Seinfeld may have been a show about nothing, but its well-polished writing offers many lessons to help us improve our communications:
Create an image
Jerry compared the “man hands” of his blind date to the paws of wrestler George “The Animal” Steele. The reference to Mr. Steele made the segment even funnier by drawing this bizarre — but specific — reference. Our lesson: precision and details in communications help get your message across.
Tell a story
When Jerry’s pal George Costanza rescued a whale by freeing a golf ball from its blow hole, his recollection painted a vivid picture for viewers: “The sea was angry that day, my friends. Like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli.” Much more powerful than simply saying, “The water was rough.”
Keep it simple
Each plot revolved around a specific theme or two, ranging from marble rye bread and a gassy horse, to an overzealous auto mechanic and President Kennedy’s golf clubs. This is an especially good reminder to limit the number of key points in a message, else you risk losing readers’ attention.
Be an everyman (or woman)
Seinfeld’s character was, in many respects, an average Joe. He played softball, cheered for the Mets, ate cereal while watching late night television, and sported a wardrobe primarily consisting of jeans and sneakers. The audience related to that character more than had he been, for example, an architect.
Leave your comfort zone
One of the show’s funniest episodes, “The Contest,” took viewers down a path that ventured far beyond a typical sitcom plot, as the four wagered who could go the longest without … yada yada yada. Kramer, of course, was the first eliminated— seduced by the vision of a naked woman in the apartment across the street. We later saw Jerry, who was in a relationship with Marla the virgin, singing children’s songs to keep his focus off the naked neighbor. Clever, funny, and out of the box.
Seinfeld featured a unique glossary of terms. Millions of people, young and old, completely understand references such as Library Cop, serenity now, and of course, “No soup for you!” Colorful phrases catch people’s attention, and are particularly helpful during presentations or media interviews.
Viewers never really knew what to expect each week, particularly given the odd behavior of the show’s characters. George learns his fiancée has died and immediately suggests getting a bit to eat. The four watch a robbery and poke fun of the victim. And Elaine showed us dance moves unlike anything we’ve seen before.
Look beyond your walls
Seinfeld regularly connected to an event or newsworthy item beyond its set, such as the Thanksgiving Day Parade, the magic bullet scene from the movie JFK, bathroom hygiene, and The J. Peterman Company. Good communicators know their audience has interests outside of the topic at hand.
Brevity is better
Some of the show’s most memorable lines were short, catchy phrases. For example, Jerry advised Elaine to “Look to the cookie,” for the path to racial harmony. Those four words were much more effective than a formal delivery, such as: “The black and white cookie symbolizes the synergy between people of different races, creeds, and background, and will serve as a foundation for our future …”
Other short, but effective phrases: “I choose not to run,” “Not that there’s anything wrong with it,” and “Bosco.” The lesson: don’t use 10 words when four will do.
What do you think the writers of Seinfeld did particularly well? If you can’t come up with anything, you’re clearly not Pensky material…