Same speech, different sponsor. Zzz…

I arrived early for the first session of the conference. I didn’t want to miss a word of the fascinating and potentially provocative panel discussion they’d scheduled to kick things off. But before the panel began, the organizers introduced and thanked the conference sponsors. Fabulous! The sponsors’ contributions made the conference possible, so I was happy to give them my attention and my applause.

Until they started speaking. And they all gave the same speech.

Three of them—back to back to back.

Not fascinating. And certainly not provocative. Boring for the audience and—how could it not be?—embarrassing for the speakers.

How not to give the same speech as everyone else

don't give the same speech as everyone elseWhen you’re asked to speak at an event, find out how you fit into the program. If you’re in a lineup of sponsors like that, recognize that you’re all there for the same basic reason—to support the organization and its goals. But you don’t have to give the same speech. In fact, please please please don’t. Please?

I mean, mention your company’s support if you feel you must. But we get it: they made a big donation. So did the other companies whose reps are speaking before and after you.

So how can you make your speech different?

Tell a story. A story about how your company supports the kinds of people in the audience. Show is always more powerful than tell.

Talk about how the conference’s goals intersect with your own life. You can bet the guy from Universal Widgets & Pizza won’t be saying the same thing right after you.

To be fair, the last of the three sponsors did tell a story. In fact, his story woke me from my torpor and reminded me that this was the first unique thing I’d heard all morning. I started taking notes.

While the previous two speakers had started by blathering on about how their companies love the conference organizers and issues, Guy #3 started out by talking to us—his audience. No, it’s not a mind-blowing revolution in speechifying, but the previous speakers didn’t manage to do it.

He focused on what we could get out of the experience of being at the conference. He told stories about his personal journey with some of the issues we address. He connected with us on a human level. And then he launched into the usual blather, which—except for his company’s name—was practically indistinguishable from what the other sponsors had said.

Moral of the story

Even when you’re speaking as a representative from your organization, be more than a body holding a larger-than-life-size check. Be a person. Share your story with the audience and we will remember you. Yes, and your company’s sponsorship, too.

Authenticity connects (and it doesn’t take much)

How many words does it take before an audience connects with you? It only took one word for me to connect with Stanley today. One word—not even a full sentence. That’s the power of authenticity.

People around here tend to go on at length about themselves, or they’ll opt for platitudes that could apply to anyone: “She will never be forgotten by those whose lives she touched.” “Beloved husband, father, grandfather.” And I’m thinking, What about “son”?

Oh—I should probably mention that when I say “people around here” I mean the folks whose gravestones I read when Fenway and I stroll through the cemetery in our temporary backyard. You can learn a lot from a gravestone. Or not.

“She will never be forgotten by those whose lives she touched” brought out the copyeditor in me. A) it’s a weak construction because the writer used the passive voice, and B) “by those whose lives she touched” seems redundant. I mean, the only people who could remember her would be people she’d met, right?

I’d opt for “We will never forget her.” Or maybe something to explain how she “touched” people’s lives—her volunteer work, or her openness—heck, the famous burritos she brought to every potluck. That would bring her to life much more (pardon the expression). And you’d wouldn’t be reading the same thing on every other gravestone.

Stanley’s authenticity

authenticity
Did Stanley look like this? Civil war general Ambrose Burnside, by Mathew Brady – This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpb.05368.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link/w/index.php?curid=6498996

So what was it about Stanley’s gravestone that captured my attention? I smiled the minute I read it—not, I imagine, a common reaction in a cemetery—and I kept smiling for the rest of the walk.

Stanley had one of those large stones—maybe even an obelisk; they’re popular with the died-in-the-19th-Century crowd. Lots of room for a lofty paean to his greatness. But under his name and the years of his birth and death, his family had engraved just one word:

“Stankey”

His nickname.

Sounds like a childhood nickname—and old Stankey lived a fairly long life. To me, that says he had a great sense of humor and a healthy appreciation for irreverence, which his loved ones clearly shared. It made me want to know more about him.

