How many content writers does it take to change a lightbulb? No, I haven’t started telling jokes (yet), but I do have some tips from stand-up comedians that will help you write better content.
Stand-up comedy is a performance art that relies heavily on quality writing. Good comedians are able to write jokes that make the audience burst out laughing. They master the art of storytelling and know how to transition from one idea to another with grace.
What does all this have to do with you?
You can benefit from learning a few tricks from comedians even if there’s nothing laughable about your subject. Good writing is lively, engaging and flows logically. This is true regardless of the genre or your writing style.
With that in mind, here are 9 lessons content writers can learn from stand-up comedians.
Hold Your Readers’ Attention
You’ve grabbed the readers’ attention with a killer headline and you’ve used the right balance between emotions and logic to keep them reading. But, after they clicked through your content, they lost interest.
What can you do about it?
Good comedians know that if they can’t keep their audience’s attention, nothing else matters. Sure, the way they deliver the joke helps, but if the script / piece is poorly-written it doesn’t matter how good of a performer they are.
Content writers, too, need to make sure that their articles are entertaining enough to hold the readers’ interest. You may have the best idea in the world, great arguments and an epic conclusion. If your readers won’t stick around, none of these will matter.
Stand-up comedians use different tricks to hold their audience’s attention. For example:
- They Use Incongruity
Incongruity is what makes us laugh. When something doesn’t fit in its location or situation, humor arises naturally, as our minds recognize that things are out of place. A cat playing a keyboard would be an incongruity, as would a dog typing on the computer.
But, incongruity can be effective even if your purpose isn’t to make your readers laugh. You can use incongruity to make your writing lively and to keep your readers engaged.
- They Give Specific Details
Ever read Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams”? The theoretical discussions and clinical descriptions are pretty boring. But, the case studies, and the meaning behind the oddest dreams was what kept your interest alive.
Content with tons of specific details will hold your readers’ attention much better than abstract information. Stand-up comedians use a lot of examples to help people connect to their stories. They use specific details to illustrate a funny situation, a bizarre encounter or to make an argument.
- They Ask Questions
We humans have a deeply curious nature, and questions are irresistible to us. When we hear a question, we want to answer it, or to know the answer to it.
Stand-up comedians use questions to get the audience’s train of thoughts moving in the right direction. They use questions to paint vivid mental pictures or to get people thinking about a particular situation.
When it comes to content writing, opening your posts with a question that creates curiosity is a great way to get the reader engaged.
Keep Them On Their Toes
Steve Jobs is considered the world’s greatest corporate storyteller. One of his most memorable speeches was the launch of the first iPhone in 2007.
At the beginning of his presentations, Jobs talks about how Apple changed the world. “In 1984, we introduced the Macintosh. It didn’t just change Apple, it changed the whole computer industry,” he said. “In 2001, we introduced the first iPod and (…) it changed the entire music industry,” he continued.
But, instead of saying that Apple was now going to introduce a new revolutionary phone, he builds suspense by announcing that Apple will launch not one, but three breakthrough products: an iPod, a mobile phone and an Internet communication device.
The audience is now confused. What they thought to be the inauguration of the new Apple phone, turned out to be the launch of three revolutionary products.
After setting up the directions, Jobs delivers the punchline – an unexpected twist that makes the audience burst into applause.
“These are not three separate devices. This is one device. And we’re calling it iPhone. Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone”.
So, what was it about Steve Job’s presentation that made it so memorable?
Just like a good joke, his speech had the element of surprise.
Stand-up comedians, and good public speakers, as well, make the audience believe that they are going down one path and then lead them away. They build anticipation and finish off the story with an unexpected twist, making everybody laugh.
Building apprehension in the minds of your readers is one of the most effective ways to keep them glued to your content. Whether you are striving for humor or not, consider how you can keep your readers on their toes from the beginning until the end.
Tell a Good Story
Stand-up comedians engage their audience by telling stories. And, it makes a lot of sense! It would be incredibly hard to fill 60 minutes with just punchlines. So, they use stories to provide a setup for the climax of their jokes.
