Why am I not a stand-up comic?

I’m a big fan of humor. I always look for opportunities to work it into the pieces I write for my business clients. I learned the power of humor at an early age, from my father.

“When you’re writing a letter to complain about something, always make it funny,” he said. My father was an insurance claims adjuster, so he definitely received his fair share of angry letters. Humor was key, he said, using the Mad Men pronouns of the time, “Because when you make someone laugh, he’ll pass your letter around the office. Everyone will read it and they’ll all want to help you.”

I’ve often wondered why that advice didn’t turn me into a stand-up comedian instead of a business writer. Decades passed before I realized that of course it’s business advice. Because it’s not about simply amusing people. It’s about making them remember you. It’s about inciting them to take action.

And that’s the key to every good piece of business writing, probably since the invention of papyrus. Whether it’s a team report delivered to a dozen people or an op-ed in a publication that reaches millions, you want to engage your readers or listeners so much that they can’t help but take action.