About Vickie Sullivan
Vickie Sullivan is internationally recognized as the top market strategist for thought leaders, professional speakers and B2B professional service firms. Specializing in brand and message strategies in crowded markets, she has helped thousands of talented people outsmart their competition since 1987.
Written by: Vickie Sullivan | September 01, 2009
Uncover Your Brilliance: How to Write So That People Take Notice
Originally published for RainToday.com
Using articles and speeches to promote your expertise? You’re not alone. Information is everywhere. In this oversaturated market, your content needs to be special to generate great leads. So why do so many special reports, white papers, and articles say the same thing with different examples? Because brilliance is buried in our experience. Here are two ways to draw out those insights for articles, media interviews, and speeches.
Why We Don’t Tell Our Secrets
How do you know when you’re not giving your best content? Compare your achievements with your best ideas. An in-the-trenches perspective has insights that go far beyond the standard lines. If you’re not talking about the elephants in the room or about the games played in the heat of battle, well… you’re coasting on your clever storytelling. And stories are not enough to brand you; stories support the insight, they don’t replace the insight.
A common reason for not providing your own insight usually involves busy schedules. When you’re under a tight deadline, it’s easier to add your twist to conventional wisdom than to redefine the issue and explore something new. Result: the marketplace breathes its own exhaust. Unfortunately, this habit is hard to break. The less we do something, the harder it is to do. And what do we do with the difficult jobs? Wait until we have more time. So…when is the last time you had a block of empty space on your calendar? That’ll happen when California drops into the sea.
Another reason why people don’t dig deeper is a lack of process. When creating new content, having a next step is important. It can jumpstart your thinking; it’s what you can lean on until you get into the creative zone. And what’s out there in the marketplace to help us? Ideas, not process. Why is that? It’s because ideas are more fun to create and distribute. Processes are more tedious. And many experts would rather help you directly than give do-it-yourself instructions.
To get clients out of their mental ruts, I use two techniques to draw out their inner brilliance. Both tools are very similar. The difference is the first step.
Go On a Rant
My favorite way to create new content: start ranting. If you have strong opinions that you are not shy about sharing, this is the way to go. (And yes, I use this process all the time.)
Step one: ask yourself, or a thought partner, what is my take on _____ situation? (Choose the most relevant issue — the more specific the situation, the better.) Just go for broke. No censoring. You have permission to pontificate for two minutes.
Step two: step back and think about what you just said. Ask yourself, “Did I just repeat what everyone else is saying? Was there anything in that rant that could open the door to redefinition or new understanding to the situation?”
It’s very normal to not find anything new at first. So, if you can’t find that nugget of wisdom, don’t despair. You just need to drill down, which is step three.
Step three: you can discover nuance in a broad sense by asking, “What’s the point?” or “So what?” Or, you can narrow your thinking with questions like “Why?” and “How?” My favorite question to narrow your focus: “What is the barrier that prevents people from doing what I suggest here?” Write down your answers to those questions.
Step four: rinse and repeat. Step back, look at your second round of answers and ask yourself again, “Is this point overstated in the market? Does it shed new light on this situation?” If not, that’s okay. You’re getting there. Keep asking the broad or narrow questions until you can honestly say that your point uncovers the elephant in the room. Remember, any relevant issue is being discussed to death. You can quickly acknowledge conventional wisdom and move on to your insights.
Springboard Your Stories
The second way to access your inner brilliance is very similar — you use the same questions. The difference is the starting point. I call this technique springboarding your stories. I changed the first step because some clients couldn’t muster up a great rant. (This was a huge shock.)
This process works for those who needs a focal point for their thinking. Anyone with a wide variety of experience, such as coaches or consultants, have plenty of examples to draw upon.
Step one: start with a story — again, the more specific the better. You don’t have to tell the entire story; a mere conversation or conflict can work just as well. As with the rants, you have only two minutes. Don’t go overboard. Telling the entire back story of a situation is too much information to process.
Step two: step back and ask yourself, “What is the lesson or nugget of truth? What is the moral of the story?” You will probably have more than one. List the top five and pick your favorite.
Step three: you guessed it — we’re back to the “overstated in the marketplace” question. If the answer is yes, everyone is making this same observation, then go deeper with the broad or narrow follow-up questions.
Another advantage of springboarding your stories: you have more ideas to work with. Most clients find there are many lessons in a given situation, so if one idea doesn’t pass the “overstated in the market” question, you can go to another point.
Avoid These Roadblocks
According to my clients, the biggest obstacle to avoid is underestimating your progress, which leads to giving up too early. When I work with experts, we go down at least three levels before finding their brilliance. It’s maddening at first, but when you finally uncover that nugget of wisdom, you know it’s gold.
Another heads-up: it’s very difficult to draw out our wisdom alone. We all have blind spots. The best results come up during back-and-forth conversations with a trusted colleague. If you must do this alone, record your rants/stories and listen to them. It’s easy to forget what you’ve said when you’re on a roll.
I’ve branded experts for over 20 years, and here’s what I’ve learned: we all have brilliance ready to be unearthed. When we take the time to delve into our experiences, we find that we have learned far more than what we tell the marketplace.