It’s spring, which can only mean two things:
- I’m a year older than I was last spring.
- It’s time for the high school talent show.
I’ll spare you the decrepit details on #1, so let’s talk about the second.
Each spring, here in my little town of Hopkinton Massachusetts, the high school puts on a talent show.
Although technically accurate, it should really be called a music show.
Because while there is the occasional brave soul who steps up with performance art or stand-up comedy, a good 95% of the twenty or so acts are musical.
And let me tell you, these kids are talented. Guitars, drums, mandolins, horns and lots and lots of singing. It’s an event I always try to attend.
But there is one problem: The audio is never very good. More specifically, it’s hard to hear the voices over the instruments.
This year, I figured out why. Most kids don’t appreciate the significance of the microphone.
They sing towards it, more or less. But not directly into it and not consistently. It’s like listening to a live demonstration of The Doppler Effect (look it up), minus the passing train.
For me, this one factor is the difference between the best and the worst performances. Nearly everybody up there can sing; I just can’t hear most of them.
When it comes to writing, “voice” is also the difference between the best and the worst.
My belief in you as expert; my willingness to pay attention; my overall assessment of you as somebody I might hire … it’s not really about your level of talent.
If it were, we wouldn’t call it marketing. We’d call it, “An efficient marketplace in which the most qualified professionals rise to the top and are consistently chosen by objective, rational prospective clients.”
Not only is that a terrible name for a field of study, it’s not the way the world works. Because while reality and marketing are well acquainted, they’re not blood relatives, let alone identical twins.
As in the talent show, what matters most is how easily I can hear you above the noise.
In particular, it comes down to whether or not I can hear an actual, authentic, human being behind the words you write.
Do you have to be smart and experienced and knowledgeable? Sure. The problem is that all your competitors have that in equal measure. (At least as far as your prospective clients can tell.)
What they don’t have is your particular voice and personality. The voice and personality that helps me feel like I know you, can trust you and might want to meet you.
But if you hide that behind a fog of, “please listen closely as our menu options have changed,” corporate blah blah, you sound as formulaic and unrecognizable as the fourth consecutive guitar band in a high school talent show.
We may understand what you’re saying, but we feel no connection. And we certainly won’t notice if you never sing again.
Which is why I have two recommendations for finding – and using – your authentic voice when you write:
- Tell stories from your own experience.
When things happen to you, write about it. When you attend a high school talent show, look for the connection between that experience and a larger business lesson that relates to the work you do.
Not only does that make it more interesting, because your experiences are unique, they help people get to know you better (an important step on the road to them hiring you).
- Use “non-business” words in your business writing.
“Decrepit,” “brave soul,” “fog,” “The Doppler Effect.” Did you think those words just showed up accidentally? No, I put them there on purpose to sound more human. Fo’shizzle.
If you take them out, because you’re trying to look “professional” in a business setting, all you’re doing is blending back in with the dull and undifferentiated crowd.
Here’s the bottom line. “Better writing” is (mostly) not the result of better information or more compelling insights.
More than anything, it’s about finding and using your authentic voice in a way that other people can see who’s standing behind the words.
If you can do that, I can almost guarantee you’ll place well in this year’s talent show.
And speaking of talent, to watch my son Jonathan performing a song from the show that I bet you know, click here (that’s him on the right, singing into the microphone thank you very much).
- Do you have any special talents? Explain.
- Do you have any tips for maintaining an authentic voice in your writing?
- Why do they keep telling me that the menu options have changed? Do they think I had memorized the previous order?
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