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Improv Rules for the Conference Call – #INBOUND13

I studied improv under Amy Poehler at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for two  years before she joined SNL.  While she’s the most brilliant improviser I’ve ever witnessed, she’s also one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, following only Ms. Reed, my sophomore Latin teacher in the stack rankings.   She has the gift of encouragement, and when you’re learning to perform The Harold — a long form improv format where a troupe perform a 30 minute show based on a single audience suggestion — encouragement is needed.

Some of the most terrifying moments in my life occurred in my early days of improv.  After learning a few simple principles, I began to feel comfortable stepping out on stage in front of a full audience with nothing but trust for my team and an empty mind, ready to discover the show.  I reluctantly began to understand what Del Close meant when he preached, “Follow the Fear.”

In the world of corporate communication and content marketing, it’s fear that keeps us from our best.  Fear to be different, fear of not getting promoted, fear of failure.  When I’ve applied the rules I learned in my corporate life, it’s lead to my biggest successes.   I’ll talk about three of these rules at #INBOUND13, Wednesday 12 noon, at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston.  Swing by if you’re in town.  I’ll post the video when it’s live.

 

 

The Daily Show’s John Oliver on Big Risk Taking

John Oliver  talked to NPR about his summer experience of trying to fill adult clown shoes on ‘The Daily Show.’  He’s been a huge success, but I’m guessing when he received the invite, at least at one point, he had cold feet.

DailyShow_JohnOliver

For me, when big opportunity has knocked, I have refused to answer plenty of times,  feeling that I was unqualified.  But over the last 10 years, I’ve come to realize that feeling unqualified is a rare and precious certain sign that I should run through the door with reckless abandon.  It started with my first TV commercial, “Filibuster.”  More on that story on a future blog post.  As Del Close used to preach to improvisers, “Follow the fear.”

Oliver outlined his process for preparing to take on the big role.  These steps in FastCompany Co.Create should be used for anyone taking on a big endeavor in business, sports, life or baking, especially “Be ready to fail.” and also “watch unedited tapes of Stephen Colbert interviews.’

Congrats, Mr. Oliver.

From LaughSpin:  “John Oliver’s 10 best moments on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Sharknado: Social Media Gold

The only wisdom I have to offer at social media conferences is this:

BtoBsharks

But it works in B2B content marketing.  And this week, Hollywood confirmed this maxim, proving images of selachian fishes captivate an audience even without a good script or a decent story idea.  Nielsen pegs Sharknado’s TV audience at 1.4 million viewers, on par for other SyFy Channel original movies, which cost an average $1.5 million.  Syfy Digital SVP Craig Engler reported that  the hashtag #Sharknado appeared 387,000 times on Twitter on Thursday night, hitting 5,000 tweets per minute at its peak.  The social media success, including celebrity tweets, created press coverage for the film, and I would image helped to build a large audience that will make the film one of the most success reruns on the network.

Although the Dollar Shave Club’s CEO revealed to the WSJ All Things Digital that the critical success factor for a viral video is to use a bear,  Tina Fey clarifies which beast is best.

If we’ve learned anything from Shark Week on Discovery Channel and literary classic characters like JabberJaw, if you want content to connect with an audience, just add sharks.

Special thanks to  Oakley Boren for creating this image at the Social Media Explorer OC conference.

social media shark quote

Image by Oakley Boren

sharknado

 

UPDATE:

7/30/13 The Poke: Blog of the Day:  Sharks Make Movies Better.   Hat tip Oakley Boren

 

 

 

 

 

Bill Hader Retires from SNL, Joins T-Mobile

WSJ All Things Digital reports that comedy actor Bill Hader, who recently announced he’s retiring from Saturday Night Live after his ninth season, will be the new spokesman for the mobile telecom brand.  Hader got his big break when Megan Mullally saw him perform at an improv show and introduced him to Lorne Michaels.  For his SNL audition, Hader relied on the ol’ standby scene — James Mason ordering donuts with an expired gift certificate.

The funniest commercial in the series is “Rice,” which co-stars Brian Huskey, who was in my first improv class at Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater.

I say bring back Catherine Zeta-Jones.

T-Mobile Mobile Makeover Commercial w/ Catherine Zeta-Jones.

 

Humanizing the Brand… It’s Not Rocket Science

We can send a person to the moon, but still struggle to humanize corporate brands.  NASA has successfully done both.   As BuzzFeed reports, a seven-and-a-half year-old aspiring astronaut named Dexter, submitted his cover letter and curriculum vitae visualized in a crayon infographic.  NASA responded by granting the youngster his first flush letter, and a bunch of other cool space stickers and photos.  Sometimes, it’s just that simple.

Dexter’s mom posted an image of the letter to Reddit yesterday, and it has over 200,000 views, plus coverage in The Huffington Post, Fast Company, and Abilene Public Radio.

