The Marketing Word | Differentiation Marketing

CAT | Copywriting

I Suck at Headlines

Best Sub Heading EverI saw one of the best headlines (actually, it’s the sub-head) EVER -->
on FaceBook the other day for an article in The Ulster Gazette about the price of a rail system (Over £100M!) The sub head is, of course, an extended pun on Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s hip, it’s funny and it works. DAMN!

It does violate one of the rules of headlines – that they be short. There’s a similar rule in comedy – the longer the joke, the stronger the punch line has to be. This sub head overcomes that rule. Each line of the subhead builds the joke. The payoff is HUGE.

Which brings home the fact that I suck at writing headlines. And email subject lines for that matter. A headline should convey what your article (or blog post or whatever) is about, intrigue the reader and draw them in. Many times you can do this by asking a question. The famous example is the Psychology Today headline that asked “Do you close the bathroom door when you are home alone?” Can’t remember the most common answer; I can remember that their subscriptions skyrocketed.

I really, really hate headlines (and subject lines for that matter) that lead you in one direction and then don’t deliver. If you want to piss off your followers, that would be a quick way to do it. I recently read an article on Huffington Post where the title had nothing to do with the article. (No, it wasn’t a Kim Kardashian side-boob article. They always deliver the goods on that one.) The comments blazed and the author of the article apologized profusely explaining that he did not write the title. Any merit the article had was negated by the misleading title.

If you can’t be intriguing, if you can’t be hilarious and you can’t think of a GREAT headline, do this:

1. Keep it short
2. Convey the main point of what the article is about
3. Convey that point in terms of how it will benefit the reader (Please Note: This post headline does not do this. Yes, I am a risk taker.)

There are “headline generating” programs that you can get. But you pretty much end up with canned headlines. “5 Easy Ways to…” or “Ninja Secrets for…” Blah, Blah, Blah. I think the general public is getting more sophisticated when it comes to sales copy and screaming headlines. Maybe I’m an optimist but then again, the National Enquirer’s circulation has been in steady decline since 2010, so there is hope. I think people are over-marketed. They are growing skeptical. The sales page headlines that worked so well in 2006, with promises of the secret to quick wealth have been seen too many times. People still respond to hype -- you can trick people into buying your stuff. But if you need to trick people into buying your stuff, maybe you should re-think what you are doing with your life.

Honor your client base by treating them as intelligent human beings. It’s a radical concept, I know. But for businesses whose target market is NOT the lowest common denominator, respect for your client base is a pretty good place to start and maintain the relationship.

Yes, you want a strong headline. Yes, it’s important. But you can try too hard. Many times keeping it simple, original and honest will work better than an over-the-top headline that immediately turns the reader off. Try it. Less hype. More honesty. Because this is real life, not a fantasy.

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Recently I heard what might be the worst commercial for a grocery store EVER. If ever a commercial was designed to make me retract my stance on truth in advertising, this was it. I was listening to the radio (driving, of course – does anyone listen to the radio at home anymore?) when a commercial for Publix Grocery Stores came on. It went something like this:

“Walmart does not always have the lowest prices. Blah blah Buy One Get One Free blah, blah. In fact, with careful planning, you can sometimes save money shopping at Publix.”

I have to say, once I reassured myself that **yes – I did just HEAR that ** I was underwhelmed. First of all, the ad agency must have created this ad as a joke, a final flipping of the bird to their client’s demand for honesty and a low-key approach. I mean, they couldn't have been serious when they pitched this ad to Publix. But here’s the amazing thing. Someone in the marketing department at Publix listened to that ad and said, “Hey! Great! This will have them knocking down our doors.”

Kudos to Publix for deciding to take on Walmart head to head. But if you’re going to do that, let’s have some fun, dontcha think? Here’s my ad for Publix:

Cue Mayberry RFD theme.
Folksy male V.O.:

“Ya know, there’s a reason why there’s no website called PeopleofPublix.com. Our aisles are not clogged with society’s misfits – people with their boobs hanging out, sometimes in the front, sometimes in the back, kids showing more ass crack than an elephant (who at least tries to cover it with its tail) or just plain people whose meds are not balanced and haven’t been for some time. In fact, most of the people who shop here look a lot like you and me. Most of them shower on a regular basis. Posted on every door is a notice telling you that shirt and shoes are required to shop here. It’s a grocery store where people buy food that they will ingest. Frankly, we don’t think that asking our customers to respect minimum health standards is such a stretch.

