Welcome! My guest today is David Nihill, the author of Do You Talk Funny? When I read his book, I absolutely could not put it down! David used to be terrified of public speaking, but he conquered his own fears and launched into the field of stand-up comedy. He now teaches others to do the same. The premise of his book is that comedians are the ultimate public speaking masters and we can learn from them.
- What prompted you to take up the challenge of improvisation?
It started with a friend’s spinal cord injury, and I ended up hosting a comedy show fundraiser. I feel that I was dragged kicking and screaming into the world of public speaking as a stand-up comic. I committed to a full year but then decided to keep going.
- What was it that stood out to you in applying comedy to public speaking or everyday conversations?
Storytelling is the key, and it’s what stand-up comics do best. They learn to tell stories about themselves that are short, effective, with key pieces of information. Most comics keep a “fun story file” with key bullet points on their phones. Don’t lead any conversation with the “linked-in bio” because that’s just not engaging conversation in any way.
- Does having world experiences lend to your content in writing jokes?
Yes! You can connect with people immediately and open up conversations based on shared experiences of living or visiting the same places in the world. People immediately identify with you if they have a shared experience. It’s very hard to get people to laugh unless they connect with you.
- How do you memorize the needed information in your speeches?
I don’t recommend trying to memorize them word for word. That brings too much stress and sounds robotic and rehearsed. It’s hard to be engaging when you are reciting. Remember that good content trumps everything else. I memorize the first 30 seconds with key bullet points and the conclusion; you should always leave room to play around in the middle! I recommend the “Memory Palace” technique which is outlined nicely in the book Moonwalking with Einstein, by Joshua Foer.
- What is it about being funny that makes it so memorable for your audience?
The most powerful thing you say will be right after something funny because THAT is what your audience will remember. Humor grabs attention, breaks down barriers, creates human connection, and invites favorable reactions.
- Do you think someone will come across better if they are innately funny, or does that matter?
It DOES matter. If you are funny already, just within your personality, then it will be easier to learn to be really funny on stage. Relatable material makes you more engaging. A good comedian will use the same trigger words to tell stories and to make conversational connections with people. Don’t try visibly to be funny, but restructure your sentence to give the funny “key word” at the end—like a punch line.
- In business writing or in emails, people don’t usually write in a funny way; how can people get better at this?
You need for your personality to come through without being overly opinionated. Learn to be fun and playful. Expose yourself for people to react to some form of your story. I usually try to include three things, but make the third one funny.
- Lightning Round Questions:
- What trophy do you want on your mantel? The World Cup of Rugby for Ireland, and I want to be a player!
- What is your guilty pleasure? Chocolate!
- What are you currently reading? Originals by Adam Grant
- What is your favorite productivity hack? Funny gift videos and emails
- What is your personal motto? “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” –Helen Keller
- What would you do differently, if given the chance to start over? “I would maybe become an entrepreneur earlier rather than traveling so much in my younger years.”
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