I know this takes a little time and effort for a corporate communications or social media team to respond, but sometimes doing the right thing, albiet simple, can have a huge impact on a brand’s public image. For B2B brands, a good part of the social media budget and objective should be geared toward these type of engagements. It’s a much more efficient use of resources than over-analyzing ROI.

Not all brands can offer a potential future trip to outer space, but a simple reply creates a connection, which could lead to a deeper relationship. I remember being impressed when Nordstrom noticed my tweet.

I wasn’t quite as moved as when I received an auto-pen handwritten reply after writing my U.S. President when I was Dexter’s age, but a department store is no match for the charisma of William Taft.

9 Steps for Writing an Audience-Flattering TED Talk

The TED-O-Matic, by Bruce Feirstein, in Vanity Fair.

ted-o-matic

Last year The Onion debuted its TED satire.

If the TED-O-Matic doesn’t give you the help you need, try Nick Morgan’s article, How to Prepare a 20 -Minute TED-like Talk, and Nancy Duarte’s TEDx speech: The Secret Structure of Great Talks.  Her analysis of speeches from Dr. Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs  are compelling.

Happy Father’s Day

When I was 7 years old, I borrowed my dad’s wristwatch to monitor the neighborhood football time trials.  I returned home that afternoon and realized I must have forgotten his watch on the field in the excitement of competition.  When I confessed  to him that I lost it, he shrugged and said, “It will turn up.”  A few days later it did.

The lessons my father has shared have mostly been about grace, peace and helping others, and he never needs to rely on words.
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How to Convince an Audience Through Storytelling

Steve Shepard teaches an executive education class at USC’s Marshall School of Business Institute for Communication Technology Management.  Beyond the course material, the best takeaway for the corporate communications executives is learning how to be a better storyteller.  This skill is not taught, but it is learned, largely by watching Steve and some of the other examples he shares.

A brilliant example is this TED Talk from Sir Ken Robinson, who says schools kill creativity.

If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original …. We are now running national educational systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.

Creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value; more often than not it comes about through the interaction of different disciplinary ways of seeing things.

Sir Robinson warms us up with humor along the way, then convinces us with one of the most inspirational, encouraging stories I’ve heard: the epiphany of Gillian Lynne, Broadway choreographer of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, told in the segment from 15:00 – 17:35 in the video below.

As Steve writes in his book The Deliberate Storyteller, the best way to learn to be a great storyteller is by watching great storytellers.  He shares a few more points with us in our video interview.

OSN: Yankees’ A-Rod Past Prime, Unable to Match Asinine Public Embarrassment of Years Past

OSN: Yankees’ A-Rod Past Prime, Unable to Match Asinine Public Embarrassment of Years Past

ESPN /ABC News reported today that NY Yankees “star” A-Rod might be suspended for drug use or poor performance, but The Onion Sports Network broke the story years ago:

OSN_GOOMF

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zveFhcqj_SA

A-Rod Past Prime, Unable To Match Asinine Public Embarrassments Of Years Past

UPDATE:  from The Onion:  A-Rod Shows Minor Leaguers Proper Way To Put Down Teammates

 

The Work Talk Show:  Humor at Work and Being Unqualified

The Work Talk Show: Humor at Work and Being Unqualified

As with most worthwhile projects I stumble into, when DJ Waldow and Nick Westergaard invited me to be on The Work Talk Show, I felt unqualified.  But I said yes anyway.   To avoid sounding unqualified, I scrambled to come up with anything that sounded like a step or a process or an iPad app that I use to get work done, but we never really got around to those bullet points.  Like a good improv show, we started out with a little structure, and found ourselves on a much more fascinating path.

The Work Talk Show

I confessed to the hosts that I have no idea how I get work done, and it seems like most of the time I am not getting work done.  My projects usually start with a request like, “Hey, can you produce a funny YouTube video to amplify our marketing message for the upcoming product launch?”  I’ll say yes, then block off the next 4 -5 hours to feel unqualified.  Day 2 in the project schedule is usually dedicated to self-loathing, and by EOD, I’ve concluded I shouldn’t even be in corporate comedy and should apply for a lateral move into Accounts Payable or Procurement. The following morning I’ll stop at a coffee shop and write the script in seven minutes on a napkin and ATM receipts.  And the video comes out okay.

But instead of discussing work process on this show, we discussed how more comedy and humor in the workplace can improve creativity, productivity, and make us all taller.  And, as with all business podcasts, we covered Del Close and  The Harold.

I’m only just not coming to peace with this way of working.  And I was comforted after listening to the first Work Talk Show episode of this year.   Seth Godin proclaimed that the industrial economy has been replaced by the Connection Economy, which rewards surprise, grit, delight and ridiculousness.   What we get paid for now is by standing for something, and by overcoming the fear of being remarkable and ridiculous.

Being ridiculous?  Now that is something I’m qualified for.