Publications & Products
Volume 1, Issue 44

What Comedians can Teach You about Public Speaking

A communications expert says leaders could learn a lesson from comedians who he believes are the "ultimate public speakers."

Mike Michalowicz, author of The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, recently wrote a blog post for OPEN Forum explaining how comedians are able to keep their audiences engaged. He says leaders should take note of the elements of a good comedy routine and apply them during their next public speaking engagement.

He advises leaders to:

  • Tell humbling personal stories. "Comedians often open up their acts by sharing a humbling or even humiliating story," Michalowicz writes. "Not only is it funny, but is shows the audience that they are just a regular Joe. And regular Joes get support from the audience."
  • Not use PowerPoint. "Comedians know that the best pictures are the ones that you draw in people's minds," Michalowicz writes. "They also know that they want the audience looking at them, not trying to read a screen. Comedians use detailed descriptions, storytelling, body movement, voice tonality and props (that microphone stand can serve a million purposes)."
  • Gesticulate. "Comedians know that on stage it is hard for people to see the minor expressions (e.g., subtle facial expressions), so they make big movements," Michalowicz says. "Every body movement and facial expression is exaggerated so that even the person with the worst seats in the house can see it clearly."
  • Use the ‘laugh-cry-laugh' method. "Comedians know that the most engaged audiences need to have a release (laughter) and a recovery (a moment of calmness) before the next release (laughing again)," Michalowicz writes. "As a public speaker, you may even want to move your audience through a little more of an emotional roller coaster. The laughing and crying keeps them connected and opens them up for you to deliver your knowledge and lessons."
  • Not use a lectern. "How often do you see comedians using a lectern?" Michalowicz writes. "That's right-never. A lectern serves no other purposes than to hide a speaker's fidgety hands from the audience. The lectern is nothing but a big fat crutch. Avoid it like the plague, unless you use it as a prop."
  • Not use notes. "A great speech is a prepared speech," Michalowicz writes. "Comedians practice their routines over and over, and you must do the same. You can use different mnemonic memory techniques to remember even the most complex speeches. Remember, if you take your eyes off of your audience, they will take their eyes off you."
  • Loop-back to a main point. "Ever notice that most comedians wrap up their routines by referencing some jokes from earlier on in the routine?" Michalowicz writes. "Often these jokes come across as the funniest because they reference something familiar (another joke from earlier in the routine). In the closing of your speech, make sure you refer back to the core content they just learned."

This article is from the May 14, 2012 issue.

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Summit for Leaders in Advancement
July 15 - 17, 2012
Washington, D.C., United States

Session speakers include:

David Rubenstein, philanthropist and co-founder of The Carlyle Group

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Sylvia Manning, president of the Higher Learning Commission

Lap-Chee Tsui, president of the University of Hong Kong