Now, I’m not saying you have to reveal embarrassing information about yourself to connect with your audience. If I were Stanley, I wouldn’t want my audience wondering what kind of “stank” my nickname referred to.

But share something relevant about yourself, something to distinguish you from the parade of corporate clones your audience may be used to seeing. Give them a way to connect with you and you give them a way to remember you—and your message. That’s the power of authenticity.

Just ask Stankey.


Join me on a one-day Story Safari™ Field Trip to the Getty Center in LA. Learn how to find stories in everyday life and use them to make your ideas memorable.

Who’s it for? A Story Safari™ from the cemetery

I’m writing this in the midst of a cemetery. Well, in a house in the midst of a cemetery—a quirky and wonderful AirBnB space. And, yes, the neighbors are quiet.

And every time Fenway and I walk through the neighbors’ yard, if you will, we find a new story. So you can expect a fair number of tales from the grave in the next few weeks.

So what’s a Story Safari™ from the cemetery about? You might expect I’ll be writing about the lives these people lived—and there are apparently some famous folks buried here, though I haven’t found them yet. But the more I walk around, the more I think that cemeteries aren’t about the dead people.

The grave sites closest to my building host more recent guests, and the simplicity of their headstones stands in marked contrast to the decorations surrounding them. American flags, of course—some of these graves also have brass military placques, like the ones you’ll find in a military cemetery. But also seasonal decorations. Pinwheels and butterflies and…well, see for yourself:

a decorated gravesite in the local cemetery
I blurred out the names to protect the family’s privacy.

Those look like solar-powered lights on either side of the headstone. So the deceased doesn’t stub a toe on the way to the bathroom?

But I don’t mean to be snarky. We all express our grief differently and we should be free to do so without being judged.

What makes this a Story Safari™?

What I’ve written above is a story.

What alchemy turns it into a Story Safari™?

First, lift it out of its actual context. I mean, unless you work for a funeral home or a headstone carver you probably don’t have a lot of occasion to write about cemeteries.

But what do you write about?

I write about writing, most often business writing. So I ask myself, do I ever come across things in the world of business writing that seem more embellished than they need to be? Things that are more about the person doing the writing than about the people who’ll be reading or hearing it?

Do I? Only about every day. Full disclosure: Sometimes I even do it myself.

The family that puts frogs and tinsel and solar powered lights on grandma and grandpa’s grave—they’re the real audience for all of that frou-frou. They’re doing it for themselves. And if it makes them feel better, that’s what matters.

But when you’re writing for an audience, you have an obligation to write for them. It’s not about you, not if you want to connect with the audience, not if you want them to remember and act on your words.

So what frou-frou do you add to your speech? Where’s your tinsel, your frogs? Do you ever go out of your way to drop a name? Will you take time to tell a story that boosts your ego, even if it has no real connection to the topic? Do you spend too much time talking about you—or your company—instead of focusing on the audience’s needs? Are you onstage to solve a problem for them, to fire them up to action? Or just to collect another venue to add to your speaker’s bio.

Every word you write must add value for your reader or listener. So leave tinsel and the frogs at home—this is not about you. Tell them the story they need to hear, drive them to the action they need to take, and they’ll remember and appreciate you for it.


Interested in learning more about how to find and tell stories? Join my one-day Story Safari™ Field Trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

Ethics & Molasses—a Story Safari™

What does ethics have to do with molasses?

Nothing—that’s what I always thought. Until I found the story of the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919.

ethics
Boston Post, Public Domain,

Yes, that’s a real thing that happened—back when people stored molasses in giant tanks on the tops of buildings. Tank springs a leak, molasses rushes out—more than 2 million gallons of it—traveling at speeds up to 35 miles an hour. More than 20 people died, along with countless horses. Can you imagine?

I found that story while doing some completely unrelated reading one day. And it just so happened that one of my clients had asked me to find a regional tie for his speech near Boston. A speech about ethics.

What does molasses have to do with ethics? I dug a little deeper into the story and found that people had noticed brown stuff oozing from between the slats of the storage tank. Did the owners investigate? No. But they did take action—they painted the tanks brown to match.

