Alter Everything

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Alteryx Alumni (Retired)

Challenge: at your next networking event, find at least one stranger, and help them feel like they belong. Comedian and best-selling author Deborah Frances-White joins us to share the science of using comedy to help people feel included.






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Episode Transcription

MADDIE: 00:01

[music] Welcome to Alter Everything, a podcast about data science and analytics culture. My name is Maddie Johannsen, and I'm on the community team at Alteryx. I'm joined by comedian, podcaster, and writer, Deborah Frances-White. She's the host of the award-winning podcast, The Guilty Feminist, which has become a cultural phenomenon that tours around the world. Her book, The Guilty Feminist, is a Sunday Times bestseller, and her op-ed pieces, columns, and interviews have appeared in The Guardian, The Telegraph, and The New York Times. She was a guest speaker at the Alteryx Inspire conference in Amsterdam, where she helped host our Product Sneaks session that featured innovative ideas for the Alteryx platform. We'll dive into that in this conversation. We also talked about the science of using comedy to help people feel included. And Deborah shares refreshing tips for how to approach networking events that can sometimes be a little stuffy, intimidating, and, let's face it, not always everybody's favorite event to go to. Let's get started. Well, I am here with the talented and renowned Deborah Frances-White. I am so--

DEBORAH: 01:10

Stop it, Maddie. Stop it.

MADDIE: 01:12

Welcome to Alter Everything. We are so thrilled to have you. And it was so exciting seeing you at the Product Sneaks here at Inspire Amsterdam earlier today.

DEBORAH: 01:20

I am already charmed by you, Maddie. And Sneaks, what a joy Sneaks was. Great name, by the way. Sneaks. Just a Sneak Peak. They were fantastic. So there were all of these brilliant thinkers and inventors, creators pitching their idea and saying, "Hey, if we made this, would you use it?" And then the audience were cheering at points where they felt that they would use it or they really wanted it. Standing ovations, virtually. It was a really good time.

MADDIE: 01:46

It was so much fun. Yeah. I was neck and neck, I heard, with the voting too. At the end, everybody voted for their favorite Sneak, and it was just really exciting to see who won. Nicole Johnson. Shout out Nicole Johnson. She's one of our former super users, and now she works at Alteryx. But big fan of hers. And her idea won, which was awesome.

DEBORAH: 02:05

It was absolutely phenomenal. So she did the [inaudible] time machine one, didn't she?

MADDIE: 02:09

Yeah. Exactly. I think we should call it that.

DEBORAH: 02:12

Yeah. 100%. Where you go back in time and you altered the document, but you did it while you were jet lagged and had too many wines or the intern has gone and messed something up or whatever. People really cheered for that. Apparently, interns, if you're listening to this, you're messing things up all the time. Don't make changes without permission. So she could just go, "Hey, let's go back to Thursday lunchtime, pretend this never happened." And imagine if you could do that in life, how wonderful it would be.

MADDIE: 02:40

Well, yeah. I mean, the thing is, is that you as our Sneaks host, you were so great at being very inclusive with all of the-- with your understanding of what was going on and really pumping up the presenters. I feel like you did a really great job of making them all feel really proud of their work while also having some fun banter, obviously, just to keep it fun and light. It definitely speaks to The Guilty Feminist messaging, exploring noble goals as 21st century feminists, and the hypocrisies and insecurities that undermine them as your tagline. And so to start our conversation, I'd love for you to kind of just break down the science of using comedy to really make people feel inclusive.

DEBORAH: 03:21

Well, comedy is very disarming. It can be. It can be. The question is always for me, who is in on the joke? Because at traditional comedy clubs, often I felt somehow like the butt of the joke or excluded. So back in the day, when I first started doing comedy, I would almost invariably be the only woman on the bill. And a lot of men would come on before me and do 10 minutes that was quite disparaging about their girlfriend, that had a kind of violent twist to it. And then an MC would get up, compare, would get up and go, "And now we've got a woman one, but don't worry, she's funny. I've seen her." Really? Something that said to the audience women aren't funny. And then I would come up and I would have to--

MADDIE: 04:03

Like you're the exception.

DEBORAH: 04:05

Yeah. I'd have to spend the first five minutes convincing them that I was as good as the guys. And I have genuinely seen people in the front row, when I come on stage, say with their mouth to their friend, "I don't find women funny. I don't like female comedians." I mean, it's unbelievable, but that happens. And it's women sometimes that say it as well. And what happens every single time you've had a good gig in a regional comedy club or something like that, someone will come up to you at the bar afterwards, if you've smashed it, if you've had a great night, someone will come up and go, "I just wanted to say I don't normally find women funny, but I thought you were hilarious." And I'm like, what am I meant to do with this? Thank you for resting your bigotry for a full 15 minutes. Imagine going to get a haircut and saying to the hairdresser, "Sorry, my normal hairdresser was off and I don't think men can cut hair, and you've proven me wrong, because this isn't horrible." Imagine saying to your accountant, "I had no idea women could add up." Or your doctor, "You've stitched up this gash on my leg despite your gender." It would be so bizarre.

