conversation is an engine

A lot can happen in a conversation

Is it Better to Sound Smart or to Communicate?

with 2 comments

Please stop me before I commit an act of literature.

We had this discussion in class. A literature student was talking about how writing for social media was different than, say, literature. Popular writing—so our discussion went—is aimed at a different audience (here we picked our way around classist terms), and is not as, well, interesting, as literature. All her other classes required a compacting of ideas into sentences that grew rather long. Sentences that required a fair amount of attention. Sentences that required grappling with theologically heavy terms, or the whimsy of philosophers who felt compelled to make up words for their new ideas. Or writers who committed acts of literature in the most tortured fashion.

BridgeBuild-20160210

 

I maintain that writing for social media requires that we let go of jargon and the complex sentences that shout “College!” or “Graduate School!” At our best, our writing is nearly transparent: leading right into the topic without stopping to say “Look at me.” Does that mean we use dumbed down ideas and language? I’ve said no to this several times. Erasing our jargon so smart people from different disciplines can understand us is not the same as dumbing down. And, in fact, when we do the work of translating our tribe’s jargon into regular English, we are poised to find a certain elegance and cadence that sounds more human, more fresh and less like the forced and predictable tribal language.

Respecting the reader is central to this project of communication—this bridge-building activity. If you think the reader is an arse, that comes through in your word choice. If you think the reader cannot be trusted, that shows. If you think the reader is intelligent and can handle the topic in words any human would understand, your reader will know.

One irony of the discussion is that many of the writers we celebrate as having written literature were themselves seeking for the simplest way to say things. Countless writers talk about kill your darlings and omit needless words and how nearly anyone can write to confuse. But the real artist takes a meaningful notion and makes it clear to someone else. And this: we are more likely to say something memorable and possibly even elegant the farther we get from our tribe’s insider language.

Will you commit an act of communication today?

 

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Hershey’s: Not a Super-Bowl Spot

with 5 comments

“Hi Ted.”

Via Adfreak

Written by kirkistan

February 7, 2016 at 10:08 am

How to be an Object of Pity

with 21 comments

Hint: Grow a gray beard and present folding-money

Twice now young women have bought me coffee at the coffee shop on the campus where I teach. Just standing in line like everyone else—minding my own business—I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman in line behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resist: “No! I wouldn’t hear of it,” I say. “You can’t. You must look after yourself with that—or at least spend it on your friends.”

I went on in that vein, until the cashier reached past my $2 (cash-money) for the woman’s card.

“She’s not going to spend it all anyway,” said the cashier, repeating what the woman said.

So. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

Yesterday: same thing. I pull out my $2 (cash-money) and the young woman behind me says, “Just put it on my card.”

I resisted. This time with less velocity. Free coffee. Thanks profusely offered.

WPRMug-2-03022013I’ve puzzled over this phenomenon. What I know for certain is that the students here are some of the kindest people you’d ever hope to meet. And earnest. Looking around I also see that I have landed from the planet “old guy.” Though I know even recent grads feel that way when revisiting their alma mater. Still, it’s been a long time since I was an undergrad.

But I think it’s the folding money that triggers the pity. What kind of a person uses cash-money on campus? Clearly someone in need and, frankly a bit out-of-touch. We all use cards.

You must not be from around here.

“Let me help you.”

The other day a student reflected on her community-building work in our social media marketing class:

“It’s also important to create a presence that encourages interaction,” she said.

I can’t get her comment out of my mind, partly because of getting two free coffees and partly because of the riddle of how to write in a slightly-unfinished, slightly-needy way. columbo1-20160205Like how Columbo conducted investigations: you pity the unkempt, needy fellow until you realize he is canny like a fox.

I’ve long puzzled over the magnetism of a dumb sketch. Stepping up to the white board and drawing something badly as a way of explaining an idea is a sure-fire way to invite others in. And they step up—not to correct, just to collaborate.PlaceByRiver-2-20160121 Because it’s sorta fun to draw badly and without the pressure to create art. And it can be fun to think together. And, like presenting folding-money in debit card economy, you clearly need help.

What are you willing to leave unfinished to draw others in?

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston, The-Toast.Net

Abscence

leave a comment »

Teaching season is in full swing.

TreeCircle-3-20160202

And all my words are going toward the course.

I’ll be back.

 

Written by kirkistan

February 2, 2016 at 8:37 am

The Alchemy of a Thought Remembered

with 6 comments

Follow the Instinct to Say Again

We talk endlessly about the question “What is remarkable?” in my social media class. I am convinced that the bits of life that we remember to tell someone else are the very things that make for great conversations. It is that instinct that also powers engaging social media.

