3 Public Speaking Secrets of Comedians

The Public Speaker explores the techniques that comedians practice to be memorable performers. Learn how these secrets can help make you a better speaker.  

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #246

Secret #3:  Use the Rule of Three

Comedians use the rule of three to their advantage. 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 humor by listing three items with the third one being unusual or unexpected. It’s the surprise that makes the third item funny.

However, the rule of three also applies to having a clear beginning, middle, and end. Comedians often start with material they know will get a laugh, then move to the middle, and wrap up on one final high point.  I’ve heard that comedians try to stack the end with a few really reliable jokes and if they get a big laugh, they may even end early—just to ensure ending on a high note. 

What can speakers learn from this?  Presentations should follow a defined structure.  The opening should gain attention and establish the main idea of your talk, the body of the talk 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 main idea presented in an interesting manner.  The final close should be exciting and engaging and tie into the overall theme. 

Sometimes the rule of three can be used in a slightly unusual manner. If you’re familiar with Rodney Dangerfield, you’ve heard the famous line he repeated before each quip: “ I get no respect. No respect, I tell ya!” And then he'd say it again after his joke. This structure represents the rule of three.  For speakers, this is similar to what I call PEP, point-example-point.  Make a point, give the example, then make the point again.  It’s a way to add structure and to make the points more memorable. 

So the next time you have to speak in public, remember the three rules of comedians: Be comfortable with yourself, share stories from your own experience, and use the rule of three.  

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

Do you struggle with difficult conversations?  Do you procrastinate when it comes to delivering feedback? Do you know how to effectively persuade and influence others?  Learn this and more in my book Smart Talk. Get your personally signed copy today!

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About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.