4 Speech Techniques Learned from Comedy

Comedians are judged about every 12 seconds--so they really learn how to be successful public speakers! The Public Speaker explores 4 techniques you can learn from the kings and queens of comedy.  

Lisa B. Marshall
4-minute read
Episode #264

I love comedy. I even signed up for a comedy workshop recently, but even before that, I’ve been studying comedians for a long time.  Not only do I like to laugh, I also enjoy learning from masters of the stage.   >

I strongly believe that comedians are the kings and queens of public speaking. They spend years learning their craft, so that they can consistently engage audiences and make them laugh--and they do this all without the help of PowerPoint, notes, or a lectern! With that in mind, here are 4 tips I’ve learned from comedy royalty:

Tip #1: Pause for Effect

Comedians are masters of the pause, because pauses are what tell the audience when to laugh. In presentations, pauses cause the audience to pay more attention and can emphasize emotion.  

Specifically, pauses can help us to build anticipation. Rodney Dangerfield let his audience know when he was about to deliver one of his hilarious self-deprecating lines by pausing after saying, “I get no respect"--and we would anticipate the joke to follow. The suspense helped in the entertainment value of the experience.

Just as important are the pauses after an important point is made. Give your audience a brief moment to reflect on and digest your words. If you rush, the audience might not laugh or get the point. Knowing when and for how long to pause takes practice! (By the way, that’s why there are so many open mike nights for comedians, so they get lots of chances try out new bits or hone classic ones.)

A pause is also sometimes used to switch from one topic to another. Speakers should always pause between stories or ideas; this helps to prepare the listeners for a change in subjects. Don’t rush through the transitions. 

Pauses can also help you reduce your disfluencies. Certainly a pause is preferable to “filler” words such as “anyway” or “umm.” Overuse of these words conveys nervousness, while strategically placed pauses project confidence. 

Knowing when to pause and how long to pause takes practice, so experiment with pauses—particularly if you are attempting to add humor to your talks. Use your pauses wisely and you will keep your audience’s interest.

Tip #2: Practice, Practice, Then Practice Even More

Being consistent with your delivery and receiving a consistent, predictable response takes practice--a lot of practice. Comedians understand that getting up on stage and not getting a response is just as helpful as getting on stage and getting a response. 

I still remember the first time I got a strong laugh from an audience. It was purely accidental. I always recorded my talks, so I listened back and repeated the same words to the very next audience--but I didn’t get a laugh. I was confused, so I kept trying.


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.