Our prices might be a little higher on some items, a little lower on others. And while Walmart might be a great place to pick up a shop vac or some extra rounds of ammo for the family barbecue this weekend, do you really want to buy your food there? We don’t blame you. Publix. Where shopping won’t make you want to gouge your own eyes out.”

Truth in advertising: Not as boring as it sounds.

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Aluminum Foil Phrases

Man Wearing Tin Foil Hat -- NOT Steve!

Man Wearing Tin Foil Hat -- NOT Steve!

There are some phrases that are the literary equivalent of biting into aluminum foil. Most writers have their pet peeves when it comes to certain aspects of the language. (Yes, it’s nitpicky and elitist, but that’s why we’re writers.) Misplaced and misused apostrophes spring to mind. I recently revoked a client’s right to use a semi-colon again. EVER. (“You are not allowed to use semi-colons. Eventually, yes, you might randomly place one where it actually belongs, but with global warming, I don't think we will live to see the day.”)

I started thinking about this because of a comment my friend, master juggler and uber-funny man Steve Russell posted on Facebook the other day. (Find Steve and his equally talented wife Kobi at SteveRussellJuggles) Here’s what Steve posted:

I was writing some copy for a website of an illusionist, recently. I was encouraged to "think outside the box." Two thoughts on that: 1. If, in 2013, you are still using that phrase, YOU ARE STILL INSIDE THE BOX! and 2. Do you realize the irony, given what an illusionist does for a living?

After I stopped laughing (hard to do when you’re around Steve), I thought how much the phrase “outside the box” irritated me. As does “paradigm shift.”

The phrases, once “cutting edge” (another phrase on its way out if not already gone) are “old school” (a phrase that needs to go) now. They scream 1980s (no apostrophe, thank you) management seminar.

Yet they are instantly recognizable. They carry more meaning than just the mere words. When someone says “outside the box” we know instantly that they want something creative, striking, inspired and innovative. A paradigm shift infers such a major change that things will never be the same or looked at in the same way again.

Words and phrases can be charged – filled with meaning that conjures up emotion and experiences. When I give talks on copywriting, I go through various words copywriters use to elicit responses from men and women. And yes, I can always count on big laughs when I flash the phrase “private members forum” on the screen.

But there comes a time when words lose their oomph. (Oomph is a word that will never lose its oomph, by the way.) Over-use and incorrect use wear a phrase out. It loses its meaning and therefore its power. While clients may still ask that you create something that is “out of the box” if you use the phrase (or any of the other tired phrases) in your copy, you are doing them a disservice.

It’s lazy.

I can write long page sales copy all day long (usually while watching NCIS re-runs) that incorporates all the phrases and facets that marketers want to see on their sites. I could charge big money for it. But I don’t. (Proof that I am a complete IDIOT.)

If you are writing copy for yourself or others, maybe you should use all those phrases. People still respond to them. They are known to work. But it gives me a bad feeling in my stomach.

Words are precious to me. I like the way they sound. I like their rhythm. (A very cool word, rhythm. Look! No vowel in that second syllable!) I like that they can mean more than one thing. I think they should be honored and respected.

I also think they should be played with. Come up with new combinations. Create new meanings. Words are meant to communicate, to convey information and emotion and to connect humans with each other.

So the next time a client asks you to think “outside the box,” slam him with it. Rupture the atmosphere, bamboozle reality, cupcake the deal. Most will, of course, come back and ask you for something that looks like everything else that is already out there, i.e., inside the box. But every so often, you will find someone who goes with it, who gets it. And at that point, you will be able to stand and point and say, “That day, I used words well.”

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On Selling False Hope

A while back I wrote a manual for a client.   He asked me what I would charge to create a sales page for him.  Copywriters charge a lot of money for sales pages.  Some of those copywriters are worth the money and some aren’t. But the truth is, unless you can drive traffic to the sales page, it doesn’t matter how good the copy is.

I told him I didn’t do sales copy for anyone other than myself. I won’t make promises that my magic words are going to bring in thousands of sales and millions of dollars. There’s a science to writing sales page copy. Good copywriters spend time researching the target market’s buying process, taking pains to ensure that the copy covers all the touch points for various buying types, crafting the right hooks to intrigue the buyer into pressing that “Add to Cart” button.

