For no particular reason I was watching some comedy on YouTube recently, top comedians plying their trade.

Great fun, but it struck me that there was a lot that we marketers can learn from the techniques that permeated all the routines I watched.

Comedians may be funny, but at heart they are storytellers.

We have all seen really funny jokes hit the floor in the hands of a poor storyteller. It is not  the fault of the story, it is the teller.

There was a clear pattern to the stories told by these comedians, irrespective it appears of the type of story they were telling. Jimmy Carr’s potty mouth stories had a similar  structure to  Jerry Seinfelds mother in law appropriate ones.

Some time ago I attended a corporate event that featured comedienne Fiona O’Loughlin as the after dinner speaker. She told her own story, her personal battles with alcohol,  an upbringing in Alice Springs,  early marrriage and a pile of kids. There was some pretty black stuff, but she had the room in stiches, and left a powerful message about personal responsibility.

Back to the structure of a successful story.

First,  every story has to grab your attention, so there is an opener of some sort, 5-45 seconds, that poses a question, makes a contestable statement, or paints some picture in the mind of the listener. An exemplar if you need another one is that almost every TED talk starts this way, with a device of some sort that grabs and holds attention.

Second, the story opens up, the comedian  weaves a narrative using all the tools of their voice and body, the dimensions of the stage. They create then relieve tension, ‘draw’ a series of pictures in the minds of the audience, only to pull them down to  show how ridiculous they are, almost mini- punchlines, and they are almost always personal, human, showing the foibles and idiosyncrasies of people. They reveal themselves and their emotions  to the audience, seeking to engage by having the audience relate to the story they are telling, winning the hearts of the audience with the struggles they are describing, reeling you in the with authenticity and ‘this could have been you’ narrative.

Finally there is the punch line, always something unexpected, providing contrast that evolves out of the story, but is not something that is obvious, it is this contrast that delivers the humour.

In telling the story, the comedian has allowed the audience to get to know them in an intimate way, you know how they think and feel, they have won your liking and respect with the authenticity of the story, and you trust them, because they have trusted you.

Marketing is no different, we have to tell stories about the products, how they fit into our lives to make them better, and they ways the audience can benefit.

Do that and your communication will work, fail to tell a good story, and it will hit the floor like a dirty wet  mop, and probably splash you in the process.