:

“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”)

With a career spanning six decades, Nielsen is a good role model for business presenters. Here are a few things we can learn:

Be open to comedy

Nielsen played serious roles for over 30 years before he moved into comedy and parody roles, like the Naked Gun franchise. As business presenters are we open to comedy? I recommend that all presenters follow stand-up comedy as much as possible. There is nothing harder in the world that being in a dark room full of people with a microphone and having to make them laugh for 40 minutes. Watch as much stand up as you can -either live or on video. Buy a book on how to write a joke and bring humour into your business presentations whenever you can. Make sure that you are staying on the right side of good taste as a corporate presentation is not as racy as a comedy club. If you are not sure check with a friend before you deliver.

Be known for something

Nielson was best known for the above catchphrase. What is your catchphrase? What are you known for? I like the phrase “you get what you give” which acts as one of my guides in life. It prompts me to give as much value as I can as freely as I can. You might have a quotation from someone, or advice you received from a teacher. Have a handy catchphrase when you are presenting to your team – it can help them understand what drives you better and also help them catch your point.

Be in it for the long haul

In a world where Facebook keeps people busy and unproductive, the work ethic may be a thing of the past. I hope not. Nielsen worked into his 80s and appeared in over 100 films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying over 220 characters. Whatever field you are working in make sure that you are in for the long haul. Imagine you are on a 50 year career journey. What do you want to achieve? Putting off writing that book? Why not give yourself two years and set the target of writing 20 words a day. People underestimate what can be achieved through consistent effort and so they keep postponing starting a project.

Take a leaf out of Nielsen’s book and remember to be:

  1. Open to comedy
  2. Known for something
  3. In it for the long haul

And why not take another look at Airplane or Naked Gun and refresh yourself on how funny films really don’t need computer graphics to be funny.