Public Speaking Humor by David Nihill


I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

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Inspired by a stunning course on Udemy called “Become Better and Funnier at Public Speaking” I decided to create this cheat post. David Nihill did an excellent job putting together 7 habits to be funnier at presenting. I’d like to elaborate on all the habits, include additional examples and encourage all of you to take this course.

Habit 1: Start with Story

  • You can find a lot of tips and tricks on Google or here. Personal and compelling stories always an advantage

Habit 2: Add Humor - Finding the Funny

Habit 3: Write Funny

  • Joke structure: Set up -> Punchline -> Tagline
  • Get to the funny part quickly, but delay the punchline
  • Use present tenseand local references
  • The rule of 3 and twists in the tail

Habit 4: Delivery

  • Use the memory palace
  • Extra/not necessary words or stories must go away
  • Ask the host to present you, otherwise do it quickly yourself. If something obvious address it. Coffee on your shirt or unique accent? If you don’t explain it, people will wonder about it instead of focusing on your speech
  • Have an opening one liner. Two - three key attributes about you in a humorous manner
  • Give the audience time to laugh, make a pause
  • Don’t end on Q&A. Make conclusion at the end. The last slide should not be Q&A, but key points of your talk

Habit 5: Rehearsed Spontaneity

  • Practice as you want to deliver
  • Test your jokes on others
  • Reinforce the point, chase the funny. Audience may not react at first as you expect and you are allowed to rephrase, go down the line (only if you really believe it’s funny)
  • David recommends visiting Toastmasters!
  • Focus on positive consequences
  • Embrace your heightened state

Habit 6: Control the Audience

  • Acknowledge if it goes worse than you expected. “Wow, my cat loved that story when I was practicing on him last night”
  • Ask to clap. Thank our hosts, thank bartenders etc. After 3 times audience is more willing to clap for you. Clap if you can hear me -Evaluate your performances. What worked well, what didn’t

Habit 7: Close the Book, But Not Fully

  • Start with the end. Reference your opening point at the conclusion
  • A conclusion is required. Cut your speech’s body if necessary
  • End on applause or natural finish. Audience knows it’s over

Win extra laughs :

  • Compare and contrast (compare your topic to something the audience is familiar with) – Using X product is like using public transportation in Vilnius.You could do it but you really don’t want it;It’s there but you really don’t want to take it; etc.
  • Use funny images as punch line

Great TED talks to watch and learn from. Remember, great public speakers are great entertainers. Watch how professionals deliver own stories wrapped up in humorous stories:

Additional: Hilarious excuses

I'm Valdas Maksimavicius. I write about data, cloud technologies and personal development. You can find more about me here.