MADDIE: 05:11


DEBORAH: 05:12

But of course, there was a time when there were no female doctors. And I know the history of Britain in this. A woman called Elizabeth Garrett Anderson desperately wanted to be a doctor. And the hoop she had to jump through, because none of the universities would admit a woman, but she found one. It was called the Apothecary School, something like that. You could look it up. But she found one college that had forgotten to put on the website, so to speak, no women, because they thought it was like saying, no zebras need apply. Why would you even need to say that? But because of that, there was a loophole. And because she aced the exam, they had to let her in. And she, of course, aced everything. And she was so grateful to be there and working twice as hard as the guys, all of that sort of stuff. And she passed with flying colors. But she wanted a full medical degree, and she had to learn French well enough to go to the Sorbonne, where they were offering medical degrees for women. Imagine wanting anything enough to learn French well enough to do a degree in it. I mean, just beyond.

MADDIE: 06:20


DEBORAH: 06:21

Right? So then you go to the Sorbonne, she goes to the Sorbonne, she comes back with a full medical degree. No one will hire her because she's a woman. So she thinks, "That's fine. I'll set up my own clinic." She sets her own clinic. No one will come to it. Not women, not children, no one. No one's coming to that because they're like, "We don't trust a woman. Women are temporarily unfit. Women are going to faint at the sight of blood. Don't want a woman doctor touching me, looking at me." But then Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, she has a really lucky break, Maddie, an outbreak of cholera.

MADDIE: 06:51

Lucky her.

DEBORAH: 06:52

Well done. Well done, Elizabeth Garret Anderson. People are so desperate for a doctor. It's like the COVID outbreak. People are so desperate for a doctor in an outbreak of cholera in London in the 1800s that they will even see a woman doctor. And then people go, "Her bedside manner is really good. Oh, she cured my cholera. Oh, my kid's okay." And they go, "Oh, well, maybe we'll go back and see her again. We actually liked that." Now, this is the part of the story now that makes Elizabeth Garrett Anderson inclusive, because she could have been an exceptional woman and enjoyed being the only female doctor. I'm super special. I'm the only female doctor. No other women can do this. Which some women do, some women in history have done. But what she did was to say, "I want more women in medicine, and I'm going to open my own school so that women can learn." And she opened a medical school in London that is, to this day, part of the UCH hospital program there as part of UCL University, which is a very famous, very fabulous university. And it's still there today. Now, in Britain today, over half the medics are female. So now if you--

MADDIE: 08:05


DEBORAH: 08:05

--went to the doctor, you would toss a coin. It could be a man or a woman. No one would go, "It's a female doctor." I don't think anybody would do that now. And in fact, it's more likely to be a woman. And they're trying to corral boys into medicine now because it's becoming a female profession increasingly. And because of that, guess what's happening? The pay and the conditions are getting worse because it's a lady profession now, so it's not as valuable anymore. It's not like, oh, you're a doctor. It's like, oh, you're a doctor. So interesting, right?

MADDIE: 08:35


DEBORAH: 08:36

What I'm doing in comedy is creating a space where women are not allowed, but where women and people of minority genders are celebrated and centered and the audience who comes is coming specifically because they want to see this because they're not getting what they want at many comedy clubs. They're feeling the same way I used to feel then, anxiety induced by some of the jokes, excluded, the butt of the joke, not in on the joke, just generally feeling-- and comedy clubs have changed as well, to be fair. Some have; some haven't. So by no means is The Guilty Feminist the only space. Obviously, it's part of a wider environment and ecosystem that's changed as a whole. I think that's true to say. But that's the space I'm providing. So when I come to an event like Sneaks at Alteryx, what I'm thinking about is how can I make the audience feel included, how can I make each presenter feel included.

MADDIE: 09:35

And what's interesting, too, is that in your book, there's a few lines that you had kind of grouped together. And I've written them down here because I just thought that they were so powerful. You said including others is the most powerful, confident thing a person can do. An includer is a leader. And most people we include, include us back. And I think that this is a really important conversation. We're having this at Alteryx, our internal work culture. But I feel like, ideally, work culture is changing. I feel like we are taking steps in the right direction. But I do think that sometimes there is that pressure in a corporate environment to still be perfect. And I think with The Guilty Feminist messaging, again, it's acknowledging that imperfection and you can be imperfect but still learn from things. And so I'd love to hear your thoughts on being authentic at work and how you can still be that guilty feminist at work, regardless of that kind of perfect pressure in that corporate environment.