Similarly, content creators and article writers should use storytelling to share knowledge, and to connect and engage with their readers.
In a TED talk, Andrew Stanton, the director of ”Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E”, argues that storytelling is joke telling. When you tell a story, he says, you know your punchline and your ending. You know that everything you are saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal.
Studying the way comedians tell stories can help you write better content. Analyze their narrative techniques and pay attention to how they prepare the audience for a joke. For example, have you noticed that stand-up comedians almost never begin their shows with a joke? Instead they ask a question to create curiosity or they engage the audience by evoking a mental image.
- Learn How to Write Good Transition Sentences
Stand-up comedians master the art of transitioning. They move effortlessly from one joke to another, finding ways to bridge topics while keeping the audience engaged.
Content writers also need to transition from one idea to another while focusing on their readers’ needs and interests.
But, what exactly are transition sentences?
Transition sentences carry the reader from one scene to another or from one idea to another without causing confusion or losing fluidity. Good transition sentences can connect topics and turn disconnected ideas into a unified whole. Instead of treating different paragraphs as separate ideas, transitions can help the reader understand how the paragraphs work together.
Words and phrases like however, therefore, furthermore, besides, in addition to, although, for instance, as a result and so on are commonly used by writers to move from one idea to another.
- Make Your Core Message Clear
When you write a new article, what are the ideas and messages you want to communicate? What does your reader gets from reading your article?
Stand-up comedians often repeat their message multiple times so that the audience will remember them. For instance, in 1992, George Carlin did a routine about the environment. In it, he argues that “the planet is fine; it’s us we should worry about.” Carlin repeats this statement a number of times during his routine, so that by the end you know that this is the message you are supposed to walk away with.
For some content writers, repetition may seem tiring and irritating. But, if you want your readers to remember your message, you have to say it over and over again.
- Monitor the Audience
Stand-up comedians pay attention to the reaction of the audience and adapt their jokes accordingly. Likewise, content creators and article writers need to monitor the feedback of their readers to determine if their strategy is effective.
Pay attention to metrics like pageviews, time spent on page, bounce rate, social shares and email subscriptions. Look at your comment section to find out what your readers have to say about your content. Remember, one negative feedback isn’t a sure sign that its time to pivot your strategy.
- Test Your Articles
A common saying in comedy writing is that it takes most writers approximately 10 attempts at a joke to create the best punchline.
The rule of 10 also works for content writers. No matter for how long you’ve been writing web content, never assume you’ve created the perfect post. Test your headlines, your email subject lines, and your call-to-action copy. Use top 10 lists to write multiple versions of the same headline. Instead of “TOP 10 Lessons You Can Learn from Stand-up Comedians” try “TOP 10 Unexpected Reasons Content Writers Should Watch Comedy Shows”.
Never settle for the first thing that comes to your mind. Push yourself further and you will be surprised by the result.
- Timing Matters
Imagine a stand-up comedian doing a routine about terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11. People would find the jokes inappropriate and would boo the comedian off the stage.
Similar to comedy, content writing relies on timing. It is important to know when the highest percentage of your audience is active, so that when you share your content you will get maximum exposure.
There are tens if not hundreds of articles that tell marketers when is the best time to tweet, to post on Facebook, to send emails or to schedule blog posts.
- Callbacks: Tie It All Together at the End
Have you noticed how stand-up comedians start off a show with a joke and particular punchline and then end the spectacle with a different joke but with the same climax? This technique is called “callback”, and according to blog.crew.co, it is used to tie a routine together and build intimacy with the audience.
How can you use a callback in your content writing? When crafting your conclusion, refer back to the opening statement to check if you gave a solution to every problem you introduced in your story.
I thought I would close with a joke.
Q: How many content writers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: “NOBODY changes ANYTHING!”
OK, maybe I won’t make a career telling jokes, but I hope you found these tips useful.