Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Of Starbucks & Speeches

I was waiting for my chai latte at Starbucks yesterday when the barista came over with a plastic cup full of thick, green glop.  My reaction: "Yuck!  Who would drink that?"

Then she swirled some whipped cream on top and I thought, "Hmm...I should order that sometime."

Whether you're delivering a speech or a Green Tea Frappucino, the whipped cream makes all the difference.

The thick, green glop of a business speech - lists of accomplishments, data points, facts - becomes much more palatable when paired with something the audience can relate to, like a story or a metaphor. 

Too many speakers shy away from the whipped cream.  They're afraid it'll make them seem less serious. The truth is, it's what makes them memorable.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Adam Gopnik School of Writing

Adam Gopnik may be my favorite living writer.  (If I think about that more I could probably add some qualifying adjectives like "nonfiction" - but why bother?)

One of the reasons I love his work is that he effortlessly links things that really ought not to be linked at all.  His piece on geopolitics in this week's issue of The New Yorker leads not with Kissinger or Spengler but with Paul McCartney and the Beatles.  A few paragraphs later, he even throws in a sly Yoko Ono reference.

You'll just have to trust me on that: The New Yorker has hidden all of this sparkling prose behind its firewall; all you get for free is a just-the-facts-ma'am abstract.  But do whatever you need to do to read the whole article. It's a great lesson in how weighty subjects need not be dull, and how a good writer can lighten them up without dumbing them down.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Monkeys' Business

Blame it on the infinite monkey theorem: The contention that if you sit enough monkeys in front of enough typewriters, they will eventually hit the right random selection of keys to create a Shakespeare text.

Apparently the infinite monkey theorem traces all the way back to Aristotle, long before the typewriter was even invented. Bad ideas die hard, I guess. 

Some clients - perhaps subscribing to the infinite monkey theorem - think writers are a dime a dozen. And some writers may be. Hire them and you get what you pay for: a vendor who deals in words rather than office supplies.

But what if you want writing that soars, that consistently captures the reader's attention?  Ah, well then you need an artist. 

Thank you, Seth Godin, for articulating the difference between an artist and a vendor.

I've been treated as both and I'm here to tell you, Godin is right on target (no surprise): When my clients appreciate the creativity that goes into the work, I become a more engaged, more loyal, more fulfilled ally.  Now my level of fulfillment may not be the client's concern, but my engagement and my loyalty should be.

Creativity can be scary - I'll grant you that.  An artist will have ideas of his or her own.  Some of them might not work for you and an artist with any good business sense will throw those out.  But some of them may work, and may help you look at your company's challenges in a new light.

So if you want predictability, hire a vendor.  If you want something memorable, hire an artist.