DEBORAH: 10:37

Well, one thing I say that I think has relaxed people who listen to the show or come and see the show live is you don't have to be perfect to be a force for meaningful change. And I think that is relaxing, because I think one reason The Guilty Feminist took off is that women are programmed to feel guilty by society. I've really noticed this. If a male comedian has a baby, they start going-- I mean, a lot of them we're smoking marijuana or living with their mum, and then they got into a relationship, got pregnant, and then went, "I've got another mouth to feed now. I've got to be a responsible father, parent. I've got to go out and make money." And that's when their career takes off because they go, "Right. I'm going to make it now. I have to make my kid proud. I have to put food on the table." And they start booking all this TV and upping their game. And it's like parenthood is emboldening their career.

DEBORAH: 11:34

And I see what happens with female comedians often is like, "Oh, she's had a baby. I don't know that she's going to want to do this gig. She must be breastfeeding, so she probably won't want to do this." And it's like her work gets cut in half. And if she is straight back out, as some women I know are, and they take their babies with and they have their second parent or their help, they have a childcare situation or relative, whatever comes with, or they have a partner that stays at home with the kid and whatever, it doesn't matter, whatever they've sorted out, if they are breastfeeding, there's a sort of a mild judgment from people that's like, "Oh, she's straight back out. Oh. Shouldn't she be at home?" And no one now says-- it's not Mad Men, no one now says, "Shouldn't she be around with the baby?" But it's more like, "Oh, is she doing that? Didn't she just give birth last week?" I mean, how--

MADDIE: 12:21

How does she do it all?

DEBORAH: 12:22

Yeah. Or a little bit of judgment. Like someone was saying the other day that she went into a writer's room but said, "Well, it's American money." It was a British writer saying, "But it was a Hollywood job, and we kind of need the money." And there was a apology for it. Whereas if a man had just had a baby and then he got a job in a big fancy American writer's room, everyone would be like, "Oh, my God, everything's going their way," rather than, "Should she really be-- really? She gave birth last week, shouldn't she be bonding?"

MADDIE: 12:52


DEBORAH: 12:52

That was the implication of it. And it was like no one was saying it, but there was a little bit of something in the air around it. And that's why I think feminism has become one more thing to feel guilty about. It's like, if you're at home, shouldn't you be with your kids? If you're with kids, shouldn't you be at home? If you don't have kids, isn't it time to start thinking about it? You're 34. Whatever it is. Oh, you didn't have kids? Are you selfish? Oh, you didn't have kids or you did have kids, and now, are you being a good enough daughter and a good enough partner, a good enough friend. Tina's running a marathon for cancer research. Are you doing anything like that? And then on top of all that, people have the audacity to go, "Have you done any self-care this week?" Maddie, have you done your self-care? You've not done enough self-care.

MADDIE: 13:36

You haven't had a bubble bath every night?

DEBORAH: 13:37

I've been made to feel guilty about not doing enough self-care. I need to do self-care to get over the anxiety of not doing enough self-care. And so I feel like feminism has become one more thing that women had been trained to feel guilty about. And so just saying, you don't have to be perfect. One of the first things I admitted, I'd say, "I'm a feminist, but," at the [inaudible], where we do a little confessional. So one of the first things I admitted was - and I was so nervous - I was like, "If I admit this, they're going to kick me out of the club." But it was this, it was I'm a feminist, but. One time I went on a women's rights march. I popped into a department store to use the loo. When I was in there, I got distracted trying out face cream. And when I came out, the march was gone. There was no trace of that march. I had to put my sign in a bin and just put my sunglasses on and get on the tube and go home. And I remember thinking, "Oh, my God, I'm the worst feminist in the world." But when I confess that, so many women have said to me since, "Oh, my God, the last women's march, I just got really overwhelmed by the crowd. My feet hurt. I have a back pain, and I just felt a bit-- it started to rain. And my friend and I said, 'Well, we just pop into this pub and just have one quick drink.' And then we just never came out. And we ended up going home. We had three drinks then we went home." And they felt so bad about it. And just hearing other people go, "Look, I showed up. I was counted. I did what I could and then I left." But if you put it on the table and acknowledge it, firstly, everyone else laughs and goes, "I have done stuff like that." But secondly, if it is something you want to work on, still put it on the table and build muscle. The next time I went on a march, I stayed much longer. And the next time I went on the march, I went to the end. And so punishing myself and going, "I'm no good at marches," is the opposite of what I need to be doing.

MADDIE: 15:18

Right. Yeah.

