Leave Them Laughing! Humor Makes the Spot Memorable

Case Study 8 min
Learn how MCC Mike DiMestico used comedic techniques to create a memorable spot on Operational Security.

Quick! Try to remember an amazing road trip you took with your family. Or, think about the last really fun night you had out with your friends. If the memory involved laughter, you're in good company. Most people have an easier time remembering and recalling humorous moments thanks to something called the humor effect. According to Effectivology, humor can enhance memory of both verbal and visual information. When something is funny, it's easier to remember.

By understanding the real science behind laughter and memory, it's easy to make a case for choosing a humorous theme as MCC DiMestico did. Using easily recognizable WWII OPSEC posters, MCC DiMestico (then E-4 DiMestico) used comically literal interpretations to remake the fairly dry topic into a memorable and engaging talk.

What works in this video and how can you utilize creative techniques to create your own comedic gem? Read on for a breakdown and useful tips.

Grab Their Attention

Seconds into the video and you're already smiling thanks to a funny opening line delivered with perfect emphasis. After he introduces himself, DiMestico tells the viewer he intends to discuss a serious subject. "How do you know I'm serious," he asks "well, if I wasn't serious, would I be sitting in this dimly lit studio on just a stool? I didn't think so." Leading off with humor pulls the viewer in immediately. The background title, "OPSEC - It's Wicked Serious," lets the viewer know the topic to be covered, but MCC DiMestico sets up the tone by embedding a joke on the first screen and delivering a laugh in the first few seconds. This unexpected twist grabs the viewer's attention and keeps them listening for the next punchline. If the presentation had continued without humor, the moment (and the potential for the subject to stick) would have been lost.

Tip: If you're going to use humor, go all in from the jump but be tactful and careful to maintain your professionalism.

Tip: Share the script with the approving authority before wasting your time shooting/editing something that won't be approved.

Don't Let Go

Another technique that DiMestico uses quite adeptly is comedic timing. By pausing periodically (sometimes intentionally awkwardly), he gives the viewer time to react and absorb the joke before moving on to the point he's trying to make. Watch for the pause and the eye movement at 3:14 or the way he emphasizes and pauses just before he asks, "You thought a restriction badge was bad?" after he describes the consequences of giving away secure information in a non-secure environment. Now, imagine if he had just listed the consequences in a rapid-fire without the pauses. Or if he had emphasized the word "badge" instead of "restriction." This expert technique does two things; it allows the viewer time to laugh and it sets up the viewer's memory to process the next bit of information. Humor improves recall memory and MCC DiMestico takes full advantage by layering comedic bits with important information.

Notice how throughout the video MCC DiMestico expertly ties historical elements to current messaging. OPSEC isn't new, but it needs to be presented in fresh ways to feel new. For every point MCC DiMestico needs to make, he pairs it with a memorable moment. At 1:13, he covers the OPSEC requirement about protecting sensitive information and that leaking sensitive information puts service members at risk. At 1:38, he cements that information into the viewer's memory, delivering a one-two punch by setting up a joke with one poster, "she does make a good point ...that you never know who may be listening," and delivering the punch line with the other "like a snorkeling Darth Vader, maybe."

Tip: Practice your presentation with intentional pauses to give the viewer time to absorb the message.

Call It Back

In the video, MCC DiMestico uses the callback technique by taking an earlier joke, the newspaper finger, and bringing it back for another round. A callback to a previous reference makes the viewer feel like they're part of an inside joke, which creates a sense of belonging and trust. Humor improves people's perception of the presenter and a callback reinforces the relationship. As a bonus, the effect lasts longer than the presentation. Viewers who share the inside joke in new ways are creating opportunities to discuss the real purpose of the video. Just imagine someone bringing up OPSEC and someone else pointing their finger over a colleague's head. Everyone who knows the joke will laugh all over again. Those who don't get it will likely go watch the video, so they don't get left out again.

Humor isn't the only way to create a callback. Music can be used effectively, as can sound effects, animation and words or phrases associated with the message. Most people can identify the theme song to the movie Jaws by hearing just two notes. However, use these kinds of effects sparingly and with intent. The bells and whistles are nice to have but not nearly as important as strong content. This spot, in particular, was shot using an old camcorder with a stool and a green screen – sometimes, that's all you need.

Tip: You can use a callback from an earlier video, but it's risky. Use what you have when you have it.

Tip: Editing and effects should emphasize but not outshine your content. Great content should always be king.

Lessons Learned

This video is an over-the-top example of how humor, an often overlooked storytelling technique, can be used with great effect to create an emotional connection between the presenter and the viewer. By re-imagining old content in a new and clever way, DiMestico proved that effective storytelling is always within reach, whether or not you have top-tier tools. Excellent content shot on an old camcorder will outshine uninspired content shot on the world's sexiest camera.

Regardless of rank or experience, if you use the described techniques and take advantage of the tips, you'll carry your point home on the gales of laughter.