Entries tagged with writing
Podcasts can make you seem a lot smarterJune 8th, 2012
...and make housecleaning a lot more educational.
Image via this website.
These days, I'm doing a lot of ghost-blogging and speechwriting for clients. Which is good, because I do love writing, and when I'm doing the speeches I pretend I'm Aaron Sorkin writing for West Wing. What's less good is that I'm often writing well outside my core competencies - it's surprising how few of my clients need a piece on diet Coke or 80s new wave bands - so it's not unusual for me to be staring at my screen wondering if I should have taken a job in accounting.
But I have discovered a secret weapon: Podcasts.
In the past few weeks, information I've gleaned from podcasts has not only provided excellent fodder for speeches and blogs on subjects I would otherwise have known little about, it's also made me look incredibly polymathic. A client says "I wish we could find a good case study about the effects of kale chips on workplace productivity..." and there I am with "Well, Dr Tooloolamay of Higgledy University just conducted a study on that, with some interesting results - let me find the data for you." I look like a genius.
And it's all from podcasts.
I first started listening to podcasts at night because I suffer from insomnia and tinnitus and found that a quiet voice in my ears helped me focus and sleep. Now I listen to podcasts all the time: When I'm walking the dog, cleaning the house, taking the subway. I'm listening to a podcast right now, in fact. It's sort of like listening to the radio, except you can choose what you listen to, and there aren't any commercials.
So what should you be listening to?
My preference is for BBC podcasts, because I think their news coverage is more global and their comedians are funnier. And you often find out about interesting music and tv shows before they make it over here. But there are lots of great podcasts. Here are my current favourites:
BBC World Update
This is an excellent news roundup that covers everything from Syria to Greece in 30 minutes a day. Will definitely make you look like you're au courant about current events.
Dr Karl's podcasts
Dr Karl Kruszelnicki is a hard-core science geek who discusses everything from whether microwaves can interfere with your cellphone reception to the technology behind commercial space shuttles - and he does it in language normal people can understand. He has lots of podcasts, and all of them will teach you new things.
Why buy the Economist when you can listen to almost all the articles read to you in nice voices? I don't always agree with their perspectives on economic events, but at least they make me think.
These podcasts always give me something interesting to think about, and they have fantastic in-depth discussions about studies you might never otherwise have heard of. Excellent blog fodder here.
More or Less: Behind the Stats
I almost failed stats in university, so I like the fact that this podcast walks you through the way the media (and others) manipulates statistics - and helps you understand the real truth behind them.
Stephen Fry podcasts
Unfortunately, Stephen Fry isn't doing his podcasts regularly any more, but his pieces on language and fame are still well worth listening to.
I admit I'm not one of those people who's reading Mashable every day, so I like to save up the Tech Weekly podcasts and listen to them all in a row to feel up-to-date on technology trends. There may be better tech-related podcasts out there, but this one at least has good production values.
(I've given you links to the relevant pages here, but if you use iTunes, you can find all of these there.)
Have fun getting smarter!
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Why are you sucking all the life out of your blog?May 27th, 2012
Don't confuse 'professional' with 'dull as ditchwater'.
(Image via this site.)
Michael Gass's recent blog post, "Nobody Reads Ad Agency Blogs" has turned up in my Twitter stream a few times in the past couple of weeks, and I finally got around to reading it today. It's a decent summary of why ad agency blogs - and plenty of others - don't get nearly the amount of traffic that their owners wish they would: No strategy, no consistency, too much self-promotion, etc.
He's got some good points, but I think it's simpler than that.
Why people read blogs
In my opinion, there are two reasons why people read your blog, keep reading your blog, and keep telling their friends to read your blog:
Being a good, reliable source of information is definitely one of the best ways to get more traffic to your blog. There's a reason why the Drudge Report - which is one of the longest-running news aggregator sites out there - still drives enormous amounts of traffic even though it's not visually appealing, doesn't have a huge PR machine, and is basically run by 3 people in a small office.
Why people read your blog
Here's the thing: Unless you're spending your entire work life engaged in investigative journalism, university-endorsed research, or highly specialized content aggregation/development, people aren't reading your blog for 'information'. You may be very proud of your pieces on "5 Tips for Making Yoga Part of Your Life" and "Better Ways to Implement IT Solutions", but I promise you that there are already plenty of other blog posts and articles out there on the exact same subject.
If people are reading your blog, it's because they like the personality of your blog: They like your take on things, they like your writing style, they like the 'you' they think they're getting to know through your posts. Maybe you make them laugh, maybe you make them think, maybe they just think your life is a bit of a trainwreck and are tuning in for updates.
Penelope Trunk, who writes the 'trainwreck' blog example, makes $150k/year from blogging, by the way - and she's not even doing it every day. The woman behind Dooce.com says her revenue is upwards of $400k. HyperboleandaHalf has posted only 5 entries in the past 18 months - and still has good traffic stats and social media engagement.