DEBORAH: 15:19

Instead going, "Do you know what? I did half a march and I got some face cream." Just laughing about it. It is ironic. It's funny. You can laugh about it, but then use that. Or maybe next time I do even less. Maybe next time I don't feel well or I've got somewhere to be. I've turned up to marches where I know I can only be there for 10 minutes. Because I've turned up. I'm on my way to another event. I've spoken at the march or I've had pictures with people. I've put them on Instagram and said, "Everyone's got to get down there. It's an amazing cause." And then I've gone on to my other event. But that's better than not going.

MADDIE: 15:52


DEBORAH: 15:53

I mean, as long as I'm not going pretending I was there for an hour. And I think this idea that we have to be perfect all the time, it's eating us alive. But even within sort of, I would say, my community, no matter how much a company or an activist group or an individual tries to do, someone will find fault. And there'll be a pylon that you tried to consciously cast the show, but guess what you left out? Or when the show was in this location, there was this kind of person in it, and now it's been recast. There's these kind of people, but you left out that kind of person, and we're really angry and everyone should boycott the show. And I'm like, "Or we could say these are people that are actually trying. They're consciously casting their show. There was clear reason." And you're very welcome to say, "Hey, we really loved it when you represented our identity group, and we really feel strongly that because that role was originated by someone from our identity group, we'd love to see that. But we want to support you because we get that you're trying to do something right. We think you probably tried to do it well, and just notice that we've noticed. And when you cast this again, we'll all come and support this show, but when you cast this show to do it in this location, we'd really love to see that representation back." And then that company goes, "Yay. That community is with us and behind us, and they can see we're making this effort." And I worry when we are projecting perfection when we cannot ourselves ever deliver it. That really freaks me out. I'm like, "We're going to eat ourselves alive."

MADDIE: 17:31

Yeah. No, that's so true. Yeah. And if you support, if you're showing like, "Hey, I support these decisions that you made, would you consider changing this?" so the person that you're talking to, they realize that they have your support, they're going to want to support you back and listen to you and make those changes, so.

DEBORAH: 17:48

I would think so.

MADDIE: 17:49

It sounds like a positive cycle in that way.

DEBORAH: 17:51

Someone like [inaudible], you can write to him and say, "Hey, this is what we really want to see from you, because you represent-- and we can see there's a blind spot for you here, and we would love for you to collaborate with-- here's three amazing collaborators we think you should be working with. Here's a couple of novels we think you should be looking to adapt with somebody, with the original author. We see what you're doing, we see what you're trying to do, we see what you're achieving. And so can you please advocate for this group? Because we get that you're really working to change the system." And he's going to go, "Oh, my God. Yeah." He's not going to go, "No. I don't care about that." He's going to do what he can. And I think I would like to see more of that bridge building. You're allowed to be angry.

DEBORAH: 18:47

And anger is a great motivating tool, but if it's the only tool in your box, I think it's-- if you're not angry, you're not looking out the window, honestly. Of course, we're angry. We're all angry. But if anger is the only tool in your box, I don't know that you're going to build the world that you want to build. I think you also need clear communication. The first assumption is that this person, when they hear this, will be open to listening, if you make a positive assumption. There's all sorts of other tools to your box, and being funny can be one, charm can be one, all of those things can be great tools. I'm not saying everyone has to tone police themselves and all of that sort of stuff, but I am saying just think about what you respond to and what kind of world you're looking to build. Because if we're wanting to build an inclusive, humanizing, individualizing, warm, compassionate world, we can't do that without those tools.

DEBORAH: 19:46

You mentioned authenticity, like being authentic at work, before, Maddie. And I just wanted to say I do want us to be able to come to work and live in the world and not be constantly burdened with unrealistic expectations of perfection. But at the same time, in the corporate culture, I hear a lot about authenticity. And I do think, of course, we should basically say where we've been and be who we are, but I think authenticity is a bit overrated, because if you're authentically crap at something, you are stuck with that then. And so a lot of people go, "Oh, I'm quite shy, and that's authentic to me. And so I'm not good at presenting." And I'm like, "It's so limiting." Because my authentic self likes to eat cake and lie down. That's who I am. As a kid, that's what I wanted.

MADDIE: 20:31


DEBORAH: 20:32

That's my authentic self. That's in my DNA. But my best self likes to eat fruit and do yoga. And I find if I just do the things my best self wants to do for six months, that becomes authentic to me. It's now more authentic for me to move than it needs to be sedentary. And actually, because I've been working in this writer's room and I haven't felt like I've had a lot-- of course, I could have made time to exercise, but I've been coming home and crashing. I've been waking up in the night needing to stretch because my body is so used to moving. And I'm already planning next week when I have more time, I'm locking in personal training sessions and dance classes, and I'm so excited to get to move again. That's because I think your authentic self is just your habitual self. And whatever habits that you developed in your childhood or your teenage years when you got awkward and when you developed a shyness or your first bad experience at college or university or in a work environment or whatever, whenever you created those limitations, that came through experience and habit.

