Over the past few years, many articles have been written about how improvisational comedy benefits business professionals. Whether you are looking to start a business, inspire personal development or foster a positive team dynamic, improv comedy has helped business professionals discover elements of themselves that they did not know existed. I’ve been lucky enough to have the time and resources to learn and perform improv comedy for nearly ten years. Improv has done wonders for my professional communication and presentation abilities.
Earlier this year, I tried something new and took a comedy sketch writing course – a “new year, new me” sort of thing. Unlike improv comedy, which is an organic and spontaneous art form that exists for a brief moment on stage, sketch comedy consists of written short comedy scenes, commonly between one and ten minutes long.
As improv has helped me develop interpersonal communication skills, sketch writing has improved my day-to-day business communications – in particular, writing emails. Despite sketch comedy’s prevalence in pop culture (e.g., SNL, Key & Peele, etc.), there hasn’t been much written about it in the realm of business communications.
Oddly enough, I’ve found some natural parallels between sketch writing and writing a good email. Below are some sketch writing tenets that lend themselves well to crafting strong email communication:
Identify, and stick to, a premise
A good comedy sketch has a simple, yet powerful, premise. The premise acts as the anchor – an omnipresent element that helps drive the sketch’s momentum and provides an answer to the question, “what is this all about?”
A good email also requires a clear purpose or message. Whether we overtly identify it or not, each email we craft aims to educate, inform or drive action on a specific topic. Quickly jot down the core purpose of your email, and consider the following best practices related to premise:
The end is the beginning
The summary or key takeaway should be reflected in the opening of the communication. The opening of a sketch, or email, should allude to the conclusion or key takeaway.
Get to the point
We should see the communication pattern and understand where the story is going quickly. Hit the key points and keep your audience following along.
If it doesn’t lead to a joke, get rid of it
If you’re including extra information or tangents, cut it. Save it for a follow-up note or future correspondence.
Ask for feedback
Strong comedy sketches are a result of peer review and feedback. Before a sketch ever sees the light of day, it has usually gone through many rounds of editing, incorporating other writers’ honest feedback.
Email communication skills can also improve through the input of others. Regularly ask your peers or supervisor for their perspective, and make sure to consider the following:
When you ask your peers for thoughts on how to improve your communications, internalize their advice! It’s often easy to ignore feedback or passively incorporate notes. Their personal experiences will greatly benefit your approach and give you new perspective as you craft important email communications.
Look for signs of success
In comedy, laughter is a pretty clear indicator of success. In business, success is defined in a variety of different ways (e.g., sales, brand awareness, etc.) That said, if you pay enough attention, you can start to identify what email writing tactics work for different communication needs. That self-awareness will help define your voice, tone, message structure, formatting and overall style. Make a note of which emails have resulted in the desired recipient action.
Just do it
Writing can be super-hard and frustrating. Depending on the topic, personal level of interest, and/or time of day, you may find yourself struggling to get something together. Writer’s block is the worst, but you must forge ahead. Below are a few tips to plan ahead and get it done:
Time of the day
Just like a well-executed joke, timing is key. Different writers have different times of the day when they are at their sharpest at writing. Whether I’m writing sketch comedy or crafting important email communications, the early morning is when I’m at my best. Find your optimal writing time, and try to prioritize your tasks around that.
Write, don’t judge
Sometimes you need to just get to a first draft. Get it all out and then go back with a fine-tooth comb. It’s much easier to work off a draft than it is to get the perfect opening before moving on to the next section.
These are all just simple tips and considerations as you draft an email, develop a presentation, or even write a comedy sketch.
As true as the old adage “practice makes perfect” is, it’s also true that practice is ineffective without ongoing self-awareness and patience. Be thoughtful as you aim to improve your writing skills, and ask for feedback early and often! Pretty soon, you’ll find that you actually enjoy writing. Ok, maybe you’ll never really enjoy writing emails, but at least you’ll be better at it.