Tim Washer. Keynote Speaker + Event Emcee

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Improv Rule #37: There’s Order in Chaos


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I first met Seth Godin when Ann Handley and I presented him with the prestigious “Marketing Lifetime Achievement Award,” which was widely considered the most important moment in marketing history following the invention of the Four Ps. I can’t find a photo of it, but here’s the previous year’s winner, David Meerman Scott, immediately before he received the coveted trophy, a 1987 Hoover vacuum cleaner.

For the last two months, I’ve been simply giddy about speaking at Digital Summit Denver right before Seth takes the stage. I’ve been in awe of him ever since I read his stance on nonsense:

we embrace ridiculous as the sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re being generous, daring, creative and silly. You know, remarkable.


Ridiculous isn’t safe. If you do something ridiculous and you fail, people get to say, “you idiot, of course you failed, what you were doing was ridiculous.” Which is precisely why it’s so rare. Not because we are unable to imagine being ridiculous, but because we’re afraid to be.

Seth Godin

I reached out to my dear friend Carlos Hidalgo in Colorado Springs to see if by chance he would be in Denver today for client meetings or maybe to pick up his wife at the airport returning from Uganda. “Yes” to both, so we scheduled dinner tonight.

I also scheduled a South Platte River video shoot during lunch today with my ASP buddy Kara Carpenter, who builds Cottonwood Creek footbridges in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. And yes, she planned to wear this outfit once we confirmed the Cheesecake Factory’s policy on wielding hatchets.

Around 9 PM last night, what was on track to be the best Tuesday of the fiscal quarter went off the rails. Childcare arrangements fell through — the joys of divorced life — and I was tempted to fall back into that “could really one more trainwreck occur in my life?” hole of depression.

I sent out a flurry of texts to see if I could line up a sitter for my kids while trying to maintain the illusion that I was calm about it.

Last year my 11-year-old asked me what would happen if I was going to travel and the sitter canceled. I felt the anxiety underneath his question. I assured him I would just cancel my trip, stay home with him, and we’d shoot a funny video with a stuffed sloth, go out to eat, and play some Xbox. And suddenly I was facing the possibility that I might actually have to cancel a speaking gig.

I’ve been an emotional mess the last week, so it was a horrible time to be facing this immense discouragement of losing the opportunity to share the stage with Seth Godin. But somehow, through no strength of my own, I made a simple decision. I’d go out for a walk, pray about all of this, and if I didn’t have a sitter confirmed with absolute certainty by 9:45 PM, I’d cancel the trip to the Rockies.

There’s Order in Chaos

The principle in long-form improv, “There’s order in chaos,” allows for the ensemble to have a sense of peace that surpasses understanding. Even when the troupe is in the ninth scene of The Harold and can’t possibly see how this mess of characters and storylines will connect to create something beautiful, they know to simply get out of their head, relax, and trust that it will. Because it always does.

The principle likely dates back to circa 55 A.D. While the Apostle Paul performed at a few open-mics in Antioch, the bible doesn’t say anything about him studying improv. But “Order in Chaos” feels awfully similar to Romans 8:28.

The Apostle Paul stifles hecklers

On my walk, I was comforted with this wonderful sense of peace about staying home with my kids. So, when I returned, checked my replies and learned I didn’t have the childcare coverage that I needed, it was easy to take the next steps.

But peace can be quickly disrupted, and it typically happens when talking to an airline representative. When the Delta Airlines rep asked the reason for the flight cancellation, my voice cracked under the weight of my powerlessness in the situation, and I had to stop talking. Vanessa waited through the silence, then gently stepped in. “I know it’s hard to talk about something so personal to a complete stranger.” Her grace and empathy was the rope I needed to start climbing out again. She helped me cancel my reservation without any scars.

I texted Carlos and asked if we could make a minor tweak to dinner plans. Instead of breaking bread together, would he step in to cover my speaking spot? No problem.

I’ll reschedule lunch and a hike with Molly Hatchet, and hopefully, get to visit with my marketing hero Seth another time. Indeed, all things have worked together for good, except I got crushed playing Madden.

Shakespeare’s First Job in Corporate Communications


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Like all famous playwrights, except for the Book of Mormon guys, William Shakespeare got his start working in corporate communications penning the employee newsletter. The corporate world offered an unique lack of substance, which inspired him to invent 1,700 new words since there was nothing notable to say. He coined gems such as “vulnerable,” “zany,” and “subject matter expert.” And two hours before his annual performance review, he coined the term “writer’s block.”