DEBORAH: 21:40

And if you would like to be authentically powerful, authentically confident, authentically athletic, any of those things, you just have to do the things and make a new habit. It will be authentic to you. I mean, when I first started, I always had a knack for performing, but I had to, for some reasons in my life, stop doing that. And then I came back to it and I felt anxious because I thought, "I used to be good at this, and now I'm behind the eight ball. I'm behind everyone else who went to university to do these things," or blah, blah, blah. And I had real anxiety, and I used to ball my hands up on stage when I was doing comedy improv. And I used to really feel the anxiety and the pressure. And I had to learn, I had to practice. I had to go out and not be very good and I had to go out and feel the fear and I had to go out and then, oh, that was actually quite a good one. And I had to go out and go, "What did I do there that I didn't do there?" And I had to collect data. And interestingly, we were talking a lot about day-to-day at Sneaks.

DEBORAH: 22:37

What I tell actors when I used to teach at RADA, at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and I used to tell them, "When you leave RADA, you're going to develop a new skill, which is auditioning." And every audition many actors go on, especially when they're newly out, is so much pressure. It's like, "I've got to get this, otherwise I'm never going to work as an actor." And the pressure is so much, and they get so disappointed. And they get called back and they think, "This is going to happen," and then it doesn't. They get so disappointed, and it's genuinely devastating. People crying, people feeling like there's no point. So what I would say to people about to graduate, I would say, "What you're doing is you're going out to collect data. So you are going to auditions to find out what it's like to audition and make notes.

DEBORAH: 23:31

So I want you to go into one audition super confident and see how that reads. Do they find you a bit too cocky? Are they responding to that? Are you having to tone it down a bit? Are they loving the confidence? Then go into one a little bit anxious, a little bit nervous, a little bit like, "Hi." Are they finding that charming? Or are they going, "You don't look like you really belong here." Go into another one and try and match the person behind the auditioning table and match their body language and just take notes on what's working for you and all you're doing. And I say to them, "Go audition for everything. Audition for something you wouldn't want to do, a student film, whatever. Just go up for as many auditions as you can get, commercial costings, whatever it is. And all you're doing for the first six months to a year is collecting data." And I have had students call me and go, "Oh, my God. I got the first audition I ever went for because I wasn't going in to get the job. I was going in to get data. And I was really relaxed because I was like, 'Well, I'm not going to get--'" so I say to them, "You will not get nearly all of the jobs you got for anyway, so you might as well get something out of it." If you're getting data, then great.

DEBORAH: 24:36

And so statistically, most actors are not going to get most jobs they ever got for. And now people are making self-tapes from home and they're not even meeting the people in the room. So play around. What happens if you go with full costume and you get somebody else to read the lines and you almost make a little film of it? What happens if you just go black polo neck, white background, and you read the lines off on autocue? Start experimenting and see if you can get as much feedback as you can off those self-tapes. And all you're doing, you're not trying to get the job, you're trying to get information. And that really works for people because it changes their attitude. They're going, "Oh, what if I do this? Well, what if I do that?" And that's how I approach stand-up comedy. Nearly all stand-up comedy is written on stage. And I only discovered this because I had to write a book about stand-up comedy. I had to interview a lot of people.

DEBORAH: 25:32

And I found every comedian is different. And some people are doing one liners, some people are telling stories from their life, some people are making political observations, whatever, whimsical, silly stuff, whatever. The only thing that every single comedian said to me is, "I write most of my stuff on stage."

MADDIE: 25:45


DEBORAH: 25:46

Because they go out with an idea and they noodle with the idea. And the first idea, you thought it was funny in your bedroom, it turns out they don't laugh. So you've got to keep talking until you get to what my friend, Sara Pascoe, calls the punctuation of the laugh. And that's how every single comic, that I interviewed anyway, ultimately writes their set. There are some people that do puns. Obviously, you have to write those, but still you have to go out on stage and get the data of, did that one work? Did they get it? Did they groan too much? Does this one come after that one? Can you build it? Is there a topper? But most people who are doing observational stuff or learning how to make a story funny, you just have to go out and start talking. So, yeah, you've got the idea of what you're going to say and you've got a few ideas for jokes and you've got a notebook and things like that and you're reading bits out. But ultimately, I've written my best jokes because I've had to, because the adrenaline of the situation just forces me to do a [CAPA?].

