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. 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.
Guitars, drums, mandolins, horns and lots of singing — let me tell you, these kids are talented. It’s an event I always try to attend. But there is one problem: The audio is never 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 or 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 content.
Talent and skill are only part of the equation
My belief in you as an expert; willingness to pay attention; and my overall assessment of you as somebody I might hire is not 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, but it’s also not the way the world works. 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 and the content you create.
Do you have to be smart and experienced and knowledgeable? Sure. The problem is that your biggest 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.
However, if you hide all of that behind a fog of, “Please listen closely as our menu options have changed,” corporate 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 create content.
Find and use your authentic voice
1. Share 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, but it also helps people get to know you better (an important step on the road to them hiring you).
2. Drop the jargon in business writing
‘Decrepit,’ ‘brave soul,’ ‘fog,’ and ‘The Doppler Effect.’
Did you think those words showed up accidentally? No, I put them there on purpose to sound more human – fo’ shizzle. If you take these words 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.
The truth about really good content
Here’s the bottom line. Better content and great 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.
Michael Katz is Founder and Chief Penguin of Blue Penguin Development. He specializes in helping professional service providers talk about their work in a way that is clear and compelling. Sign up for his free newsletter, The Likeable Expert Gazette, here.
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