When I get stuck trying to come up with a concept for a video, I lean on one of the Bard’s favorite tools — anachronism. One of his more famous examples is found in Act 2, Scene 1 of his play Julius Caesar:

Brutus: “Peace! Count the clock.”
Cassius: “The clock has stricken three”

The story is set in 44 B.C., yet the mechanical clock wasn’t invented until 723 A.D. making the clock joke well ahead of its time. And ahead of impeachment.

Assassination of Julius Caesar, Vincenzo Camuccini, 1805

I love employing anachronism for humorous business concepts, especially when explaining the benefit of a new technology. For a product launch event, we created a video illustrating how the new tool could have changed the course of history.

The main challenge facing new product announcements is skepticism. The audience is wondering if it will perform as promised, or if this is just more vaporware. When a brand kicks off an event with humor, it demonstrates that it doesn’t have to take itself seriously all the time, and that builds trust with the audience. Laughter helps us put down our defenses so we can be present and listen to the story. Anachronism creates an absurd and clever connection to a story that we already know. All of these benefits of humor combine to dramatically improve retention and create a positive feeling that we connect with the event experience.

Homework:

Think about the customer problem that your company’s product/service solves. Then drop your product way back in time into a myth, fable, children’s story, and imagine how it can save the protagonists from their plight. I’d love to hear what you come up with, and I’ll share a few of the best ideas in an upcoming keynote speech and video.

To build your expertise in borrowing comedy writing techniques to capture your audience’s attention and build trust, join us at the Content Marketing Conference in Boston, April 16th – 19th. I’ll be emceeing and keynoting, and would love to see you there. For a 20% discount, use this code TIMW20 when you register: https://bit.ly/2SyhF57 

Beware the Ides!

Podcast: Using Humor to Connect with Customers


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Carlos Hidalgo and I had a fun chat about connecting with B2B customers through empathy and humor. Or at least that’s what we were supposed to be talking about.

We veered off-course a bit in discussing a war story from my IBM days, when I first used a comedy video as a sales enablement tool for the mainframe salesforce, cira 2004. I called the project, “the funniest mainframe video ever produced.” My manager called it “a fireable offense.”

It was one of those moments that I was absolutely certain would get me fired. I had a lot of those at IBM. Thankfully, my bff and director/editor of the video, Scott Teems, talked me off of the ledge. He’s done that so many times. And thanks to Scott’s encouragement and genius talent, the video launched a new career for me.

Career tip: Find a friend who will push you to explore fields outside of your comfort zone, especially the ones that scare the heck out of you.

Del Close, the father of long form improv, preached, “Follow the fear.” He taught improvisers that when ideas for possible responses to their partner would pop into their head during a scene, they had an obligation to choose the one that scared them the most. Close posited that the reason for the fear was because that specific idea was a new frontier to them that they had yet to explore, and therefore, it would bring the richest creativity. It took me several years of performing improv at Upright Citizens Brigade theater before I became mildly comfortable with this principle, but now it’s how I make all major life decisions.

I hope you’ll tune in to this podcast. Carlos and I chat about how to apply some of these improv rules to the wonderful world of B2B marketing, including an example we produced together for a data governance company.

All-Hands-squirrel

The Hole in Whole Foods Market’s “Whatever Makes You Whole” Campaign


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I like overpaying for groceries just as much as the next guy.  I’m a big fan of Whole Foods, especially the Austin location’s taqueria, but a few of the new campaign ads are missing something.  I’m always grateful when any brand invests to bring laughter to its audience, but it feels like the brand didn’t fully commit.

Preexisting Conditions 

In one of my early classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater,  I opened a scene as a pool guy who was meeting the homeowner for the first time.   It fell flat.  My instructor Armando Diaz told me that the scene would have been much more interesting if I had made the choice to reveal a history between the two characters.   We could have explored a universal truth of how two different points-of-view need to work together through conflict, or how they avoid conflict.   Otherwise, we’re stuck in a transactional scene, which is boring.

In “Meat Santa,”  the first half of the scene is the Whole Foods butcher preparing the customer’s order.   The customer creates the awkward moment, then the butcher calls him “weird.”  I’m no marketing expert, but I would avoid ending a commercial by insulting your customer.   Instead, we could have witnessed a playful conversation with inside jokes that reveal the butcher remembers that this customer used his grandmother’s recipe to brine the turkey for Thanksgiving and anticipates what the customer might need to prepare the Christmas meal.

