Authenticity matters: Six life experience truths from Trevor Noah
Momentive was honoured to host Trevor Noah, comedian and host of ‘The Daily Show’, at our CX Impact Summit. Read what he had to say.
Perhaps like many of you, Trevor Noah is my go-to resource for honest news analysis and opinions, especially of all the events that unfolded in 2020 and this year. I’ve enjoyed his real, tell-it-as-it-is style of reporting. He’s the most empathetic and authentic journalist out there – and he’s a comedian.
Born in South Africa to a Black South African mother and a white European father, Noah is, among many things, the host of ‘The Daily Show’ on Comedy Central. Momentive, maker of the GetFeedback agile customer experience solution, was honoured to host Noah as a special guest at our second annual CX Impact Summit in November. During his 40-minute fireside chat with Momentive CEO Zander Lurie, I discovered that making comedy, which includes developing and delivering comedy, and measuring its success, is not too dissimilar to delivering and measuring the success of any other product or experience.
Noah is able to get feedback in real time from his audience whether in person or online, and just like any customer experience professional, he uses this feedback to create a better product.
What I learned most is that no matter whether you’re a CX professional, a business leader, a comedian, or all of the above, the most important factor that should drive the experience you deliver is authenticity. Here are six takeaways that CX pros and business leaders can learn from Trevor Noah.
1. Create your experience from the inside out
During the chat, we learned that creating comedy and measuring its success is the same as developing and measuring the success of any product or experience. Noah says he focuses on creating from the inside out and uses feedback to improve his product.
He explained: “Feedback is great when you have two distinct groups of people: the people who are consuming your product and the people who may consume your product. Anything else I don’t consider feedback because it's from people who are not consuming your product, nor will they ever consume your product. Those I would call haters: people who just want to comment on a thing. What is valuable to me is the person who is in my space or is considering being in my space.”
The best form of feedback for Noah is a laugh. He likens stand-up comedy to sending his audience members an instant survey. He gauges what percentage of people agreed or disagreed with what he just said based on the level of laughter.
Noah and his team also use the number of social and video shares of their content to gauge success and engagement. But he takes some comments made on social media with a pinch of salt, especially if the comments are from people who “are running around online criticising everything”. He added: “Feedback that is valuable could be someone saying, ‘Hey, this is how you retain me as a viewer and this was something that I enjoyed and wish to see more of.’ Or it could be something like, ‘If I saw more of that I would become a viewer.’ Those are the things that I focus on.”
“If you allow the winds of opinions to sway you as you go, at the end of the day, you’re just going to be privy to those winds and any wind can blow you in any direction.”
Comedian and host of ‘The Daily Show’
2. Stay true to what drives you
When it comes to creating a product or service, it can be tempting to tweak your core mission or values to adapt to current market sentiment. Although it’s important to monitor what the market is thinking, how you react should stay true to what your business is all about. According to Noah, “If you allow the winds of opinions to sway you as you go, at the end of the day, you’re just going to be privy to those winds and any wind can blow you in any direction.”
He added: “I’m careful not to allow feedback to dictate what I create; otherwise, when push comes to shove and I’m in a room by myself, I won’t know why I’m creating anymore.”
3. Your authenticity is your competitive edge – and it shows
As a business leader and a CX professional, you know that customers have many choices, and you always have to stay on top of your game because your customers could switch to a competitor. Securing people’s attention and engagement is the same challenge for comedians. For Noah, success lies in his authenticity – he sees that as his competitive advantage, and it’s the best way to create a more loyal and sustainable fanbase.
“The passion is what you’re seeing; it’s the product of my joy. I love it more than anything: talking to audiences and having a great time,” Noah said.
4. Don’t be afraid to show your true self
For business leaders, especially, it can be easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to put on an act and perform all of the time. But some of the most successful leaders are ones who are authentic and show their true selves: their passion. It’s the same for comedians, and even the best get nervous before they go on stage. Again, this is where honesty and authenticity wins, because when you tell your audience how you are feeling – whether that’s nervous or excited – you immediately win the empathy of your audience.
“I think a lot of people are taught ‘this is your presentation face,’” said Noah. “For me, it’s do you trust your product, do you trust what you are doing, do you believe in it? Work on conveying that to people.”
5. Celebrate being ‘the other’
In his 2016 book, Born A Crime, Noah delivers a collection of personal stories about growing up in South Africa during the dying days of apartheid. The book takes an intimate look at the world that shaped him. At CX Impact Summit, he shared how his background has helped him see the world in a broader light while being “the other” in the room.
“I’ve gotten comfortable with being ‘the other’, the person who stands out, who doesn’t necessarily fit in. If you’re comfortable never fitting in, then you always fit in.”
Comedian and host of ‘The Daily Show’
“Growing up in a world where my mother’s a Black woman and my father’s a white man, and in South Africa, that meant that they both had not just different racial classifications but also classifications on how their lives could be lived because of the apartheid laws,” said Noah. “I was even classified as being different to either of them – my mother was technically below me and my father was technically above me – what a crazy world to grow up in.”
Noah said he learned how to fit in and overcome this communication barrier by understanding how his audience communicates and adapting how he says what he wants to say so that his audience clearly understands. And even though he did that, he was careful not to change or lose his identity, even as being “the other” in the room. By staying true to his identity, he’s able to develop a closer relationship with the people he’s communicating with.
He said: “I’ve gotten comfortable with being ‘the other’, the person who stands out, who doesn’t necessarily fit in. If you’re comfortable never fitting in then you always fit in.”
6. Stay curious to grow
When you’re at the height of success, whether in your career or in your business, it’s easy to sit back and coast. But only the curious grow. Noah likens this to an Olympic medallist who, after winning a medal, might continue to compete with themselves to do better and achieve a world record or a new personal best.
“I never want to stop growing,” he said.
We had a fantastic line-up of speakers at CX Impact Summit 2021, including Serena Williams, professional athlete and businesswoman, who spoke about Serena Ventures, which invests in companies that embrace diverse leadership, individual empowerment, creativity and opportunity. Register to view the session with Williams, and the other on-demand sessions led by Thomas Husson, VP, principal analyst at Forrester; Shep Hyken, chief amazement officer at Shepard Presentations; and Dan Gingiss, CEO and founder of The Experience Maker.
Linda Leung is a senior manager of content strategy at Momentive.