These sites aren't providing cutting-edge 'information', or incisive insight on the major problems of our times. They're popular because people love - or love to hate, in the case of Penelope Trunk - the personalities represented.
"But my blog is professional. There's no room for personality!"
Ha! Here's what I have to say about that:
- Penelope Trunk will tell you that she 'founded 2 startups', blah blah blah, but the truth is that her professional success has been almost entirely predicated on the fact that she's created an online 'personality' for herself that has very little to do with actually making money from those startups.
- People without personalities are boring. So are blogs.
- In the long-term, the most profitable client relationships are based on personal relationships, not on a strictly objective comparison of features/benefits/price. You wouldn't dream of trying to remove the 'personal' from those client relationships - why would you try to strip it out of your blog posts?
- Unless you have knowledge, contacts, or access than no one else in the world has (think, say, former US presidents), people aren't choosing to work with you because of what you know or even who. They're choosing to work with you because of how you know. That 'how' may manifest itself in the way you approach your work, the way you synthesize information and form opinions, or because you have a very particular perspective.
In other words, if you're stripping your personality out of your blog - leaving it devoid of a sense of humour, personal details, controversial opinions or even your passion for steampunk - you're removing all the elements that go into your successful real-life business relationships.
And that's why no one's reading it.
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Blogging tips for people who kind of hate writingFebruary 6th, 2012
I know you have great ideas. But they're not doing much, just sitting there in your head.
You know you need a blog, or some kind of regularly updated content. The problem is, you hate writing - well, maybe 'hate' is a strong word, but the last time you had to sit down and write more than 2 paragraphs in a row it took you all afternoon and finally you just gave up and spent the rest of the day making a fun diagram on PowerPoint.
If you're at the point where you know you need to create content, you've probably got some ideas of what you'd like that content to look like - it's just a matter of getting those ideas out of your head and into the world.
Of course, the easiest way around an aversion to writing content is simply to hire someone - they can interview you, extract all the good ideas you've been thinking about, and then ghost-write your content for you. The problem is that this tends to be expensive, because anyone you're going to trust enough to be your 'voice' is probably going to cost real money.
Here's how to get as much content as you can out of your head and into some kind of format that you can use to either write some 350-word blog posts, or hand off to someone to turn into content for you without having to spend a huge amount of money.
Set a reasonable time limit and eliminate distractions
If writing's not your thing, there's nothing worse than telling yourself you're going to spend 'the day' trying to do it. Instead, just aim to do as much as you can in a 2-hour block. Turn off your cellphone, shut down your email, disconnect the internet and send the family to the movies so you won't be tempted by procrastination distractions. Do give yourself a snack food and a glass of wine if that helps.
Don't try to be Hemingway
Many non-writers get sidetracked when they worry about spelling, grammar, sentence structure or style. When you're just getting started, it's better to just get your thoughts out. Stick to bullet points if that's easier, and switch to paragraphs when you have a lot to say. But don't worry about run-on sentences and don't stop to wonder whether 'miscellaneous' is spelled properly - getting your ideas to flow is more important.
Start with your pet peeves about your industry
This is an amazingly inspirational place to start when you're looking for content ideas. Start with everything that bothers you about the industry in which you work: The incompetence of other practitioners; the bad customer service; the lack of regulation; the misconceptions and myths; the way the big players are ruining it for smaller players; the things that consumers should know but don't - whatever drives you nuts.
Don't self-censor at this point - at this point, you're just talking to yourself. So if you think that 75% of the other people in your industry are total idiots who shouldn't be allowed to speak to clients, write it down. You can edit yourself later.
Move on to the ways you'd change your industry
From your pet peeves, it's a natural step to talking about how you'd change your industry if you could. Better education, better customer service, better processes, more ethical practices - what would you change if you had the power to do so?
These could be small things that you're already doing in your own day-to-day worklife ("I always make sure my team has continuing education opportunities") or big things that you'd do if you were in a position of wide-reaching power ("If I was the president of a global multinational, I'd set up an ombudsman for my industry...").
Now you can turn on your computer and check other blogs
When you've run out of your own ideas, it's okay to turn on your computer and read blog posts by other big names in your industry. What are they saying that you agree with? What are they saying that you definitely don't agree with? Disagreeing with other bloggers - and offering well-thought-out reasons why you disagree - can be a fruitful area for developing your own ideas and content.
A couple of these sessions, and you may have rewired your brain...
You may never come to love writing, or find it easy to do. However, once you've done a couple of 2-hour sessions to get your ideas out of your head and into a more share-able format, you'll probably find that the ideas come more easily, because you've given your brain a bit of a structure in which to organize and think about them. And that book you've always thought about writing may be more doable than you thought.
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