By Michele Linn published February 27, 2017

How to Give Meaning to Your Content


When Michael Jr., a Content Marketing World keynote presenter, took the stage, he admitted, “This is not my audience at all.” While this may sound like an inauspicious beginning, within a few minutes, there was a palpable shift in the room as the audience truly focused its attention – and turned off devices – to hear what he had to say next.

One of the key messages from Michael Jr.’s act is a simple statement: “When you understand your ‘why,’ your ‘what’ has more purpose.” By that he means, when you understand why you’re telling a particular story or – even more elemental – why your business exists, then your story or message can be on note.

When you understand why your business exists, your story can be on note, says @MicheleLinn. Click To Tweet

We all need to hear – really hear – this message, but there was something even deeper about Michael Jr.’s connection with the audience – and something I couldn’t put my finger on until the follow-up conversation. I was expecting to spend an enjoyable 30 minutes chatting with Michael Jr., but I didn’t expect the degree to which he would change the way I think about marketing … and how I interact with people in general.

“My comedy is comedy, but it’s more than funny,” explains Michael Jr. “And even more, the comedy is based on what I feel the crowd really needs. So, there is really not any preparation I can do. I just never know. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, my comedy is not as fast-paced as other comedians because I’m trying to listen in between the gaps and try to figure out what the audience really needs so I can give, instead of trying to get.”

What’s behind this comedian who understands that comedy is more than funny? How did he make the transformation from traditional comedian to someone who inspires people – especially people he doesn’t consider to be his audience – to act?

A message in search of meaning

Over the course of an hour at Content Marketing World, Michael Jr. shared how a transformational moment fundamentally changed the way he communicates with his audience – and there is much for marketers to learn.

“I was going to get on stage, and right before I got on, I had a shift in my understanding. Every comedian in Los Angeles, every comedian I know … we’re all about getting laughs out of people. And I just had this shift, this epiphany, where instead of going to get laughs, I just decided, why don’t I just give them an opportunity to laugh?

“So I went up there and dropped my shoulders … because I was looking to give something instead of get. Everything changed. When you’re looking to take something from somebody, they can sense it. You can’t necessarily articulate it, but you need something from them. So the audience, they actually have more control that way. But when you have a gift, your job is simply to present the gift.”

Michael Jr. went on to explain how this works in his stand-up career. For example, he’s just as likely to offer stand-up comedy at a prison or a hospital these days as he is in front of a paying crowd. And no matter the audience, he makes a point of hearing stories from those attending – and finding a way to tease comedy from ordinary interactions. In fact, he has a gift for pulling laughs from beautifully awkward moments with the people in his audience – individuals willing to share private details in front of massive crowds based almost entirely on the spirit of giving Michael Jr. brings to his shows.

Beyond simply giving laughs, Michael Jr. also believes we all have important gifts to share. He says his own gift is the ability to make people laugh while asking them to examine the deeper meaning of their lives. His comedy, he explains, pushes people to open up to him in ways that are hard to imagine. Whether it’s the widow who sought him backstage to say she laughed for the first time in months or a man who tearfully approached him after a show to explain he was a fugitive of the law, hiding out at his aunt’s house, and had decided to turn himself in.

“If we sat there for two hours, and I didn’t deposit anything that could help you get any further, what is the point of that? If I make 7 million people laugh next year, and nobody was better as a result of it, then I need to go fill out an application somewhere,” he shares.

Helping others give

“The greatest gift you can give someone is the opportunity to give,” says Michael Jr.

The greatest gift you can give someone is the opportunity to give, says @Michaeljrcomedy. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

During our conversation, Michael Jr. recalls a family with very limited income who adopted multiple children so the siblings would not be split up, and shortly afterward had its vehicle stolen. “I felt like I was supposed to help this family, but I didn’t know exactly how,” he explains. “I didn’t feel like I was just supposed to buy them a new vehicle. My thing is I want to do the right thing; I don’t just want to do something … I want to do what’s right.”

Instead of doing a comedy fundraiser – which would have easily raised enough money to purchase a new vehicle for this family – Michael Jr. chose a different path. He decided to have a comedy event … with no show. He sold $50 tickets, raising $40,000 for a show that never happened. “One guy walked up to the table to buy a ticket and he had a ring on his finger,” laughs Michael Jr. “I remember thinking it was awesome that he was going to buy a ticket and I asked him if he was going to take his wife. He laughed and bought another ticket. I can’t tell you how many emails and stories we received from those ticket buyers, and what happened as a result.”

Finding your opportunities to give

You may not think you have these opportunities, but they abound. Michael Jr. challenges each of us to answer this question: If you didn’t need to make any money, but you wanted to help your customer, what would you give them?

If you didn’t need to make money but wanted to help your customer, what would you give them? @michaeljrcomedy Click To Tweet

I have found myself coming back to this question time and time again since my conversation with Michael Jr.

What is your gift that you can give?

If you’re taken with the idea of giving more and taking less, consider these examples of brands creating memorable, giving experiences.

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38+ Examples of Brands Doing Great Content

This article originally appeared in the February issue of CCO magazine. Subscribe for your free print copy today.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Michele Linn

Michele Linn is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Mantis Research, a consultancy focused on helping brands create and amplify original research they can use in their marketing. Before starting Mantis, Michele was head of editorial at Content Marketing Institute, where she led the company's strategic editorial direction, co-developed its annual research studies, wrote hundreds of articles, spoke at industry events and was instrumental in building the platform to 200,000 subscribers. In 2015, she was named one of Folio's Top Women in Media (Corporate Visionary). You can follow her on Twitter at @michelelinn.

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  • heidicohen


    A great interview and Michael Jr.’s talk was amazing.

    I agree–it’s important to think about why you’re creating content that’s beyond just selling more of your product. This is why you need to have a content marketing mission, not just goals.

    Happy marketing,

    Heidi Cohen
    Actionable Marketing Guide

    • Michele Linn

      Thanks, Heidi. Michael Jr was definitely a highlight for me.

  • RexRiley

    100% agree with the spirit and content of this article. GIVE it away and what is supposed to come back to you will (just be open to the fact that what comes back may not be what you expect). Or as the old saying goes, Life gives you what you need, not what you want.

    • Michele Linn

      I love — and agree with — the notion that what you get back may not be what you expect. Doing what you truly believe is the right / good thing to do (in life and in marketing) will often lead to surprising results.

  • Nishant Maliakel Oommen

    Great interview with Michael Jr. It’s important to know the Why, Why we are in the market, Why we need to listen to the audience. The more you give, more people will buy what you sell.

    • Michele Linn

      Yes, the why is so important. Thanks for commenting, Nishant.

  • Mother Love

    Its Good to see you guys get it! I am empty when I done, You must allow yourself the vulnerability to be drained so they can get what they nee from you in those moments.
    Keep sharing the LOVE!
    You know I thought you everything you know right? LOL!!

  • vinod

    Yes ! Michael Jr is a real comedy entertainer, he also teach us how to hook with the audience for doing their job. It’s a real content marketer.

    • Michele Linn

      You’re right — I could learn so much from HOW Michael Jr gets his point across. I’m hooked!


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  • CEMason

    Great article! The message and insights shared by Michael Jr and Michele go way beyond just marketing.