Many people have written or talked about the Molasses Flood. Some of the people in my client’s audience may have even heard of it before. But I doubt they’d ever used it to discuss ethics.

A fresh perspective on ethics

That’s what a Story Safari™ can do for you. Once you learn this technique, you’ll be able to write about any subject—even concepts your audience has read or heard dozens of times before—and bring a fresh perspective to it. A memorable perspective.

Here’s my client’s perspective:

I know this is a fine program you’re participating in, but I have to tell you that I chuckled a little when I saw the title of the program: “Managing Ethics in Organizations.” The word “managing” implies planning and control. And while that certainly is the ideal to which we all aspire, in my experience—and I don’t think I’m alone here—an Ethics Officer’s best-laid plans can be derailed at a moment’s notice.

Let me illustrate that point by offering you a bit of local history. It happened in the early years of the 20th century—and although companies didn’t have Ethics & Compliance officers back then, I think you’ll notice some parallels to the kinds of work we do today.

In January 1919, the North End of Boston was hit by a devastating flood. More than 20 people died and hundreds were injured. The flood caused several buildings to collapse and knocked an elevated train right off its tracks.

You might be thinking, “That’s tragic. But it sounds like standard flood damage.” And you’re right. But this wasn’t a standard flood. It was a flood of molasses.

Now, usually we think of molasses as a slow-moving substance. But when a 2.3 million-gallon holding tank burst that day, it sent the sticky syrup cascading through the city streets at 35 miles an hour. In a wave that some reports said was up to 40 feet high.

Who could imagine that such a thing would happen? It had never happened before (and, thank goodness, it’s never happened since). But it happened once, and that was costly enough.

Could this tragedy have been prevented? The exact cause of the failure was never determined, but it may be that shoddy construction was to blame—the tank apparently leaked from the outset, a fact the company attempted to hide by painting it brown.

It seems to me that the Great Molasses Flood of 1919 is the perfect analogy for our jobs today. Whatever company we work for, whatever industry or profession we work in, we Ethics & Compliance Officers are charged with finding out if there are any leaky tanks in our organizations and fixing them before they cause serious damage.

You might not be writing about ethics, or anything particularly business-related. But chances are, you’re not the first person—or the only person—who has something to say about your idea or issue. Make your words memorable, and get your audiences engaged, by taking them on a Story Safari.™


Join me for a one-day adventure in finding and using stories, this Saturday—March 17th. Register here.

“Your Words Matter”

I’ve been feeling kind of grumpy and hopeless the last few days – being sick sometimes does that to me. But something caught my eye this afternoon, and I think I may just have enough brain function to write about it. It’s a note my friend Melissa enclosed in a gift: “Your Words Matter.”

Your words matterI’ve said that a lot to my writers last year. And, whaddaya know, they listened.

They’ve written things they never imagined – my lawyerly writer has become a poet; my scientist and academic have written children’s stories.

And they’ve written things they have imagined – reanimating long-dormant stories, turning memories into memoirs. Best of all, they’ve pushed their writing out of the nest for others to read. And it’s good! Better than they think it is, in many cases – which is how we can tell they’re really writers.

One of my writers lost her father in 2017, but during the last six months of his life, she was able to read him stories. Stories she had written, stories she said would not have been written if she hadn’t joined one of my writing challenges.

“Your words matter.” Sometimes more than you know.

Still, Melissa’s note said MY words matter. At first I assumed she meant the blogging I’ve done over the last 18 months (even though I’ve stopped posting daily). Or my writing streak – 615 days as of yesterday. But all of that is just writing. Writing has paid my mortgage for a long time; I don’t think about my words as having any particular value beyond that.

But last year, I pushed some words of my own out of the nest. I opened up my work beyond corporate clients and started working with individuals for the first time, teaching, guiding. Turns out it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

Looking back over the past year I think the words that have mattered the most, the words I’m most proud of, are the words of encouragement I offered my writers. When I’ve been able to reassure them that no one writes beautifully every day, that the crap they wrote today means they’ll write something better down the road…when my words have created a safe space for them to create…and they’ve created – that’s the most meaningful work I’ve ever done. And I can’t wait to do more of it.