FlowerOverWater-2-20160129

Say I run into an old friend and remember I finally read that book she told me about two years ago. Why did I wait so long? “The chapter about the train ride through the Alps was unbelievable and may have changed my life,” I say. I just remembered all this when I saw my friend and she said “train.” I can see that she is happy I read and enjoyed the book—one of her favorites.

Curiously, it is the running into the friend that pulls the trigger on the remembered thought. That instinct to pull from memory a thought stored for a particular person is one to follow. But maybe I did not store a thought for a person. Maybe I just registered a reaction to the book and I’ve been telling anyone who will listen—simply because I think they might find it interesting

Three things about this instinct to remark:

  1. We often remember for someone—we know they will like this thing and so we tell them.
  2. In a simple remark, we break complex thoughts into pieces and parts that can be verbalized. We want to be heard so we anticipate the questions our friend will say and pepper our talk on the fly with the answers they seek.
  3. The connection powers the thought and the communication. And so this memory or thought that becomes a remark goes on to cheer or enlighten or delight our friend.

The answer to “What is remarkable?” has its roots in a mystical intersection of connection, remembering and communicating. We might wish for such connection in our social media practice. The model for true connection is our plain old remarks to friends.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Tell Me a Story

with 8 comments

On the Mindfulness of Listening

Listening is such a simple thing. How hard can it be?

But we all know that listening is harder than it appears, because listening means we have to shut up. And good listening means not just shutting up but also not using someone’s moments of speech as a time to plan counter-arguments.BarnFire-20160122

Real listening happens nine hours into a car trip, after you’ve exhausted the common topics and celebrity gossip and a silence settles. For miles. Which can feel weird. And then you pass a broken down Quonset hut and your spouse/friend/acquaintance/ride share starts in on early memory of a fire at her parent’s farm, and how all the kids huddled in blankets watching the barn in flame and hearing the gas tanks in the tractors explode one after the other and how the firemen pumped water from a pond into a little pool they created and then onto the barn. And how the whole thing left her feeling sad and, well, bereft.

It had been a kind of turning point, she says, now that she thinks about it. And then she collects memories of what was different with her family after that and how it was different. She has very specific points.

And you have not said a word. Because the fire story had and entirely engulfed you as well. You were there—as she told her story—shivering on the side and hearing the pop of gas tanks.

Most listening is not that dramatic. But sometimes it is.

We’re talking about how to listen in our social media marketing class. How to listen to the audiences and communities we want to interact with. We want to hear the concerns and the jargon and the voices and the rhythm of those voices.

It occurs to me that we listen in stages. Or perhaps we hear—or comprehend—in stages. When new to a community, we hear the words and perhaps can make out only the broad outlines of the bigger story. The more we listen, the more we hear specificities and nuance The more we listen, the more stories we hear the emotion and motivations that bind a community together.

Good listening means sitting with and through the stages so that we burrow into understanding the people of the community. Our best friends are often great listeners because they sat through the bursts of story that followed silences.

Most of us have little time for listening.

Pity.

###

Dumb sketch: Kirk Livingston

Written by kirkistan

January 22, 2016 at 8:54 am

Forget Content Strategists: We need Village Storytellers.

with 5 comments

Begin the Begatting!

“Content strategy” has such a corporate feel to it. Such strategized-promotional-content-puzzle pieces, dreamed up in isolation, will move forward whether or not anyone cares. But here is exactly where strategy and art must date, marry and get busy begatting fecund stories.

No human will be interested otherwise.

No amount of strategizing can actually make that happen. Art must take over. Art connects with emotion. Art is a human meaning-making activity not easily controlled by a corporate agenda. If controlled too-tightly, art quickly becomes something less than art.

StorytelllerInForest-5-20160118

I’m working with a group of writers who need to understand this. Their task is to pull people into the causes they have begun to champion. They will identify their mission and purpose, complete with telling details about their target audiences. They will strategize about content and assemble editorial calendars, but in the end, it is the art of storytelling that has the power to pull anyone forward.

My theory is that strategy works best as a beginning point. You do your best to get a strategy in place, but then you move forward. As a writer, I know from experience that stories and strategies grow up best together. Each talking to the other. That is because the weaving of the story actually makes new strategy elements available (and vice versa). Elements appear that would not be apparent except that the artist has accessed that deep subconscious, chaotic place where connections are made and much foolish talk swirls around very bad ideas before anything worthwhile appears.

Sometimes when I get stuck in the analytical side of strategy, I set it aside to tell stories just to open possibilities. I am not alone in that practice.

There is a push for strategists today. But I would rather work with their more human cousins: story-teller strategists.

###

Image credit: Kirk Livingston

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,697 other followers

%d bloggers like this: