#029: David Nihill on Using Humor to Become a Better Public Speaker

Summary: In this episode, David Nihill explains what you need to do to become a more effective and engaging speaker. And he shares some interesting ideas on product creation and developing a platform.

Delivering talks to very targeted groups can be a great way to generate new freelance business. Especially if used in conjunction with other smart marketing strategies.

But to captivate your audience and keep them engaged, you have to be an effective speaker.

Fortunately, this is a learnable skill. Just ask David Nihill, who until recently was petrified of speaking in public. Then he took a deep dive into the subject and studied some of the most skilled communicators in any field — stand-up comics.

In this episode, David explains what you need to do to become a more effective and engaging speaker. And he shares some interesting ideas on product creation and developing a platform, for those of you who are thinking about creating an online course or writing a book some day.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself and the work you do

After finishing business school in Ireland, David Nihill came to the U.S. and worked for the Irish government helping startup companies. His work involved a lot of travel. Over the course of the last 10 years he was based in 12 different countries.

About a year and half ago, David left his job to work for himself in San Francisco. His new business helps businesses create better content through humor and creativity.

What is your business today?

David created a platform called FunnyBizz that connects businesses with comedy writers, copywriters and performers who make written content, such as press releases, emails and blog posts, more engaging, punchier and funnier.

David and his business partner also created a conference series around the concept.

How did you get into this business?

David was always petrified of public speaking. When he was pulled into hosting a fundraiser for a friend, he did some research and learned comedians are the masters of public speaking. He ended up conducting intensive comedy experiments for a year.

He realized no one was championing the use of comedy techniques in business presentations. He turned what he learned into an online course with the goal of eventually developing the content into a book.

Instead of writing a book and then turning it into a course, David did the opposite. Reversing the process allowed him to test the content and grow an audience before writing the book.

Tell us about writing the book

David has dyslexia, so writing a book was intimidating. Instead, he verbally dictated the book and worked with an editor to refine it. Editing was the most time consuming part of the process.

Since publishing the book, David gets requests from CEOs who need help with public speaking. People expect CEOs to be entertaining, but they have no comedic or storytelling training.

Give us your top three tips for creating more engaging, comedic content

  1. Start with a Story. When public speaking, people tend to want to deliver a series of facts, but a list of facts is hard to remember. Instead, start with a story. List the stories you like to tell to colleagues and friends. Identify the funny parts then structure your story as you would a joke, with a setup, punch line and tagline. Then test it.
  2. Use the Memory Palace. This technique reduces the risk of going blank on stage. Pick a floor plan you’re familiar with (e.g. your office or home). Create a detailed visual image. Associate each room, and items in that room, with different parts of your speech. When you’re speaking, you mentally go from room to room, with each room prompting you for the next part of your speech. This technique is based on Joshua Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein.
  3. Aim for Rehearsed Spontaneity. Practice your speech at home. Record every performance to see what works and what doesn’t. Few business presenters record and review their talks. Comedians do it all the time.

Related links:

David’s book: Do you talk funny? 7 Comedy Habits to Become a Better (and Funnier) Public Speaker

David’s blog: 7comedyhabits.com

Writer platform: Funnybizz.co

FunnyBizz blog

David’s course: Become a Better and Funnier Speaker

Register now and use code “addhumornow” to get 70 percent off!


  • Hi Ed, I listened to this episode while undergoing the brutal impact of pulleys, machines and racking agonies associated with my meager body's ability to lift as much as 5 and even 10 pound dumbbells... This, for me, was much more than "just about public speaking." I follow you for your talent in product creation (among many other reasons), and David seems to be on the same train, so thanks for all that insight beyond the valuable takeaways on adding much-needed humor to the stage element. Keep up the brilliant work!

    • edgandia

      Thanks for turning in, Jesse! And many thanks for the kudos and kind words. Great to hear you're enjoying the show and getting value from it. 🙂

  • Cathy Laskiewicz

    Thank you for another very rewarding and interesting podcast, Ed! David's tips are very valuable, as so many of us are petrified of speaking to large audiences. I actually have some friends in New York City that get together once in a while to perform at amateur comedy nights at a club. These events are geared toward everyday folks who just want to do it for fun. People prepare their material, and get up on stage to present it. I think it is probably one of the best ways to test one's ability to present well and with humor, and then learn how to perfect it. I can definitely see how David's tips could ultimately lead a person to comfortably present excellent and engaging material for any kind of public speaking scenario.

    • edgandia

      Thanks, Cathy! Wow, what a great idea -- to try your hand at stand-up comedy at a club. That must be both terrifying ... AND rewarding at the same time!

      • Cathy Laskiewicz

        I agree, Ed! I would like to push myself to try it sometime. I'm sure I would have absolute anxiety the moments before getting on stage, but I think it would be a great learning experience. I would definitely do a lot of prep work beforehand.