You out there, reading this: your words matter, too. So go use them. Write. Revise. And then push your work out of the nest and watch as your words matter to someone else.


Resolving to write more in 2018? Join my 5×15 Writing Challenge. Write for 15 minutes a day for five days in a row and support a great global literacy nonprofit. More information and registration link here.

Words matter. Use them wisely.

How much do words matter?

Last October, I wrote about a chilling article in The Guardian that asked:

“What happens when political language fails?”

The writer, former BBC director general Mark Thompson, offered an answer…:

“From the fall of Athens to the rise of totalitarianism, observers from Thucydides to George Orwell have associated a breakdown in public language – or rhetoric, to give it a more traditional name – with the failure of democracy, loss of freedom, civil strife and, ultimately, tyranny and murder.”

It’s not just fancy speechifying that’s gone missing in the United States these days. Even in conversation, even when answering questions, our politicians and their spokespeople lie with impunity. Words have often ceased to be meaningful indicators of reality—whether they emanate from the White House or from the Congress.

This administration and their Congressional enablers have done a great deal of damage to our country and to many people—especially the marginalized people—who live here. But it may be that the worst damage they have done is to our language.

Words matter. Or they should.

words matter
Peter Pan and his shadow by Oliver Herford, The Peter Pan Alphabet, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1907, page 39, Public Domain

We can boot the lying bastards out of office—and this past Tuesday’s elections clearly showed that’s the direction we’re headed—but how can we reunite word and meaning?

It’s like sewing on Peter Pan’s shadow: the operation only works if you believe in it. And the problem here is that many people no longer believe what they hear.

In a blog post just before the inauguration, I wrote:

It’s a tough time to be a word person.

With people doubting even long-established facts, the very building blocks of a wordsmith’s trade threaten to become meaningless. It’s as if someone decided that instead of making bricks out of stone—or whatever bricks are made of—we’ll now make them out of papier-mâché and pretend it’s the same thing.

You can stand there shouting about engineering and the immutable laws of nature until you’re blue in the face. But you’re not going to reach the people who’ve decided that facts don’t matter. Until, perhaps, their papier-mâché chimneys go up in smoke.

Oh, who am I kidding? When that happens, they’ll just blame the logs.

Don’t shout. Listen. And Talk.

Shouting won’t help anything. But listening will. And talking face to face, heart to heart.

Conversations won the elections for Democrats last Tuesday, as tens of thousands of people canvassed for their candidates. One activist on a recent episode of Pod Save America said that supporters of Planned Parenthood had knocked on over 300,000 doors in Virginia in recent weeks. And let’s not forget the people across the country who worked the phone banks, calling voters to find out and address their concerns.

Conversations—remember those?

Those conversations worked. And we have to keep having them, and expand the circles of people we reach.

I quoted Neil Gaiman in that “it’s a tough time to be a word person” post.

He said “Words are more important they ever were” because “We navigate the world with words” and

“People who cannot understand each other cannot communicate.”

And people who cannot communicate cannot fix what’s broken about our democracy.

So get talking. Because words matter.


Do you need some practice speaking up at work? Join me for “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. Priceless advice from an award-winning business speechwriter: On November 20th, it’s free.

Self-consciousness and self-awareness

I’m working to shove self-consciousness into an ever-shrinking corner of my life. At the moment, it’s living in an AirBnB room in the Willits’ garage. Bathroom’s in the main house; not a fun place to be when it snows. Self-awareness, on the other hand, knocks on my front door at the oddest times. I’m always glad to see it, but usually surprised, too.

“Apparently,” I said to the VA candidate during our Zoom interview, “I do more than the average person.” She looked down and tried to suppress a laugh. Gee, I found myself thinking, maybe I really do.

Running two writing courses simultaneously while planning two others—and an end-of-year retreat; feeding the last five pieces of content into a 52-week curriculum; working with my corporate writing clients.

self-awareness
Yogi Bear, “smarter than the average bear” By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use

Oh, right—and writing for at least 15 minutes every day. (Today’s day 555!) Oops—yep, and keeping in touch with the folks on my mailing list four or five times a quarter. While always looking for ways to find more folks to keep in touch with.