Here are the winners of the series, and the comedy approach that makes them work so well:

“Just One Item”

“Backup Thanksgiving”

Another very relateable pain point, as we’ve all suffered through a turkey day at the crazy in-laws’ house, where they’ve tried to be overly innovative with the stuffing recipe.  The backup concept is hysterical, and I love the direction and the actors’ performance.

“Pastabilities”

This one hits a little too close to home.  I receive this exact same response from my daughter at least three times a day.  I love, love this young actor’s performance — she cracks me up.  Bravo!

Whole Foods wouldn’t even need to advertise if they would bring back breakfast pizza.

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Pizza for breakfast! Thank you @WholeFoods

A post shared by Tim Washer (@timwasher) on

Top Pumpkin Uses for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Midterm Elections


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I’ve been procrastinating for only half a decade or so on launching a weekly YouTube comedy series.  I’m a total hypocrite for preaching improv principles such as “follow the fear” and “there are no mistakes, only gifts,” while letting doubt hold me back.

To be fair, occasionally I have the opportunity to be a small part of some comedy productions created by folks who geniuses, so when I first experimented on my own, the comparison was embarrassing.  But I know I let that fact drift from reason into an excuse to hide behind.

With the help of my daughter, I completed and published episode #1 yesterday.  And I’ll be celebrating throughout the week.  Actually, probably only until lunchtime today, as I need to start working on the next video.  What the heck I’ve I done?!

Finding Creative Inspiration 

I’ve been building a list of ideas and even scratching out scripts for a while, and I now feel the pressure to fill the pipeline.  Disciplined YouTubers suggest having 4-5 episodes “in the can” before launching a series, but I’m not disciplined.  Most ideas are connected to my current personal struggles, like trying to manage as a single parent, dealing with post-divorce depression, and trying not to be overwhelmed by the fear that comes with the risk of transitioning from a comfortable corporate job to working solo as a comedian.  Usually, those are dependable sources for funny ideas.   It helps me to laugh at the pain, and hopefully, it might defuse distress for others.  One of the greatest gifts we can give is reminding people that they are not alone in feeling shame.

When those sources fail me, I look for visual inspiration.  I figure if there is a scene that I enjoy, others might appreciate the view as well.  Then I explore ideas on how I could build a comedy concept around the shot.

Enter the Pumpkin

Our church has been operating the pumpkin patch as a mission for over 20 years.  There have been times when I’ve been skeptical about the project, usually after spending a September Saturday morning helping to unload 2,700 pumpkins weighing-in at 45,540 pounds.  Sure, it’s a great core workout, but who needs a strong core if you can’t move your legs?

The heavy lifting is always good fun, and I’ve gotten to know many folks from the Ridgefield community who I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

The patch hosts a free movie night each fall which is a family favorite.

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We purchase our inventory from a 1,200-acre farm on a Navajo Reservation 2,200 miles away in New Mexico, so we’re just shy of qualifying for Buy Local certification.  But the revenue supports 700 Native Americans living in an area of the country with 42% unemployment.

Due to pumpkins high price elasticity of demand, during an economic recession, most households cut back drastically on their pumpkin spend.  In a good year like 2011, we sold approximately 60 tons, raising $57,000 — 100% of the proceeds go to fund charities both locally and around the world, including an orphanage in Mozambique.  The rain this year has thinned our customer traffic and reduced sales, so we may need to layoff volunteers.

We’re open for business through Oct 31st.  Keep up with the Jesse Lee Pumpkin Patch on our Facebook page, and be sure to join us next year.

Unrelated:  Does anyone have an idea for next week’s comedy video?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Create a B2B Comedy Video Series


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My buddy Carlos Hidalgo called.  “Let’s create a comedy series on data governance.”

Sure, we’ve all had this same thought at one point.  And most of us realized it was a bad idea.

But I obliged, in the corporate way.  “Absolutely.”

Now What?

Over the years I’ve learned that an insightful comedy can be created for almost any topic.  There are a few simple steps to follow to find inspiration that will lead you to a hilarious concept.

Start with the Customer’s Pain Point 

Comedy comes from pain.  And when we build a story around what the customer is struggling with, we’re able to connect with empathy.  Instead of saying “we’re listening” and “you’re important to us,” we have now demonstrated it.  Proven it.  We’ve earned our customers’ trust, and they feel heard.

