Published in The New York Times on Monday 5 March, "A Stand Up Joke Is Born" provides a fascinating back story about how material is developed by comedian Myq Kaplan through his nightly performances at comedy clubs around New York City. As an added layer of interest, there's several lessons here for people working in commnications and creativity.
"Despite earning a decent laugh, this was a work in progress: wordy and a bit imprecise."
If I've learnt one thing from teaching Business Writing, it's that the vast majority of people assumes their first draft is also their last draft. Whether it's an e-mail, a board report or a PowerPoint document, writers need to remember three things about editing:
- You can't truly edit until you've given yourself time to write out all of your thoughts, from start to finish. In other words, don't mix writing and editing. As JK Rowling said in a recent article, she couldn't edit her Harry Potter novels until she finished writing them. Otherwise, how could she edit when she didn't know where the story was going?
- Editing should be harsh. Don't fall in love with your words. You're making your word choice more important than the audience's understanding of the overall message.
- Editing is a two-step process. Step one: read for clarity, explicitness and conciseness. Once you're certain your messages are crystal clear, step two: edit for spelling, grammar and syntax. Don't reverse the order.
"(He) tweaks words, focus and delivery when he tries out a joke for different audiences."
You are rarely the audience for your own ideas. Your ideas should be shared with your audiences so they bring your wizardry down to Earth. My most embarrassing failure as a creative director was the time our team created a slew of campaign ideas to launch a new drug to treat asthma. Our best idea was a partnership with the Swiss watchmaker Swatch to create a specialised wristwatch which humorously pointed out the times to take the drug, which we felt also addressed the issue of non-compliance. Dazzled by our own brainstorming, we were rightfully tripped up when the client - an asthmatic - noted that she didn't need a watch to tell her she couldn't breathe properly. In short: an idea that doesn't engage isn't a good idea.
"His typical stage pose became looser, adding touches of showmanship."
I'm always amused how some PowerPoint documents are nothing more than a bunch of words thrown onto a slide. Just last week, I saw a new business presentation that had 0% magic. If there is one aspect that the social media revolution has brought to people's ability to digest new information, it's that words - like it or not - need to be presented visually. That's not a new concept. The whole point of PowerPoint is to marry words with visual images to inform, educate or change the minds of the audience. It's no longer enough to just write a nice document. You have to sell your ideas with a bit of showmanship. Chris Savage, writing in his terrific blog Wrestling Possums, recounts the perfect analogy to my point using advice from Coco Chanel.
“If a woman walks into a room and you go up to her and say: ‘That dress is amazing!’, then the dress failed. But if a woman walks into a room and you go up to her and say: ‘YOU look amazing!’, then the dress succeeded.”
"The response (from a booker working for the TV show Conan) was encouraging but not conclusive."
The point's not specific in the article, so I'll make it clear: engage other people in creating your ideas, preferably those who have no intricate knowledge of your client and/or problem. That's the entire objective of my previous blog post, here.
"Yet nothing was more fun than the first time. 'When you introduce a joke into the world, and the audience laughs,' he said, 'it’s the most invigorating, thrilling thing.'”
I'm including this solely because it's wonderful to hear someone else feel the same thing about the creative process. At a time when people rush to put together proposals for clients, it's odd to me how we spend the majority of the time on the strategic part, and much less time on actually creating the ideas. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Or at least equal time spent on both?
As I've said hundreds of time, creativity at work is the only time you'll get paid to be silly, stretch your imagination, and be different.