DEBORAH: 26:43

So today when I was doing Sneaks, the reason that I started talking to someone in the audience who we thought was called Cole, but it turned out offstage, was called Carl, but he has a South African accent, and that's on me, but--

MADDIE: 26:58

It's funny, though.

DEBORAH: 26:59

It was very funny. We had Cole in the audience, as I would call him, because that's how everybody will know him now. And at one point, he ended up with the microphone because I was testing all of the-- he became the everyman. And I said, "Would you use this?" He said, "Not really because I'm not important enough. But in five years' time, hopefully, I'll be promoted into a position where I'm an exec who needs this program." And I said, "So your boss's boss--" so I'm trying to be nice to the guy on the stage. I was like, "So he wouldn't use it, but his boss's boss would use it." And he went, "My boss's boss is here."

MADDIE: 27:35

Yeah. That's perfect.

DEBORAH: 27:35

And he happened to be sitting next to Alex, who was his boss's boss. Then they became total features. They became the hecklers in the Muppets. And I kept coming back to them, and this became a running gag. And everyone loved them. And now they're walking around at lunchtime, everyone is going to come up and try and get a funny picture with them. They became like stars of the show. I'll tell you how that happened. Something I said that I thought would get a laugh didn't. And so I had to go, well, I'm a comedian here. I have to get a laugh and a warm laugh that's going to please this audience and draw them towards me. So what I said-- I mean, it wasn't a bad joke or anything, it just was a statement that I thought would be, in the moment, a little bit funnier than it was. So maybe it got like a ha, but I needed a big laugh at that point. So I then go to some guy in the audience. Oh, no, first of all, actually, I went to Libby.

MADDIE: 28:28

Yeah. You did go to Libby, our cofounder.

DEBORAH: 28:31

Right. And I didn't--

MADDIE: 28:31

That was so funny.

DEBORAH: 28:32

I had no idea. So I was just like-- something I'd said was like, "It was okay, but it wasn't hilarious." And I was like, "What's in the room?" So I'm looking around the room, because everything in the room is something to be used. Right? Front row. Who's in the front row? Can I talk to that person and make a fun interaction happen? Talk to Libby. Immediately, Corey says, "That's our cofounder." I'm like, "Oh, so you're paying me. So maybe I move on from you."

MADDIE: 28:55

That was so funny.

DEBORAH: 28:57

So we get a big laugh there. But now I need somebody else that I can root myself to. And I go, "I need someone unimportant that isn't going to affect how much I'm paid today or whether I'm hired again. You, sir. You with the beard, you look like you might be unimportant." "I am unimportant. Yeah. I'm unimportant." So great, super, lovely. We have a connection. But then I keep coming back to him. So if I came back to do Sneaks again, I would probably say, "Are Carl and Alex going to be there?" And if they are, I would feature them again. If they're not or if I was doing it in another country, I would go, "Okay. I know that works, so I'm going to find someone early." And so that's how you build material. Right? You're collecting the data of what's funny. So I'm going to go, "Okay. I'll always find myself a little double act in the audience or somebody." And the next time that happened, if I were to do this in America at the American version of this event, the first person I find might not want to talk to me. So I'll figure it out through eye contact and playfulness. So I might go to two or three people. No one will remember those first two or three people, because people will say to me-- every time I do crowd work like this, someone will go, "Oh, my God, how lucky were you that the first guy you talked to was," blah, blah, blah, fill in the blank here, "so hilarious." And I'm like, "They just don't remember that I talked to a guy who made eye contact with me. I thought it was going to be fine. He looked at his shoes. He gave me nothing. And I made a lovely little closed ending to that so it wasn't awkward."

MADDIE: 30:32

Yeah. He didn't feel bad.

DEBORAH: 30:33

He was charming. We edit it out. I have no interest as a comedian in making anyone feel uncomfortable. That's not my job. No interest in that. I want to make everyone feel good. So I need to close that interaction off so that person feels good that they talked to me, but not like I'm going to come back to them. And then I find someone who wants to play, and in this case, it was Carl, who we called Cole for the whole thing because we--

MADDIE: 30:52

Cole. That's so funny.

DEBORAH: 30:53

--just probably we didn't know. But he seemed happy with that. He didn't correct me. I think he thought it was fun, thank God. But, yeah. So not everyone will remember that I spoke to Libby first. Even though that was a good gag, I thought Libby won't want to center herself here at her own event. So I can make something of that, make that a joke on me and move on. Because I just thought if I were Libby, I wouldn't want to be on the spot or taking up this space. I'd rather have it be about someone in the audience. So--

MADDIE: 31:26

For sure. Yeah. She loves that.

DEBORAH: 31:28

--I read that she was very charming, very willing to play, but also, I was like, she'll want this to be about one of her clients, one of her customers.