Surely someone like Sir Richard Branson does all this before breakfast. While kite-surfing around his island.

No?

Well, okay. I’m not going to stop doing what I do, but I will give myself credit for being more active than the average bear. That’s self-awareness.

Self-awareness requires company

Self-awareness doesn’t develop in isolation. You need people around you (or streaming to you over your WiFi) to hear your stories and mirror them back to you.

I went out to dinner with a randomly selected group at a retreat I attended last month. One of the icebreaker questions was something about “the most fun business event you’d ever attended.” I knew my story was cool—maybe I’ll write about it one of these days—but in telling it and seeing my dinner companions react, I realized for the first time that there was some “extraordinary” mixed in with the cool. I saw that it was a story about me as much as it was about the actual events. That’s self-awareness.

I can pick out a great story at 500 yards. With one arm tied behind my back. If it’s a story about someone else. Stories about me? I mean, I have a collection of client success stories, of course. But stories that demonstrate my own successes? The ways in which I shine? Oh hell no. I don’t tell those stories.

The event I talked about at dinner happened over 25 years ago; I think I’ve told it maybe once since then. And never to people I’d just met.

What’s your story?

That’s why I’ve created my end-of-year retreat, Write & Shine. We’ll spend a lot of time looking for those kinds of stories in ourselves. Everyone has them. And we’ll also look at telling other stories—because you can’t talk about yourself all the time. We don’t want self-awareness to morph into self-involvement, after all.

What stories are you not telling that you should be? Maybe it’s time to shine. And see your light reflected back through other people’s eyes.

Katharine Hayhoe — stories drive change

“How can I talk to people who don’t accept the truth about climate change?” That may not be exactly what the audience member asked the dudes from Pod Save America on a recent episode, but it’s close enough. Their answer—again, not verbatim: Stories drive change.

The questioner had asked particularly about climate science: How can her relatives not understand the source of the havoc we are unleashing on our environment—catastrophic hurricanes, fires, flood. So far everything but a plague of locusts.

Usually those encounters go one of two ways:

  1. Are you crazy?
  2. The median temperature of the earth has risen X degrees in the last 20 years.

When’s the last time you had a productive conversation with someone who called you crazy?

I didn’t think so.

And when’s the last time you listened to someone rattle off a string of numbers and didn’t fall asleep? Or start thinking about something more interesting, like when you’re going to run out of clean underwear. Or whether the lettuce on sale will last more than a day and a half.

As I’ve said more than once, if you want people to remember what you’re saying you need to tell a story.

Stories drive change

stories drive change
Katharine Hayhoe and a friend, from her Twitter profile

One of the Pod Save America hosts, Tommy Vietor I think, mentioned a name I hadn’t heard before: Katharine Hayhoe. He said she has the ability to turn facts into stories that connect with people on the other side of the climate change debate. And more importantly, that her stories drive change.

Vietor isn’t the only member of the Katharine Hayhoe fan club:

“Katharine Hayhoe is a national treasure,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. He said that she combined powerful communications skills, world-class scientific credentials and an ability to relate to conservative religious communities that can be skeptical about the risks of a changing climate.

That’s from a 2016 New York Times article about her. So is this:

“…she has found that she gets her science across more effectively if she can connect with people personally. In a nation seemingly addicted to argument as a blood sport, she conciliates. On a topic so contentious that most participants snarl, she smiles. She is an evangelical Christian, and she does not flinch from using the language of faith and stewardship to discuss the fate of the planet.”

Use the language your audience speaks. Connect with the people you’re speaking with. Be human. Be vulnerable. Be authentic. And use concrete examples that everyone can understand.

Can stories drive change—really? Check out the quote from Hayhoe that closes the Times article:

“I don’t believe in climate change,” she said. Belief doesn’t come into it; scientific verification does.