Listen for Specifics 

Often as marketers, we focus on the aggregate such as persona or a market segment.  But when writing a comedy script, we need to listen to one-on-one conversations.  We can’t build intimacy with a pie chart.

Carlos and his client, Michelle Genser, conducted a series of interviews with Chief Data Officers to understand the challenges they face in convincing their organizations to prioritize and properly fund the data governance initiative.  One CDO revealed in frustration, “Some days I feel like I just can’t catch a break.”

Boom!  That single quote captured the emotion we wanted to express, and led us to the concept for this series.

When you’re working to create new ideas for marketing and corporate communication, find out exactly what the customer is saying, verbatim.  Spend a day with a salesperson visiting customers, or read the customer service center’s call logs.  Or scroll through Yelp.   Customer complaints lead to understanding, which leads to meaningful marketing and comedy gold.

One of the infogix sales execs Matt told us in an interview that he uses a kitchen metaphor to explain the ROI of data governance to prospective clients.

‘If you add structure and organization to your kitchen, arrange and label utinsels and ingredients so that they are easy to find quickly, you can have more time available to innovate faster and deliver more complex recipes to your customers, improving their experience and increasing their loyalty.’

His metaphor gave us the script for the Coffee Shop video, and more importantly, justification to rent an entire coffee shop.

Heighten the Drama 

Heightening is an improv principle that raises the stakes for the protagonist.  Put your character into a situation where his or her specific problem will face greater consequences.  In this series, we mildly escalated the tension to only the “aggravation” level, although the “Fireplace” video pushes just beyond.  But in a long form improv show such as the Harold, it’s not unusual for consequences to reach an armageddon echelon.   Since you don’t use props or construct sets in improv, a production budget doesn’t get in the way of adding a volcano or swarm of locusts.

Add Absurdity

A close cousin of Heightening is Absurdity, and it can quickly lead a storyline into uproarious laughter.  An easy way to discover how to create an absurd concept is to take your scenario — in our case, how an organization implements a data governance policy — and juxtapose it with an unlikely partner.  Which, in our case, was an enterprise of squirrels.  So, we explored how data governance would help squirrels improve strategic planning.   About 57% of urban-dwelling squirrels have earned an MBA, so it’s a logical conclusion that they would apply the Porter Five Forces model, or at least a SWOT analysis.

Squirrel risk chart

To see other examples of how we inserted absurdity into our Chief Data Officer’s world, watch all seven videos.

Your Turn 

Take five minutes right now and create a comedy concept for your client.

  1. What is the key problem (pain point) that your client solves for their customers?
  2. Imagine what the consequences could be if that problem was not solved.
  3. Heighten the consequences.  Exaggerate them beyond what is reasonable.  If this scenario continues to get worse, how could this lead to Armageddon?  Push it to the hyperbolic for practice, then maybe dial it back.  This makes video production easier if you don’t have a locusts trainer on the Approved Vendor list.
  4. Add more laughs.  Going back to the “comedy comes from pain” principle, think about how you could fit all of this into an annoying situation, like an All Hands meeting.  Write down a list of the things that everyone complains about these meetings, and ask friends for input.  They will love to vent, and laughing about those frustrations provides empathy,  personal connection and even some healing.  It’s can help transform the office culture in a powerful way, making it more fun and creative.
  5. Finally, write a scene that takes place on the beach, so that you get to go to the beach.

Behind the scenes, filming Solitude.

I’ll share a few more shortcuts and simple tricks when I emcee and keynote the B2B Marketing Exchange in Scottsdale, AZ, Feb 25-27, 2019 and at MarketingProfs B2B Forum in San Francisco, Nov 13-15, 2018.   Please join us, and contact me for a discount code.

Best Surprise of the Oscars 2018


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I let my 14 year-old stay up past her bedtime to watch some of the Academy Awards show.  It was a wonderful bonding experience for us.  While winning an Oscar is a near impossible dream, it’s a cakewalk compared to having a meaningful conversation with a teenager.

I was blessed with a funny and profound conversation with my daughter.  Questions at the dinner table are invariably met with a monosyllabic response, usually “good” or “fine.”   But somehow the backdrop of gratitude for getting to break the bedtime rule, a couch setting that supports a lack of eye contact, and a TV show providing a ready escape if the conversation gets uncomfortable, we had one of our most meaningful conversations ever.  An unexpected gift.