MADDIE: 31:35

Exactly. Yeah.

DEBORAH: 31:36

But we did come back to her a couple of times as a callback, but we didn't make her the star of the show because she's already the cofounder. Right? So it's all that's going on, and that's just years of experience, of intuition. So anyway, what I'm saying is comedians are constantly collecting data live on stage. So if someone drops a glass, that's information. I need to incorporate that because everyone's distracted by it. And if I don't acknowledge it, then I'm not really here and loose in the room. If someone, I don't know, heckles, I can't ignore it. So both auditioning and live on stage, you are constantly collecting and using data in real time.

MADDIE: 32:17

No. I think this is very interesting. I mean, I think just to translate this for our audience who maybe aren't comedians, just like in a meeting or something, if you're leading a meeting, go in and collect that data. Or if you are usually leading a meeting, but you pass the mic to somebody else and you sit back and you pay attention and you just kind of observe, that's another opportunity to observe and collect that data and then see how you can include other people and make meetings more fun, of course, but also diving into what everybody has to offer and what everybody wants to bring and looking for those visual cues and all that sort of stuff that you did today at Sneaks.

DEBORAH: 32:57

Well, I think what that's really about is changing the focus from yourself to the room. So sometimes in networking events-- I'm sure everyone hates networking events. Everyone hates it. Because to me, networking-- the definition of networking, for me, is talking to someone when you'd rather be talking to someone else. It's like, how can I use you later? I hate the term networking. I think it's just awful. But the reason people hate networking events is they come into the room going nervous because they're like, "Oh, my God, will anyone talk to me? Will I have to go up and introduce myself to someone? What if I crash their conversation? What if they're more important than me? What if I should know who they are?" It's just this nightmare scenario. What if I get stuck with someone and I don't know how to get away? A lot of people text other people going, "Are you going to this thing? Can we go in together?" So I go in with someone. People hate it, absolutely hate it. And what I say is you can completely change how you feel about networking events if you are not putting the focus on yourself.

DEBORAH: 33:57

Because all of those anxieties are about what will people-- ultimately, they're all the same one. What will people think of me? Will I embarrass myself? What if you went into a networking event with a slightly mission impossible feel? Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to go into this event, look around, find someone who looks like they're having a bad time, who looks anxious, standing on their own, not enjoying the conversation they're in, whatever, looks low status, looks uncomfortable here. And they might be very important, but they just don't like big rooms full of strangers. Right? So you're going to look around, find somebody like it's a proper mission, see them, and you'll think, "Right. I'm going to go over. I'm going to introduce myself. My only mission here is to give that person a good time. I want to relax them. I want to make them feel more important or listened to, more loved, more interesting. I want to make them feel glad they came to this thing that they hate." Right?

DEBORAH: 34:51

So you go over. And now how do you introduce yourself? Instead of going, "Oh, hi. I'm Maddie. I work for Alteryx.


I do podcasts. I mean, I don't know if that's of interest to you," instead of doing that, you're not doing that, you're going over to go, "Okay. I need to make you feel calm and relaxed, so I need to be confident for you because you look a bit nervous." So you go over and you go, "Hello, I'm Maddie. I'm from Alteryx. Are you Alteryx too, or are you one of our clients?" "No. I'm an Alteryx customer." "Excellent. How are we doing?" And you immediately just are thinking about it from their point of view, so you make a joke to make them laugh. You make sure they've got a drink. If you come over to somebody and go, "I see you haven't got a drink. I'm headed to the bar. You want to come with or do you want me to get you something?" And as soon as you put yourself in that role where they go, "Oh, this is really nice. Someone's--" and they go, "I can't have a drink, I'm driving." It's like, "Excellent. A sparkling water coming right up. Where are you driving to? That seems like bad planning," etc., etc.

DEBORAH: 35:57

So you're being playful. What I've had success with at those events is if you say to that person then, "I hate these things. Do you? Should we go around together?" because we're meant to be meeting people. So if you get stuck with someone and you think, "Oh, my God, we're in a loop. We've told each other the same thing three times," instead of just staying with them or backing away or going, "I've got to go to the bathroom," or whatever, say to them, "Right. This is networking. We're meant to be meeting people. Who should we meet? Let's go together."

MADDIE: 36:22

Let's do it together.

DEBORAH: 36:23

Okay. We'll be each other's wing person. All right. He looks like he's having a terrible time. Shall we go over and try and make him laugh, or? Should we go over? Now she, I think, is very important. Shall we go and meet her and see if we can get her chatting? Because I think isn't she the one that was featured on the cover of Data Weekly? Yeah. Let's go. Let's check. Yeah. Okay. Great. Oh, I know him. I went on a ski trip with him. Right? He's a safe bet. He's talking to someone else. Let's go up and make him introduce us. And so then you've made it fun for this person. Well, the thing I say is you have to make three people feel better about themselves, then you're allowed to leave.