Sometimes, in spite of the copywriter’s best efforts, the product doesn’t go. The page doesn’t convert.  Or, more often, the page doesn’t get enough traffic to determine whether or not the copy is doing its job. You can SEO a page from here to eternity but if the niche is crowded or has big players, the page may not crack the first page of Google without strong marketing support from other quarters.

I am more honest with clients than I should be sometimes. Many copywriters would have charged an arm and a leg (including a backend cut of product sales) and have written copy that was … shall we say… less than fresh. I can write that kind of copy. All day long with my eyes closed.  I don’t.  So my client went off to find a copywriter for his sales page.

That was over six months ago.  He popped back up (as my favorite clients do) about two weeks ago. He said that the person writing his sales page had dropped the ball and wanted to know if I had any recommendations. I know he is on a budget. I know he needs to get this thing off the ground. I know he’s probably been ripped off. I offered to do it at a cut-rate price.

After a little bit of back and forth, we finally got down to the real nub.  He asked me, “Do you think this product is viable? I want to know if I will make my money back.”

Again, I was more honest with him than a good businessperson should be. I told him that the sales page alone won’t sell his manual. That it would take marketing efforts such as talking to groups, email marketing, social media, etc. etc. etc.

Yes, he is looking for reassurance. Yes, he has a pretty good product that has an easily targeted market. And yes, my sales page copy will convert prospects to buyers. But at the end of the day, there are no guarantees. There are no magic words. There’s just probability and rolling the dice to see how that all plays out.

I would love to tell him that YES! He will definitely make his money back.  But as I said to him, anyone who flat out declares that you definitely will have the sales numbers you need is selling soap.  And that’s where the toughest part for any entrepreneur comes in. At some point, you have to roll the dice, take the chance, close your eyes and jump. Sometimes you win. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you lose. But you’ll never know until you put yourself out there. Something I recommend wholeheartedly.

And, shameless plug:  I'm re-playing my webinar "Marketing in 4 Hours a Week" this Tuesday night.  If you want some ideas on how to market your business in a time-efficient and effective  manner, tune in.  Register here:   Marketing in 4

 
Barbara Grassey
 

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You're in business. You've sent emails. In fact, you send email after email.  Are you tracking your email open rate?

One of my clients emailed me with the question, “How can I get people to open my emails?”  She was looking for tips to make her subject line more enticing.  She had recently sent an email to her list of 527 subscribers and had 124 opens.  That’s an open rate of 23.5%.   

A "good" or average open rate for an email is 15 - 30%.  Her open rate is within range. But it could be better. In her niche, health, the average open rate is higher, in the 30 – 40% range. Here's an article I found with open rate info:

Average Email Open Rates

Her particular email was announcing a local event. Because her list is national, her open rate was probably lower than usual – her subscribers know where she is located.  But event emails are not a one-shot deal. For an event (seminar, get together, webinar) you really have to hit people at least 3 times with emails because they either miss the email, or don't have time to open and look the first time they see it or think they will go back and open it "later on" (which is why I have over 1,000 emails sitting in one of my accounts).

People are in a time crunch these days. One thing I have seen work is a subject line that says -- "This will take less than a minute" (or 30 seconds) and I've also seen something like that in the first line of an email: “This email will only take you about 2 minutes to read but will blah blah blah -- some benefit to you.”

People also respond to FUN.  So, if you’re doing an email series, have at least one of the emails have something about fun or pleasure in the title.  Analysts (marketing and psycho) say people are more motivated by avoiding pain (2.5 times more likely to move away from pain) than moving towards pleasure, but in my experience people go for instant pleasure if the ensuing pain is 1) not that painful and 2) far enough away in time, i.e., “Eating cake will make me fat and isn’t good for me.  I don't want to be fat but that's the result of MANY pieces of cake and this one piece of cake won't make me instantaneously fat so I'll have it."

Do I have a study to back me up on that? No. But I do have whoopie pies and ice cream in my kitchen. And if you take a look around you, you will probably see the results of people making that choice. On a daily basis…   So, give people a little pleasure in your subject line mix.

The same day my client emailed me with that question, I also got this email with a free offer for an email marketing tip ebook from Icontact, an autoresponder company:

10 Rules for Successful Email Marketing

I’m not sure how long it’s going to be available.  It looks like an affiliate link (not mine, probably for whoever runs WebProNews, the company that sent me the email) so you will most probably be put on a list. This particular opt in is especially intrusive – Icontact has put this ebook out and is offering a free trial of their services with it.  (Complete disclosure: I gave them valid information except for my phone number – I can delete emails; phone calls are just freakin annoying.) My attitude on this is if I get tired of the emails or find they are not helpful, I’ll just unsubscribe. But I’m always open to new sources of info.  (Hmmm.  I think I feel another blog post coming on about information gathered for opt ins.)

