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Continuing my series on public speaking for scientists, we look at what we can learn from comedians. There is no more attentive audience then that watching a world-class comedian. They are completely within his or her power, hanging off every word. The easy answer to the question “how do they do it?” is “by being funny”. While we could throw one or two jokes in, a scientist can’t turn a conference presentation into a comedy routine. However, there are a few lessons to be learned.

1. Learn From Others

The book “Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-up Comedy” by Franklyn Ajaye begins with these words:

“The first and most important step for anybody who wants to be a good and stand-up comedian is to make sure that you watch the good ones and study them intently”.

I found the same advice in almost every “how to be a stand-up comedian” guide. It’s what I’m attempting to do in these posts. Everyone knows what good public speaking is because we know when we have enjoyed a talk or lecture. So if you find yourself enjoying a talk or lecture, try to work out why you are enjoying it. Reflect on your undergraduate lectures: what made the good lecturers good and the bad lecturers bad? Remember: you are the audience. You are the ultimate judge of what constitutes good public speaking.

Here are some resources for great speakers: Great Speeches, American Rhetoric, some links, podcast.

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