Leave it to good ol’ Ben Settle to break it down to the basics. In an old podcast I just listened to he had four rules for generating interest and engagement with your writing. They're not sexy. But, they're effective. Unfortunately, unlike some gurus will have you believe, it’s not as easy as asking stupid questions, like …
“Hey guys, question for you, leave your answer in the comments: Are you a banana Popsicle or a rabbit turd.”
Here’s the list. The principles are simple, but it’s all in the execution.
- Be an interesting person.
- Tell stories.
- Have a point - something for readers to grab on to and think about.
- Be entertaining (infotainment) - if you know how to be entertaining nobody cares if you sell them some stuff too.
Damn. When I really think about this, I fall short on all accounts. I guess that’s why ElBenbo decided to share this stuff.
Thank God he did. Now, I can put time, energy, and focus into getting better at what is probably the most important skill in marketing … telling engaging stories.
Be an Interesting Person
My first thought was “I need to go on some adventures. Get out of the house. Meet some people. Pick up a new hobby.”
Probably all true, but having an interesting point of view can cover up a sedentary lifestyle. Plus, it'll probably take me three years to do anything exciting. That's way too long, so I better exploit the angles.
To write more interesting content, here are the questions I’m going to ask myself:
- Can I look at important issues with a different perspective?
- Is the prevailing wisdom on a subject wrong or off? Can I articulate that in interesting detail?
- Can I be controversial without being boorish?
- Do I have the guts to be me even if it turns off a healthy chunk of audience?
Polarizing is not bad. Particularly if it comes from authentic place. Eventually, being authentic is the easier path. I just have to slough off all the bullshit educational brainwashing and the corporate automaton language. Once I do that, the real voice will emerge, and it won't be for everybody. The audience will be much smaller and more engaged. They will be my people.
I’m going to work on this, because it’s easier said than done. Whenever I start typing original thoughts, my brain shivers. My fingers seize. Like I don’t really want to put myself out there.
There’s a vulnerability in saying what you believe consequences be damned.
That said I should add a few more interesting activities to my life. Most of my life is spent in front of the computer screen. Purposefully getting into more conversations, and taking more business risks, might give me more fodder. That might be more interesting.
Some lucky bastards are born to tell stories. The rest of us suck at it. There are loads of resources for learning how to tell stories, but I haven't vetted them yet to find the best. Here are a couple bits that helped me:
Seth Godin tells a good stories and goes on a good jag here about what stories are made of.
Pixar's 22 Rules for Storytelling can get your brain firing:
And then, of course, there's the classic Hero's Journey from Joseph Campbell:
It helps to have stories to tell, so I’ll be on the lookout for good yarns. I don’t have to be the star in all these tales. Great storytellers can suck you in with stories about anybody.
This doesn’t get me off the hook for planning more adventures in my life, but it is something I can start doing immediately, while I wait for my life to get a little more spicy.
Have a Point
It really helps to have a point. Ben does a good job of taking stories, observations, scenes from movies, or whatever, and weaving them into a point about marketing and business. Sure you could recite your favorite episode of The Simpsons verbatim, but without a point, it doesn't engage your audience.
Finally, be entertaining. I think this is the culmination of the first three. If you put together interesting stories with applicable points, you’re going to be entertaining. People will open your emails. They’ll stop scrolling when they see your stuff on social. And, if you happen to weave an offer into that infotainment, they won’t bat an eye, because you added value to their day.
It’s like if Russell Crowe had screamed, "are you not entertained" in the coliseum after killing his foe, then whipped out a little folding table with a crisp table cloth, and laid out some wares for sale. You know like leather accoutrements and maybe some musky scents in small clay jars.
Uh, that was ridiculous. Anyways ...
... as always Ben provided a lot to chew on in this podcast episode. I hope I can get there.
Recommended Stuff from Ben Settle
Header photo credit: From National Science Foundation. By Elaine Hood. I added the text. It wasn't floating in the sky in Antarctica when Elaine snapped that helicopter drop.