What can pharmacists learn from stand-up comedy and sports psychology to help them cope with unannounced General Pharmaceutical Council inspections, asks Peter Kelly…
There has been a lot of debate over the General Pharmaceutical Council’s desire to conduct unannounced inspections. I will come to that shortly. Firstly, I am going to give a few pointers about how best to perform when under pressure.
Six years ago, I moved to London with the goal of trying to become a pharmacist in the media. Three years ago, I had a very interesting and informative meeting with a top TV agent.
The agent specialised in booking professional people such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and so on to appear on TV and radio to discuss topics relevant to their professions.
She told me straight up that it was a nice idea but she did not think it would ever happen. And if it did happen, I would certainly not make a living out of it. She told me that media organisations pay professional people very little for appearing in the media as they feel they are gaining from promoting their profession, which is fair enough really.
The meeting led me to reassess my goal. At the time, I was hosting a radio show on St Barts hospital radio and had starting acting classes to improve my presenting and public speaking skills. The acting classes somehow led me to try open mic stand-up comedy.
I took to stand-up straight away and immediately felt this was something I could do. The process of getting good at stand-up comedy is very scientific. It really is a simple lab-like process of trial and error.
Many people think stand-up is just a case of telling jokes but modern stand-up is much more a case of hunting for punch-lines while talking about everyday life. The process I use is to come up with a ‘tight five’ of stand-up material (in a ‘tight five’ the expectation is to make the audience laugh between 20-30 times in five minutes) is as follows:
1. Go to a small venue and ramble five minutes of ideas you think are funny. Record the ramble.
2. Listen to your recording and note the places where people laugh. These are your punch-lines but be mindful that 90% of your ideas will yield nothing.
3. Now you have your punch-line, ask yourself what is the quickest way you can explain (set up) the idea that leads to the punch-line - the shorter the better.
4. Now you have your setup and your punch-line, just keep saying it over and over again to different audiences. By doing this you will hone it down and master the timing and rhythm. This, essentially, is your joke. If you get lucky you might discover an add-on punch-line to the idea as you say it over and over again. In stand-up they say the audience writes half your act. Again, record everything and listen to how the audience reacts to each and every word. Do this for a year and hopefully you will be in a position to deliver a set of ideas/punch-lines continuously for five minutes.
As I started to get good at stand-up (I have won comedy club competitions in London and Manchester and have been in the semi-finals of a national comedy competition called Amused Moose), I spoke to that TV agent again.
I asked her if I became a known comedian, would media organisations let me make programmes about pharmacy and general health advice/information shows. She said yes. Then I asked would they pay me properly. Again, she said yes.
Dara O’Briain makes TV shows about science and he gets to do that because he is a famous comedian. Russell Brand makes TV shows about drug addiction and gets to that because he is a famous comedian. Rhod Gilbert made a TV show about anxiety last year and, again, he got to do that because he is a famous comedian.
Stand-up comedy is the greatest exercise in performing under pressure. Tommy Tiernan, the legendary Irish comedian, said stand-up comedy is like standing in front of a firing squad and trying to distract them before they shoot you.
In order to help me cope with the pressure of big performances, I read a lot of books by top sports psychologists. The best one I have read is The Pressure Principle by Dr Dave Alred. Dave coached Jonny Wilkinson to help him with his kicking when England won the Rugby World Cup.
The two messages from the book that I have found very useful for stand-up. This might also help pharmacists cope with the pressure of unannounced GPhC inspections.
1. In practice always try to recreate the pressures of the big game. For example, if you find yourself taking a penalty in the World Cup for England, everyone will be gathered around the circle in the middle of the pitch and you will have to walk on your own all the way up to the penalty spot to take the penalty. This is exactly how you should practice taking penalties in training in the lead-up to the World Cup. Do everything the same as you will have to when you are under pressure. Make everything second nature so that when the pressure is on, it doesn’t matter because you are so acclimatised to the process. How do you implement this in your pharmacy? Work every day as if there is an inspector looking over your shoulder. Do this and when the big day comes it will feel like no big deal.
2. Don’t think or worry about the outcome. Focus on the process. Focus on what you are doing. In sport or stand-up comedy, if you are thinking too much about the outcome it will take a lot away from your performance. If I am in the comedy store in front of 400 people telling a joke and wondering and worrying about how much they are going to laugh, it will take away from the delivery of that joke. You can’t control the result, so try not to think about it during GPhC inspections. I won’t lie. This is hard to do but elite performers can do it. Alred makes it very clear that while we don’t worry about the result during the performance, we always try to learn from the result. The goal is always to learn. Regardless of how good the result is, there is always something that can be learnt and improved upon. This he calls the ‘no limits’ mindset.
Personally, I am not sure if unannounced inspections are a good thing or not. I am not sure what the objective is they are trying to achieve or how that objective will be assessed.
But I do know that if you use the tips outlined above in preparation for these inspections, you will cope well with the pressure of the occasion and in time may come to excel and even enjoy the challenge of these inspections.
Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist and occasional stand-up comedian based in London.
Picture: LumiNola (iStock)