Ex-SNL Writer Reveals How to Spend 5 Minutes a Day to Improve Storytelling

Want to get more creative in your marketing, especially your storytelling? Spend five minutes a day doing something that masters of improv do: Play with words.

That was stand-up comedian Tim Washer’s advice in his talk, How to Use Improv Techniques to Improve Your Storytelling, at Content Marketing World in 2016. He walked us through some examples, which I’ll share in this post.

First, in case you missed my recent article based on this same talk, let me fill you in on who this guy is. In addition to serving as social media manager for Cisco Systems’ Service Provider Marketing group, Tim has worked on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and Late Night with Conan O’Brien, studied improv under Amy Poehler and written for her on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, and worked as a “corporate humorist” for clients like Google, IBM, FedEx, and Pepsi.

Tim knows corporations and humor.

Exercise in word play

I saw my first live improv show, when I was 9 or so. My dad took my sister and me to Second City in Chicago. One of the actors asked for the name of an animal. “Aardvark!” I shouted. How on earth would they weave a reference to an aardvark into their skit?

It seemed impossible that this team of energetic people on the stage could create a vignette on the spot using the audience’s suggestions. As they did exactly that, I waited, waited, waited. Finally, at the end of the skit, one of the actors burst into song, ending with the rousing line “up in a tree, with the aardvark and me!”

How had they pulled it off? It was magic.

Decades later, it still seems like magic to me that any group of people can instantly create a story – let alone a funny story – from a bunch of random words. I never considered trying it myself.

Tim says it’s time to go for it. He urges everyone who does creative work (and we all do creative work) to expand our storytelling capacity by spending five minutes a day, either alone or with a group, playing with word juxtaposition. In other words, yoke unrelated ideas together to create something new.

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Source: Marketing Institute