4T: The art of being interesting

Whether when speaking or when writing, I am obsessed with the need of “being interesting”, which I construe as “rewarding Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 15.53.56my audience for the time they are spending listening or reading me”.

In this digital age, taking the podium (whether virtually or not) has been downgraded from a privilege of the few to a right for the many, but this comes to the cost of not every speaker or every writer being as interesting as the audience’s scarcity of time would deserve.

Recently I have discussed this with a friend, in the context of a keynote I am preparing this coming September, and ended up with a four-pronged answer to the question:

How do you make yourself interesting?

Assume I have duly begged forgiveness for immodestly implying I KNOW...

The Title

“interesting” starts at the beginning: How am I going to call my speech? What will be the title of my post?

Most people come across way more content than they can consume, so the decision whether to click on something to read more is inevitably quick and shallow; or imagine you are one of the speakers in a concurrent session and the audience must choose. In both cases, the title is all you have to grab their attention.

My own strategy is to start writing the speech or article, “allowing it to come out” under a strawman title, and only once it’s finished and I am happy with it, go back and think of a witty title.

I find the opposite much more difficult: not only you are trying to captivate the casual reader, but also you are trying to represent something you yourself don’t know that well.

The Topic

I never stray too much away from stuff I know well, a domain which includes my professional life, but also my knowledge hobbies, or subjects I have studied to some extent. All in all, I feel there is no point in asking people to pay attention when all I have to say is stuff they could get in many other places.

Sticking to a narrow range of topics is always OK with your blog (and a well-known best practice to ensure organic performance) or for most written contributions, but may be at odds with conference organisers which have their own content plan which they are trying to cover and therefore will require careful listening (of what they are trying to achieve) and good command of your standard blocks (see below “Tone”).

The Text

Whatever the delivery, I have found that using the written word always works for me. Sometimes you have to be a little patient and having a free-thinking routine helps: mine involves no people and some form of transportation.

I am also a big fan of polishing: I would always overrun my time at first draft, but I rarely (if ever) do so on stage: the golden classics are 20 minutes for a speech and two pages for a post; if you need more, perhaps you are trying to cram two speeches or posts into one, and that’s never a good idea.

Getting rid of repetitions, unnecessary figures of speech and making your narration more linear does wonders to keep within the space you have and, in general, makes your content more understandable.

The Tone

That’s usually my last but sometimes more time-consuming worry: Is this post/speech supposed to be instructive, humorous, inspirational or what? It is perhaps surprising that a simple rearranging to the sequence of the arguments or the examples I am using may completely change the tone of a speech.

Like anybody who does content for a living I read a lot, and I hyper-read even more: as a result I have a rich and growing library of examples (I dare not call them “case studies”) or speech blocks that lend themselves to many situations. The best blocks do not have a tone of their own, but are neutral and flexible.

All of this may sound like a very orderly process, when it’s not, at least not in my case; It also looks a very long one, but again it’s not: a 45′ train ride all by myself is enough to generate the meat of a keynote speech.

Now about yourself: do you have any other T’s to add?

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