“Gravity doesn’t care whether you believe in it or not,” she said, “but if you step off a cliff, you’re going to go down.”


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Numbers don’t bore people; “numbers people” bore people

There are two kinds of storytellers in this world: numbers people and emotion people. Regular readers of this blog know I am a strong proponent of the second camp.

Well, “camp” implies some sort of militarized division—an uncrossable line. In fact, speakers must be comfortable crossing that line.

Since the audiences we reach are also made up of numbers people and emotion people, we emotion-based writers need to incorporate some facts (numerical or otherwise) to convince the fact-seekers in the audience. And the fact-based folks need to incorporate emotion. Because emotion carries a story forward. Without it, you’re left with only a laundry list. And who wants to listen to that?

I was reminded of this yesterday during the longest half-hour I’ve spent in years. The rector of my church—a wise and wonderful writer—was on vacation. They’d hired one of those numbers people to sub for her.

Numbers people can turn even an emotional subject to dust

numbers don't bore people; people bore peopleThe Old Testament reading gave us the Ten Commandments. A fine story. He focused on “you shall not murder”—the current translation—and pivoted to talk about the shooting in Las Vegas and gun violence in general. Fine.

But did he talk about the morality of raining down death and destruction on innocent concert-goers? Reader, he did not—not really. Oh, he talked about death and destruction all right. He recited a bunch of numbers. I think you’d hear fewer at an Accountants convention. At ten years’ worth of Accountants conventions.

I didn’t capture all of the numbers he threw at us—I didn’t start taking notes until I realized I wanted to blog about this. But here’s a partial list:

  • # of American deaths in all wars
  • # of American deaths in the Vietnam War
  • # of American deaths in the Civil War

And then the annual statistics:

  • # of gun-related deaths in the U.S.
  • # of gun-related suicides in the U.S.
  • # of gun deaths in Canada
  • # of gun deaths in England
  • # of gun deaths in Australia
  • # of gun deaths in Japan

No stories, just the raw numbers. It was Sermon by Google.

He made occasional attempts at audience involvement by asking “do you know how many gun deaths in [fill in the blank]?” Someone would gamely throw out a number and he’d declare them to be wrong. Then he’d spit out the correct answer and move on.

The thing is, he had at least one story he could have told. He mentioned briefly that a distant relative of his had a nephew injured in the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. How much more powerful would it have been to focus on that young man’s awful journey and tell us some specifics about how the gun violence had impacted his family?The priest gave us the Cliff Notes version of that story, but completely devoid of emotion.

The challenge for religious leaders

Now, priests are in a difficult position when they talk about issues of policy and politics. Until the mega-churches succeed in changing the tax code, religious institutions are still barred from discussing politics. He got around that by asking periodically “What would you do?” or saying “You’ll have to make up your own mind.”

After he was through with the numbers, he did tell some stories. He talked about the former trader of enslaved people who realized the evil he was perpetrating and ended up becoming an Episcopal priest and writing the ubiquitous hymn “Amazing Grace.” And about how the benefactor behind the Nobel Prizes invented dynamite. And about how the Wright Brothers regretted that governments repurposed their invention as a killing machine.

But he didn’t incorporate the stories into any kind of narrative. He treated them the same way he treated the gun death numbers—turning great material for stories into what I can only describe as “word lists.”

Don’t just talk; move people

Even with the constraints on making a political stand, that priest could still have constructed a moving sermon. First, he could have pared the statistics down to two or three meaningful ones. And instead of just announcing the numbers, he should have set them in context:

“The shooter in Las Vegas killed nearly 60 people. That’s ten times the number of gun-related murders in Japan in all of last year.”

Then tell a story—if he didn’t have a distant relative injured in a mass shooting, he could have talked about any death (surely he’s experienced one or two in his time as a priest). If you didn’t have any personal experience with violent death or injury, compare it to something you do have experience with:

“My mother died of cancer. It took six months for the disease to kill her, and we used that time to have frank conversations that helped ease the loss. The people killed in Las Vegas were ripped from their families—no preparation, no warning. No final goodbyes.”

And instead of just asking “What would you do?”