I know I sound like a broken record sometimes (OK, most of the time) but the best way to get people to listen to you, whether you are sending emails, writing blogs posts, doing videos or posting on social media, is to put out good information. People search the internet for information. Yes, they buy things over the internet, but first and foremost, they want information. The best thing you can do is make sure the information you give is relevant, helpful and applicable.  The importance of the subject line goes down as people get to know, like and trust you and your information. However, if your list is constantly growing, people are in various stages of their relationship with you. The stronger you can make your subject lines, the more likely people are to open your emails and from there, develop a stronger relationship with you.  But don’t let it torment you. They can’t all be diamonds. Better to get the email out than to sit and agonize over the subject line.

 
Barbara Grassey

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Don't want to read?  Click below for Audio

Use Different Formats for Your Marketing Messages Audio

I received an email from a marketer with a subject line that was interesting enough to get me to open it up.  That is a major hurdle.  Even though I have cut down on the number of lists that I subscribe to, I still get over 100 emails a day and the first thing I do is go down the list and delete emails I am not going to bother with.  I bet you do the same thing.  (This is where you say, “But never with your emails, Barbara.” Yes. Of course and thank you.)

So, I clicked on the email, prepared to give him some of my time and hopefully get a bit of information in return.  But when I opened the email, I was directed to a link to a podcast.  Now, that is really cool for people who learn by listening, but I’m a reader.  In fact, I’m a pretty fast reader and even faster when I am skimming something to pick out the information I want and move on.  I can’t do that with audio or video. (Though I have clever friends who will run a video at 2x speed and slow it down at the good parts. I will leave it up to you to imagine what the good parts are.)  Frustrated, I closed out the email and deleted it.  I was interested in the information only to the extent that it took me little to no effort to get it. Had my interest level been higher, I may have gone on through to the podcast.

But for those people who learn by listening, the podcast was probably a welcome change in a sea of printed material. Different people like to learn in different ways -- some by watching, some by listening or reading or actually doing. We all tend to put out information in the way that we prefer to receive it. But we’re shutting off a large part of our marketing reach.

While I didn’t listen to the podcast, I may have learned a better lesson from that marketer’s email. It pointed out what I’m NOT doing – I need to offer my blog posts with a
couple of options – podcast or video along with the written word. Do I need to do every one like that? No.  But it might be nice for my readers if I break it up a bit.

If you’re like me and don’t like to be seen on camera (Really – change out of my shorts and t-shirt and put on make-up for a five minute video?), you can do Camtasia style videos.  (Try the freebie version for short videos using JingProject.)  Or just record what you’ve written using your computer or a digital recorder.  You may not want to read it word for word.  You may add in or take out a line or two.  And it may take you more than one “take” to get what you want.  If you normally do video or audio messages, then have them transcribed and give people the option to read instead of watch or listen.

The next time you sit down to write a blog post or send an email to your list or create a marketing piece, add another dimension to your marketing.  I’ll guarantee that your information will be heard and seen by a wider range of prospects and clients.  And, don’t forget to cross-post your message on YouTube and other video sites, article submission directories and podcast sites.

 

 

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Tweaking a Website

I just hit a beautiful website…  and it sucks.

I am looking for a car detailer in my area. First of all, if you do car detailing in southwest Florida, it would be extremely easy to dominate the first page of Google.  Most of the companies don’t have their own websites.  There are local listings through the online Yellow Pages, various directories, Facebook and Google plus pages, but not a whole lot of companies with an actual website.  That’s opportunity just sitting there. Call me.

But let’s go to the site, which shall remain nameless because it is a pretty site and a lot of work went into it.  Let’s approach it from a consumer’s point of view.

Here’s what I am looking for:

  • Where the detailer is located (or if it’s a mobile detailing business, what their service area is)
  • What their services are, and I’m specifically looking for a company that will clean/degrease my engine compartment
  • What their prices are or at least a price range

 

Let’s start with what’s right:

  • There’s a video testimonial above the fold which is actually a strong testimonial
  • Their contact info is in the upper right corner, easy to find.
  • The copy is pretty good, including information about car washes (in Florida they use recycled water  with added chemicals– good to know).
  • There’s a gallery of cars they have detailed
  • There’s an information gathering (opt-in) box
  • Color scheme is striking and attractive
  • They have a gallery of Before and After shots
  • They have a testimonial page
  • They have a “Tell a Friend” button (Really good!)

