Public Speaking Secrets of Comedians

There’s no doubt about it – comedians are master public speakers. But why? Let’s try and figure it out. In this blog post I am assessing some of the most common techniques used by comedians to make their shows memorable. The simple five-step formula in this article can help any speaker to transform their presentation. Let’s jump straight in with secret number 1!

Secret 1: Don’t Use Slides, Notes or a Lectern

When was the last time you saw a comedian standing behind a lectern? Probably never.

Comedians know that one of the best ways connect an audience is by moving closer to them. A lectern serves no other purpose than to hide a speaker’s fidgety hands from the audience. The lectern is nothing but a big fat crutch. Avoid it!

When was the last time you saw a comedian checking his/her notes? Probably never.

If you take your eyes off of the audience to look at notes, they will take their eyes off you. That creates an unnecessary distraction that should be avoided. Comedians practice their routines over and over, so that they never have to check their notes. You should aim for a similar goal!


When was the last time you saw a comedian using slides? Probably never.

Comedians want the audience to be looking at them, not trying to read a screen at the back of the stage. Instead of showing you a picture, they will use detailed descriptions, storytelling, body movement, voice tonality and props, to draw a picture in your mind. Often the best speakers in business are those who don’t use slides.

Secret 2: Tell Lots of Personal Stories

Comedians are always finding new ways to connect with an audience. One of the best ways to connect is by sharing your own personal experiences.  Many comedians start their act by sharing an embarrassing story that allows the audience to see the comedian as an “average Joe”— just like them.  For many comedians telling personal stories is their entire act.

Comedians know that sharing personal stories and observations really works because these stories are unique to each person and allow the audience a glimpse into who you are. Anyone can speak on a topic, what makes it unique is your perspective.


Note: You should tell stories that demonstrate your connection both to the material and to the audience. If the stories you tell don’t resonate, people won’t care about the point you’re trying to make. Learn more in my blog post about storytelling.

Secret 3: Gesture BIG

Research claims that what you say represents only five percent of your communication efforts. The rest of communication is in your tone, pitch, facial gestures, and body movements. Comedians know that it may be hard for people to see the minor expressions (e.g. subtle facial expressions) so instead they make big movements. Every body movement and facial expression is exaggerated so even the people with the worst seats in the house can see it clearly.

You should always gesture BIG! Learn more in my blog post about gestures.


Secret 4: Use the Rule of Three

The rule of three is a very general rule used in speaking, in writing, and in music. Concepts or ideas presented in threes are inherently more interesting, more enjoyable, and more memorable. Comedians often use the rule of three to create humour by listing three items with the third one being unusual or unexpected. It’s the surprise that makes the third item funny.

In public speaking, all presentations should follow a defined ‘triad’ structure. The opening should gain attention and establish the main idea of the speech, the body of the speech should include three main points with both logical and emotional support.

Finally, you’ll want to wrap up with a review of the main ideas and a reminder of the overall core idea. The final close should be exciting and engaging and tie into the overall theme of the presentation.

Learn more in my blog post about the Rule of Three.

Secret 5: Callback Your Key Message

Have you ever noticed that comedians often wrap up their routines by referencing some jokes from earlier on in their routine. This is what’s known as the Callback Technique, and it’s something we can all use in presentations. In the closing of your speech, refer back to the core message that you’ve just presented.

Over To You

Just because comedians are master public speakers doesn’t mean you need to be a comedian to deliver a great performance. There is a lot you can learn from comedians – simple tips, tricks, or “secrets”, that you can easily apply when you speak. So the next time you have to speak in public, remember not to use slides, notes or a lectern, tell lots of personal stories, use lots of gestures, apply the rule of three and callback you message at the end of the speech. Prepare to rock your next speech!