I once asked a sculptor how they were so good at sculpting. “I take a block of stone”, came their reply, “work out what it should look like and then get rid of all the bits that don’t look like that”. They didn’t see what they did as creative; they simply saw something and then did the things which to them were obvious to bring that to life.
To most people, that degree of creativity would be unfathomable. Whether it is writing, drawing, filming, dancing or more, creativity – and humour – are things which some people simply believe they cannot do. Anyone who has watched Mrs Brown’s Boys will know that some people indeed shouldn’t attempt humour, but there are definitely things that we can all do to bring a spark of innovation and creativity to our work.
It was with this in mind that I pitched a session on using humour in communications at the recent CommsCamp North event in Sheffield. Attended by around a hundred comms professionals from around the country, it gives people the chance to connect with their peers and both learn from and share good practice as well as just having a reminder that they are not alone.
Talking of not being alone, my session at CommsCamp North was combined with that of the incredibly amazing Kate Vogelsang (@Kate_bob) on creativity, which meant between us we had a packed room of people ready to share their top tips on creativity and humour in communications. Whilst my meagre words won’t do justice to the awesomeness of the session, here are just a few things I took away myself.
Dedicate some time to be creative (with colleagues)
We are all busy people (though, weirdly, no-one is ever too busy to go into excruciating detail as to just how busy they are…), so it’s easy to get sucked into the day job and go for the simplest option you think of first.
Don’t do this.
At the start of any project is the time to be creative and see where your wildest thoughts take you. Make sure you plan time into any schedule to get together with your colleagues and throw some ideas around. Sitting down with other people and coming up with ideas together rather than on your own means you can build off each other’s thoughts and see things from different points of views. Collaboration is the key to great creativity.
Come up with ideas. LOTS of ideas
As I’ve been known to say, quantity has a quality all of its own. Rare are the times when the first idea is the best – Edison tested over 6,000 different materials for his lightbulb patent (including ginger beard hair) before settling on the best solution. If you have one idea, no matter how good, you are missing out on others that may be even better.
Come up with loads of ideas, from the boring to the fantastical, and don’t be limited at the start by practicalities or budgets. Sometimes those crazy ideas can later be refined and fitted to available resources, but if you start thinking from within constraints then you’ll never truly free your thoughts.
Keep it local
Just like everywhere else, your area is different. The folks where you are think differently, act differently and talk differently. So why stick to the same standardised language and tropes as everyone else when that’s not going to resonate with anyone?
If you are from Yorkshire, use Yorkshire phrases. Don’t say “it’s going to be 5 degrees Celsius out so be prepared for colder weather”; tell your followers “by eck it’s cold!” If you’re from London, how about “it’s brass monkeys out there”? Use the phrases and images which resonate with local people; they, after all, are the people you want to engage with.
Simple ideas are the best
We all get it. Coordinated, major communications campaigns are wonderful things, incorporating several strands of intricately planned activity and carrying both subtext and overtly stated messaging to drive action and behaviour change in measurable and impactful ways.
But sometimes, simply sending a duck into space has a bigger impact.
That’s what Stoke-On-Trent learned when running a campaign to be named the UK City of Culture 2021. For very little cost, they strapped a rubber duck to a board, tied it and a camera to a massive weather balloon and sent it into space. As you do. The simple stunt garnered huge attention within the city as well as around the world, and demonstrated that sometimes simple ideas work better than complex ones.
(The fate of the duck, however, has not yet been publicly confirmed…)
Humanise with humour
There’s something about a corporate machine that makes it a target for attack and abuse. It’s an organisation. It has no feelings. It won’t be upset by the language and diatribe thrown at it when something goes wrong and people feel a need to vent.
Only, an organisation is made up of people. Real people, with emotions and thoughts which can definitely be affected by such words.
Humanising your organisation goes a long, long way towards making people feel more accountable for their words and actions, and there is little that humanises more than humour. You are not a robot; you are able to be witty and amusing, and in doing so will challenge the wrong but oft-held opinions that public sector staff are bureaucrats and pen pushers.
Obviously this takes a little judgement, but wherever possible throw some humour into your responses to people who get in touch with you. The goodwill it generates is huge, and sometimes it can even garner wider positive public attention. The Science Museum and the Natural History Museum both got involved in a hilarious Twitter war recently, being respectful of each other but using humour to promote themselves brilliantly.
There’s nothing stopping you (after checking offline first, of course) starting a similar online rivalry with one of your local peers, or commenting on something in the news from your own local and positive perspective. Real people are funny. If you are funny too then people will relate to the organisation you represent and wonderful things will happen.
Though, admittedly, having robot dinosaurs to hand would give you an advantage in almost any battle…
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