While facts communicate truth, stories communicate truth on a higher level that aims right for the core of each one of us. We are moved by stories, and storytelling is arguably the most talked about topic in brand marketing today. If you know a bit of history, it’s no surprise that we’re wired for telling and appreciating stories. Most important truths in cultures around the world since the beginning of time are transmitted this way. Stories help us see something, not just know something. And how can you effectively tell someone else’s story?
By entering their universe.
Transporting yourself into the universe of another person is no small feat. It’s not something many of us are born doing, and it requires a high level of relational aptitude to pull it off. Whether or not it’s natural, it can be learned, and it is a discipline. But the ability to do so requires some fundamental – and unexpected – realities.
I know you better than you know yourself.
You probably wouldn’t say something like that out loud – after all, it’s a little creepy. It’s not exactly a good selling point. But at the end of the day, it might be true. The fact is that we all nurture our pet hang-ups, and at times they stymie our ability to communicate what we really mean. When we’re producing written content for another person, we can tend to lean heavily on their expectations. Doesn’t checking all the boxes indicate a job well done? Well, maybe – but what if you could produce something that exceeded those expectations? What if you could write in such a way that made your client say, “That’s what I’ve always meant to communicate; I just couldn’t find the words for it!” This should be our goal in the creation of meaningful content.
Where’s the magical elixir?
Entering the universe of another person might sound like a nice idea, but it’s not something you can just “do” simply by mustering up enough determination. It’s a skill that must be developed. The foundation of this skill lies in two simple words: genuine interest.
There’s nothing that elicits genuine interest like quality active listening. Borrowing a term from the life coaching industry, exercise your Level 2 listening. Level 2 listening is not listening with an intent to speak. It’s not formulating your next response. It’s about completely removing yourself from the equation and focusing on absorbing the thoughts and ideas of the other person. As you listen, powerful questions will emerge that can take the conversation deeper. You’re looking to get into the when, where, what, and why of what you’re being told. If you’re being presented with information, where did that information come from? Most importantly, what story is behind it?
Know before you go.
If you’re putting together content and you’re experiencing writer’s block, start writing down your questions. This is the ironbound rule of any service: If you’re trying to fill in too many blanks, it’s a sure sign you need more information. If you’ve given yourself over to the other person’s universe, your writing skills plus their stories should take flight. If that’s not happening, it’s OK (and advisable) to go back to the drawing board and ask them some additional questions.
Not developing all these questions on the spot is not an indication that you did a poor job interviewing them originally – it could be an indication that you were releasing yourself to Level 2 listening and trying to absorb their past, present, and future as they spoke. Any writer knows that putting together content is a process layered with thoughts, questions, edits, and rewrites. In returning to your client with additional questions, you will pierce the veil of superficiality and produce something that reflects their true intention. The interviewee has no choice but to go into their own unique experiences, giving you a wealth of anecdotes, philosophy, actionable steps, and more.
The result? Often, it’s awe.
Writing your own words is hard. Even the most talented writers have a difficult time communicating their own thoughts and ideas. But that’s what a content writing partnership is all about. If you know how to dive into the universe of another, your client may even learn something they didn’t know about themselves. They, and their audience, will be better for it.