It was the perfect opportunity to discuss careers in the movie biz, how comedy works, sexual harassment, different lifestyles, and most importantly, inclusion and acceptance.  I have discovered the secret of good parenting — watch more TV.

I’m a big Jimmy Kimmel fan, and he’s one of the best at surprises.  Remember his “Worst Twerk Fail EVER – Girl Catches Fire” Prank, with 23 million views on YouTube?   Last night’s surprise topped it.

Driving the brilliant bit was genuine gratitude.  It filled both theaters with joy, and I was rolling on the floor laughing, because by this point, I had reverted to being an annoying dad and my daughter had kicked me off the sofa.

I loved seeing Jordan Peele win best original screenplay.  I’m not a fan of thrillers and probably won’t go see “Get Out,” but I respect him so much for his creative genius.

If you haven’t seen Sam in “The Way, Way Back” with Toni Collette, Steve Carell, Maya Rudolph and Oscar winner Allison Janney, do yourself a favor and watch it this weekend.  On the couch with your teenager.

 

3 Funniest Ads of Super Bowl LII


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The biggest disappointment of the Super Bowl was that there won’t actually be a Crocodile Dundee sequel.   But Tourism Australia didn’t leave us with only a 60 second Super Bowl commercial.  It produced a full-length fake movie trailer that doesn’t rely on Danny McBride’s rugged good looks to convince Americans to make the 22-hour flight.


The spot features every Aussie A-lister except the Tasmanian Devil.  Chris Hemsworth, Hugh Jackman, and Best Actress Oscar-nominee for her role as Tonya Harding —  Margot Robbie will make surely make this Oz’s most successful campaign.   That title is currently held by Paul Hogan’s 1984 campaign, responsible for a 54 percent increase in holiday visa applications from the U.S. (Slate).

Now more than ever, I think people want—no, make that need—to laugh a little,

– Dan Kelleher, Chief Creative Officer at Deutsch ( Adweek)

It’s a Tide Ad

Stranger Things’ sheriff Jim Hopper moonlights as Mr. Clean in a wonderful campaign that delights us with surprise, well-executed parody and comedy’s cornerstone of strengthening rapport with an audience — the callback.  The lawman even brazenly satirized the legendary Old Spice commercial — what fool what attempt that?

Alexa Loses Her Voice

Rarely does a brand produce a spot funnier than the SNL sketch that mocks it.  Well played, Jeff Bezos.

Possibly JB Smoove’s best work since “Bent” with David Walton.  (available on Amazon).

And from the Super Bowl archives:  coffee and contemplation

Super Bowl commercial- Dunkin Donuts “Off the Press”

See you down under.

Dundee sequel movie poster

HuffPost: Top Business Speakers to See in 2018


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Keynote Speakers

I’ve finally earned recognition as a subject matter expert in nonsense.

HuffPost published its list of Top Business Speakers To Hire And See In 2018.   If there’s one thing we can be certain of this year, the current global economic environment will drive the need for more laughter, especially at marketing conferences and corporate events.  Lucky number seven.

On the list is my buddy Andrew Davis who holds a top 20 spot on Meetings & Conventions Magazine‘s List of Favorite Speakers, ranking just below President Bill Clinton and Anderson Cooper (*recount pending).  And CEO of Marketing Insider Group Michael Brenner, who was named a top CMO Influencer by Forbes Magazine.

It’s going to be a fun year for comedy and marketing.

HuffPo logo

Ex-SNL Writer Reveals How to Improve Storytelling


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Juxtaposition is a simple technique that comedy writers employ when they’re wrestling with the blank page.   I had a fun visit with Marcia Riefer Johnston at the Content Marketing Institute about how marketers can use this approach to quickly generate a bunch of ideas.

comedy hacks to improve storytelling

Improv Exercise

We did a fun improv exercise at Social Media Marketing World in San Diego during my creative writing session.  I asked the audience for two suggestions, and they offered “circus” and “bacon.”  Together we applied the juxtaposition technique to inspire new ideas.  We discovered a few new patterns that led to a video concept, and a completed script.   And only seven minutes earlier, we had nothing but a blank page.

It’s not only the folks in corporate communications and marketing that are tasked with sharpening their storytelling chops.  Being able to communicate and persuade through story has become more of a critical skill set for all career paths.   By spending five minutes a day with this exercise, anyone can become much more creative and sharpen their writing skills.  If you don’t have access to an audience of 200 people to offer suggestions, try a random word generator.

Read the article here.