MADDIE: 37:03

Love that.

DEBORAH: 37:04

What I find is people who go in with that mission, no one will let them leave, because everyone's like, "Oh, my God, it's Mark. He's the life of the party. He's bringing people together." And you can do it on a Zoom. You can make other people look good, feel good just saying things like, "Oh, Tina, that thing you said to me the other day when we were having a coffee, I thought that was so interesting. I haven't stopped thinking about it. Can you tell everyone about what you're doing with your client? Because I found it so helpful and I really would love to introduce you to one of my clients. Can you share?" Then Tina is like, "Oh, my God, I'm interesting." And then she's been bigged up. Now Jeff will talk over her because that's what Jeff does. So what you're going to do is be gatekeeper for Tina, and you're going to go, "Oh, Jeff, I want to hear what you're going to say, but I just want Tina to finish this bit." Or if you can't, because that's what Jeff does, that's fine, let Jeff talk, but come back to Tina and go, "Oh, Tina, can you just finish what you were going to say because I think Jeff's question actually there it's relevant with what you're doing with that client." And so now you're not on the Zoom thinking, "I've got to be clever. I've got to account for myself. I've got to say something good."

DEBORAH: 38:08

You're not doing any of those things. What you're doing is you are thinking, "I'm here to make Tina look good and to make Jeff feel important, but not letting him take over." And now I've got a job. So what happens to my status? It goes right up. Because if I'm the one inviting people to the party and connecting them, making them look good, making them feel good, I cannot be low status here. I must be included. Because I can't get anyone else into a party that I'm not invited to. So as soon as I start including others, I look central to events, I feel central to events. I feel part of this because I am part of it because I'm a connector and I'm an introducer and I'm someone who makes other people look good and feel good. If I'm at that party and I go, "Oh, hi. I read all about you in Data Weekly. God, what you're doing is impressive," that person, however important they are, will love you because you've made them feel good.

DEBORAH: 39:06

They're like, "Oh, really?" You go up to someone and you go, "Oh, I've heard a lot about what your department is doing. God, everyone's talking about it." I mean, that's got to be true. Don't just bullshit people. But if you've heard something good about someone and you go up to them and you go-- even if you're in the elevator or something like that, and you say, "Oh, I've been hearing lots of wonderful things coming out of the app you're developing," if you've heard that, tell them. They're going to be like, "Oh, my God, what have they been saying?"

MADDIE: 39:30

You make their day. Yeah.

DEBORAH: 39:31

Oh, my God. And then you're that person that makes them feel good. I don't do this in a manipulative way. I don't do it. If I haven't heard anything good or if I don't like-- if I think you've just being boring, I'm not going to go and go, "That's so interesting." But where I think something is good-- I'm working with someone at the moment, and the other day I said to her, "God, you're so talented because you can do so many things. I just feel so lucky to be working with you," because I just thought, I need to hear that, so I imagine that person needs to hear that as well. And it really allows the trust to build when you just are really open about what other people are good at. Sometimes I think people don't do it because they think they're losing status. They think, "If I tell you what you're good at and then you don't say anything good to me, I'm going to now, look-- it's like I'm admiring you from below." So don't think of it as-- you're not admiring them like a puppy dog admires somebody from the floor going, "Oh, my God, you're amazing." You are admiring them from a high status place. So you're not patronizing them either. Think of yourself as on the crest of a mountain and you're seeing this incredible vista for the first time and you're going, "This is a brilliant vista," but you're up high. So you're saying, "What I can see is magnificent," and you're not going, "Well, this looks very good," or, "Oh, this is a really lovely view." Imagine standing at the Grand Canyon. This is spectacular.

MADDIE: 40:53


DEBORAH: 40:53

But you're not going, "Oh, my God, I'm not worthy of this view," and nor are you going, "What a lovely little canyon you've got here," right? You're just going, "This is wonderful."

MADDIE: 41:02

Yeah. Just being very truthful and just stating what it is.

DEBORAH: 41:06

Keep your status high, keep your power, and then offer power, and you will find doors open left, right, and center.

MADDIE: 41:17

Thanks for listening. For more from Deborah Frances-White, check out her podcast, The Guilty Feminist. And for resources mentioned throughout this episode, check out our show notes at Catch you next time. [music]


This episode was produced by Maddie Johannsen (@MaddieJ), and Mike Cusic (@mikecusic). Special thanks to @andyuttley for the theme music track, and @mikecusic for our album artwork.