 

Here’s what is not working for me:

  • The video testimonial is centered on the page with a lot of white space around it - kind of floating in nothingness
  • There’s no page that explains the company’s services
  • I have to go to the blog link (which is a separate site) to find information about  the operators of the service
  • There’s a weather widget awkwardly placed in the copy
  • Most of all, there’s no call to action  “For more information or to schedule a consultation” is not strong enough

 

Here’s how this page can be GREAT:

  • Move the opt-in (Information Gathering) box to the upper right hand side of the page.
  • Enlarge the font on the contact information
  • Shift the video box from center to the left and put in a LARGE BUTTON to link to services
  • Use a larger font overall.  I know with some WP Templates, it’s hard to get a decent font size but there are plugins that can change this.
  • Move the second video testimonial, which is about having regularly scheduled service to the “Services” Page
  • On the Services Page, I would list out the services and the packages
  • I would also list out if I have a schedule of days that I hit various towns. This is a mobile service that is 30 miles away from me.  Do they come here regularly or would they have to make an expensive trip just for me?
  • I might also put a “What to Expect” or “How Mobile Detailing Works” for people who are unfamiliar with whether or not they need to supply water, if the car needs to be placed someplace special or prepped in any way, etc.
  • Put some of the before and after shots on the Home Page
  • Move the weather widget to the widget column or remove it altogether
  • A picture of the owners with a happy customer would help make a stronger personal connection
  • One of the pages has an article on water in the local area – from 2005.  The video on the page is about dry wash car cleaning products.  Get rid of the article and instead list out a few facts about water shortages and consumption.
  • As I said, the copy is good, but the layout is bad. Also, they suffer from my disease – too many words in large paragraphs.  The copy needs to be broken up into bullet points with pictures added.  (And yes, so does most of the copy on most of my websites.  Guilty as h-e-double hockey sticks.)

 

A bit of weirdness:  There is a page on this site that gives away three free ebooks which would be great if they were about keeping your car looking great.  But they are on motivation, concentration and internet marketing.  Totally inappropriate for this site.  I would suggest to the owners that they put together an informative ebook on car care – Tips and Tricks from Pro Detailers, for example.

 

The main problem with this site is that it doesn’t address what a buyer is searching for – what do they offer, how does it benefit me and how much does it cost?

Whether you’re putting together a website, a direct mail piece or any ad copy, put yourself in your target market’s shoes.  What do they want to know and need to know?  Make sure you give them that information.  People are looking for solutions. Make sure they know you have a solution that will work for them.

 

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You Can’t Game Google

Had a great laugh with my friend Jim this week. He asked if I was going to listen in on a webinar for a new (read: recycled) SEO technique. My exact words to him were: “Thanks. But I'll pass. I've given up on SEO. I think it is all bullshit because Google just goes and changes their algorithms at whim. You wind up chasing your tail.”

Jim and I had discussed his latest foray into SEO a few weeks before. He had paid a guy to create a ton of backlinks to his site (already on the first page of Google) to drive it to the very top. The backlinks were created and the home page of his site disappeared from Google search. Oh, it may have been somewhere on page 57 or so, but for all intents and purposes, it was gone. A couple of his back pages showed up on pages 2 and 3, but the home page was nowhere.

He contacted the guy, had him remove all those lovely backlinks, and lo and behold, his home page was once again on the first page of Google. Said Jim, “Lesson learned.”

So, imagine his absolute joy when he realized he was listening to a webinar extolling the virtues of paying someone to create a network of backlinks (and you could get it for only $47 a month!). We laughed ourselves silly.

Here’s the thing:
Google has already figured out the game. Google has already figured out EVERY game. It is Google. It knows all. It sees all. It controls the game.

A quick check with friends who have sites on the first page of Google (in various niches ranging from transmissions to vacation rentals) told me what I already suspected. Want to get on the first page of Google? Do this:

Have good, relevant content.
Don’t be a sales page.
It’s better to have some time behind your domain name rather than be brand new.
Use keywords, but don’t keyword “stuff.”

I’ll go one step further. Don’t be Google-dependent. If your traffic depends on being on the first page of Google, pay Google. Very simple.

But most of us don’t have businesses that need to be found by unknown prospects from all over the globe. Most of us have businesses with a specific target market.

