Monday, July 13, 2009

How to Be Interesting

In my journey to turn my passion for writing into a paycheck for a living, I have sought out advice from experts in the field. This is an excerpt from a great piece by John Morrow, Associate Editor of Copyblogger. His suggestions lean toward blogging, but upon reading them, I think they pertain not only to that, but writing or networking out in the real world as well.

How to Be Interesting
by Jonathan Morrow

“Be interesting.” It’s good advice, but it’s nothing new. You’ve probably known from the beginning that being able to interest readers is a crucial part of growing a popular blog. It’s pretty obvious that no one is going to stick around unless they find your blog interesting. But how are you supposed to do it exactly? How can you “be interesting?”

Far too much of what we write about attention and interest is abstract. We talk about differentiation, value, and triggers — all useful concepts, but you can’t point to them. You can’t hold out your hand and say, “Give me some differentiation.” As a result, it’s hard to wrap your mind around what those things actually mean.

I’d like to change that. Over the past few weeks, I’ve paid attention to the things that command attention, both of myself and others, and I’ve made a list of techniques that work. It’s far from all of them I’m sure, but it should be enough to get you started.

1. Be wrong: The world is full of people trying to do the right things. It’s become so common that many of us are bored by it. We long for someone that is willing to do the wrong thing, say the wrong thing, be the wrong thing. If you have the courage to be that person, you’ll find lots of people paying attention to you.

2. Be right: You can also gain attention by being right… but only if you’re more right than everyone else. Run a mile faster than anyone else, explain your topic more clearly than anyone else, be funnier than everyone else. Embody perfection, and people will take notice.

3. Communicate what others can’t: As writers, we take ideas from our heads and put them on the page. Sometimes we forget how difficult that is for some people and how valuable that makes us. Lots of people would give anything to be able to say what they mean. But they can’t. So, they turn to songs, books, and art that communicate for them. Be a producer of those things, and you’ll never lose their attention.

4. Do something: Everybody online is trying to say something important, but very few are trying to do something important. If you want attention, dare not to just give advice to others, but to live that advice yourself. Then blog about it.

5. Surprise people: Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made to Stick, say that one of the best ways to set yourself apart is to break people’s “guessing machines.” Take a surprising position, making outlandish analogy, or otherwise do the opposite of what you normally do. As long as it’s unexpected, people will stop and pay attention.

6. Make people laugh: Bloggers are far too serious. We’re so busy trying to teach that we forget to entertain. As a result, large portions of our readerships fall asleep. And what’s the best way to wake people up? Humor. Public speakers have been using it for ages, and as long as it’s appropriate for your audience, humor can wake your readers up and get them paying attention again.

7. Be startlingly honest: Every once in awhile, tell the truth. Be so honest that you’re scared to click the “Post” button. Be so honest that no one knows what to say in the comments section. Be so honest that your lawyer tells you to stop. You’ll feel better… and people will talk about you.

8. Tell a good story: This one has been drilled into us so many times that I almost didn’t include it… except for one thing: people still don’t get it. Yes, stories support your points, make solid openers, and teach people while entertaining them, but a good story can make you a legend. I’m not talking about the little anecdotes that pepper the blogosphere. I’m talking about the story that haunts you on your deathbed. Forget about all the others. Tell me that one.

9. Create a work of art: Many bloggers crank out posts the way slaughterhouses crank out chickens. They’re ugly things, fit for nothing but consumption. If you want to surprise people, stop and put some actual effort into your blog posts, creating a work of art. You’ll be surprised by how many people remember it long after it’s been swept off your front page.

10. Put your readers first: Yes, you’re the blogger. Yes, you’re the one with talent. Yes, you’re the one working your tail off. But it doesn’t matter. The one and only thing of consequence is your reader. You can rail against this fact for as long as you like, but as long you do, you’ll never be interesting.

About the Author: Jon Morrow is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and co-author of Keyword Research for Bloggers.

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