“Ask yourself as a Christian, someone committed to living the values we express here in this place every week. Is this the world you want to live in? A world where people get gunned down in the street and we pray for them and go back to our insular lives?”

The sermon the priest gave felt more like an outline of a sermon—fact-filled but pointless. If you’re going to ask people to invest their precious time in listening to you, you have a responsibility to say something. Even if you can’t express an opinion openly, you can leverage emotion and tell a memorable story.

And please—please, don’t ever assume that numbers can substitute for emotion.


Are you confident enough to create? Free webinar tonight (Oct 9th) at 6pm. Register here.

Dorie Clark: How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

Dorie Clark
Photo by Thitiwat Nookae

I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest expert, Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of business best-sellers Reinventing You and Stand Out, and she offers readers a free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook. Take her up on the offer (after you read this post). — Elaine

How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

by Dorie Clark

What’s the best way to land your dream job? It certainly isn’t sending in a resume and waiting to hear back. Instead, Miranda Aisling Hynes – whom I profile in my new book Stand Out – used “inbound marketing” to ensure her future employer was dying to talk to her.

She dreamed of a career in arts management. But it’s a crowded and competitive field. For her master’s thesis in community art, instead of writing an ivory tower treatise, she self-published a manifesto on creativity, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something (published under her middle name, Miranda Aisling). She wanted it to inspire regular people, not just practicing artists or those inside academia. The term “art” is loaded, she’d come to believe; it signified something rarefied that most people couldn’t imagine aspiring to. “But everyone is creative,” she says. “Whether they use that creativity is a different issue, but it’s an innate human skill like curiosity, and your creativity can manifest itself in any number of ways . . . Most people do want to be creative; they just had it squashed out of them at some point.”

She gave a copy of her book to a friend who worked at a local arts center; he passed along the copy to his boss after he’d finished reading it. When Hynes later applied for a job at the organization, the director was extremely enthusiastic, praising it during her interview and again in front of the entire staff when she went in for the second round. “The book definitely opened the door,” she says. She got the job.

She recognizes that self-publishing probably won’t make her rich or famous. “I think you have to have realistic expectations about what you’re going to get out of it,” she says. “It’s an entrance [for other people] to my ideas. I haven’t really made a profit; I’ve pretty much broken even.” But the book landed her the job, and is bringing her closer to her long-term vision of opening a “community art hotel” that connects visitors with local artists. “The more stuff you create—a blog, websites, books—the more articulate you become about your passion and purpose,” she says. “And the more articulate you become, the more people flock to your message.”

It’s about creating a variety of touch points that can draw people in and keep them engaged. Someone discovering her website might order a copy of her book, sign up for her e-newsletter, and perhaps start attending the regular art and music gatherings she hosts. “Instead of building the arts center and hoping the community will come,” she says, “I’m building the community first and hoping they’ll help me make the arts center.”

Writing your own book might seem like an enormous challenge. But you don’t have to dive into your masterpiece right away. Start by listening and learning about the major issues in your field, as you begin to formulate your own point of view. Then, begin to share your thoughts via blogging and social media. Finally, as you’ve built up a following that’s interested in your perspective—and asking for more—you can expand those concepts into a book that encapsulates your philosophy and how you see the world. That will be your calling card to attract like-minded people to you and your ideas, and to help ensure that they spread.

If someone hasn’t worked with you before, hiring you can feel like a significant risk. If it doesn’t work out, they may have wasted months and tens of thousands of dollars. But when someone reads your book – or even just hears about it and recognizes the thought and expertise that went into creating it – it gives them a far deeper understanding of who you are and how you think. That provides an extra level of reassurance that makes it easier for them to say yes to you.

So ask yourself, if a book could serve as a calling card for you, what message would you want it to convey? What does the world need to hear? Set aside an hour on your calendar sometime this week to brainstorm – maybe during a walk over lunch, or as you relax in the evening. As Hynes’ story shows, self-publishing a book may seem an unlikely route to winning your dream job – but because it helps you stand out from the competition, it’s a powerful one.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me (Elaine!) for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.