If you address your target market, listen to their needs and give them what they want, they’ll find your site. Especially if you feature it prominently in your marketing materials.

It’s the same thing with as-yet-unknown prospects. Find where they hang out (online and offline) and market to them there.

Frankly, pinning your business’s future on your Google search rank is not a great plan. You need to be doing a lot more than hoping someone clicks on that link. You need a comprehensive marketing plan. Google is just one piece of the puzzle.

Google is a moving target. And it moves a lot faster than most of us. Do this: Provide a good product or service, understand your customer base, take care of your people. Then market! The Google ranking will take care of itself.

No tags

Why do information products work so well as a marketing tool?

First of all, one of the main reasons people search the internet (consistently in the top 3 in studies) is they are looking for information. The internet is a convenient research tool, whether you are looking for a recipe, a neighbor’s tax records, how to build a solar collector or how to start your own country. You can find anything on the internet – if you know where and how to look.

But, the internet has its inefficiencies. Because of the sheer volume of information that is available, it is often difficult to find the specific information you are searching for. Sometimes you find pieces of the information you need, but not the whole picture and usually not all in one place. In addition, much of the information is undocumented or comes from questionable sources.

The beauty of an information product is it gives people what they want – the information they are looking for, explained in a way they can put to use, all in one place.

It also gives the marketer what he/she needs: a chance to display his knowledge and capabilities to a targeted market. An information product provides credibility to the author, sets that person up as an expert in that particular topic and sets them apart from their competition.

People learn in various ways – some learn better by reading or by listening or by doing. Information can be conveyed in those various forms and an information product can be made more marketable by putting the same information in various formats to help people learn in the way that’s easiest for them.
Last, but not least, information products are cheap to produce. In downloadable form, they cost nothing. CDs and DVDs can be produced for a dollar or two. Books can be printed, one at a time, for about $8.00. So, as a giveaway or a promotion, an information product’s no to low cost is perfect. As an item that is sold, the margins are incredible.

Whether you are using information as a product to sell in itself or as a list-building tool or a way to warm up the relationship with your clients and prospects, from bricks and sticks to point and click, information products are an all-around winner.

In the Tampa/Clearwater area and want to know more about creating and using information products. Click here for information on my June 4th, 2011 Workshop.

Barbara Grassey

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Funny vs. Mean

My friend Bob Burg has a post on his blog (burg.com)that got me thinking (as he usually does) on using foul language and mean humor in speaking, blog posts, on social media sites, etc. My language is not pure so I can't comment on that....  (my mother did teach me better, I just didn't listen). I did have some thoughts on using humor.  I worked (briefly) as a stand up comic and I can tell you a lot of stuff that DOESN'T work when it comes to humor.  But I'll save that for a longer post.  These are just some quick thoughts:

Humor is very tricky -- it's not only extremely subjective but if your timing is off, it just doesn't work.  What makes something funny is the revealed truth within the statement -- that's why the half-apology "just kidding" after a stinging remark doesn't begin to mitigate what was said.  You can poke fun at yourself, but as a speaker you have to be careful not to undermine your standing as an expert.
You can also poke fun at a situation.  This is about the safest way to go, since the revealed truth doesn't "hurt" anyone.  The beautiful thing about humor is that it can reveal a shared experience (we all know what it's like to ALWAYS choose the slowest checkout line) that helps the audience bond with you as the speaker and with each other.

Humor is very tricky -- it's not only extremely subjective but if your timing is off, it just doesn't work.  What makes something funny is the revealed truth within the statement -- that's why the half-apology "just kidding" after a stinging remark doesn't begin to mitigate what was said.

You can poke fun at yourself, but as a speaker you have to be careful not to undermine your standing as an expert.  You can also poke fun at a situation.  This is about the safest way to go, since the revealed truth doesn't "hurt" anyone.  The beautiful thing about humor is that it can reveal a shared experience (we all know what it's like to ALWAYS choose the slowest checkout line) that helps the audience bond with you as the speaker and with each other.

There's a huge difference between club humor and humor intended for general audiences.  There's also a matter of how you want to be known or your "brand".   I don't work with people if I need to walk on eggshells around them.  Part of my "brand" is that I tell it like it is.  (I had to make it part of my brand -- I don't have enough filters between my brain and my mouth.)  Can you use strong language and weird humor?  Yes.  Just know that it will affect who you work with and therefore your earning power.

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