For starters, this post is not about crepes. And it’s actually a pretty obnoxious and superficial post. But I can promise that I’ll get you outta here in less than 3 minutes (4 minutes if you’re multi-tasking) , so we can all get on with our merry royal baby-stalking lives.
This post is really about the 5 things I learned from my 2-month journalism internship. In reality, I learned a lot more than 5 things- not just about writing, but about technology, multimedia, and the way we consume information . Most likely, you wouldn’t have the bandwidth to read it all (nor I to write it). About 40% of you have already clicked away. Half of you will dart off after this paragraph. And I understand: there are more exciting GIFs waiting to be explored.
For those of you remaining (thank you), here are some lessons I learned from Business Insider that are invaluable not just for writers, but for anyone looking to leverage some influence in our modern, distractible, cyborg world.
I. Inflict emotion.
Why should anyone care? Ultimately, it boils down to framing: picking a nugget of information that will resonate.
The age of objective journalism is gone. A headline like this will get clicks, Dunkin Donuts Hired Psychotic Credit Card Thief Carolyn Kravetz As Director Of Communications ,
These headlines sound like bullish statements made at the bar, which is exactly the point. Read them, and you’ll see that they’re actually marvelous stories: the first being a serious piece of investigative journalism, the second a creative integration of new media.
We act on our instincts which are guided far more by emotion than logic. So, appeal to the audience with colorful adjectives , and the way YOU feel about something. It’s not completely PC, but I guarantee it will leave an impression and get people to bite into an important issue worth reading.
II. Simplify simplify simplify.
Humans like to digest information in compact bits, so any sort of list you can compile will be dopamine for the brain.
III. Pictures are (sometimes) more important than anything you’ll write.
I hate to use this story, but it’s a telling example of how superficial we are.
I manned a daily business advice column which averaged about 200-300 views per post. Each post had a picture of the person offering the advice. One particular post came from a businesswoman who shared an uncanny resemblance to Kim Kardashian. (Before you ask for the link, it wasn’t her.) Within a day, her post received over 1000 views, more than most of these posts receive in a lifetime.
Several commenters admitted the only reason they clicked was because of the “hot picture”. Admittedly, this post was not written better than any other post, but having a fair face certainly got people to care.
IV. Brother, be brief.
V. And clear.
I love a good story that weaves its way to an unforeseen ending in novel form. But theres a time and place for that, and the web is not that place. Albeit a few exceptions, a modern reader (or friend, colleague, whatever) wants to learn something new (with some context) fast.
Thanks to Henry Blodget, CEO of Business Insider, along with my editors Vivian and Gus, who helped elucidate these insights along the way.
I’m not saying page views are all that matter. I’m going to work for a government agency which isn’t exactly known for provocative, click-baiting headlines. Impact will be measured by relatively dry economic initiatives. But, for every silly story out there, there are a myriad of other stories that matter. If you can figure out how to get people to care about really important issues, you can maximize your impact and maybe, just maybe, increase your chance of doing something truly world-changing.
I began the month of November with the vow to write every day. Since then, WordPress has informed me that I’ve published 28 times, garnering just under 1000 views collectively. The goal was to write and I guess in some measurable way, I did.
Then I realize that the date is December 3 and my stomach sinks like it did in high school, when my grade would come just short of an A. My goal was to write every day for the month of November. It’s now December and I’m still only writing for November 30, Day 30: My Final Post. Also, I am somehow missing two days – Day 10 and Day 23 – so I didn’t actually write every day of the month.
In this not-so-grand finale, missteps and incompletion are revealed. My story is one of backtracking, writing about events that happened days before, yet still documenting in present-tense as if it was all unfolding in real-time. I’m a fraud and time warp if there ever was one. Writing everyday is pretty straightforward. Pitter patter into the blog-o-sphere, publish, boom. Like clockwork, day in day out…yet I couldn’t do it.
Fortunately, I don’t really care. I wish I cared more. If I did, I’d probably accomplish more of my goals and be a better person. I’d finally get more sleep and be less crabby . I’d stop eating cupcakes and be skinnier. I’d meet deadlines and be responsible. Which would be great and then I’d have nothing to write about.
My friend, a fellow writer, wrote me this the other day:
“Today, and lately, I’ve felt like I want to just retire. Like how at the end of Casablanca, Laszlo says “welcome back to the fight, this time I know our side will win.” I kinda wanna say fuck him and fuck the good fight and take Ilsa away and live happily ever after. I feel like I’ve lived my life a certain way. Trying to write about the Last Generation. The Novel. Trying to encourage all of us to be our best and trying to be a role model. But I’m tired now and lonesome and have nothing to show for it but anxiety and doubt. Lately part of me, a vocal part, just wants to say fuck it, grab the nearest Princess Jasmine and get out of Dodge while the getting is good (as in, Marry the Girl with the stupid proposal on the ice in front of Rockefeller center, the Big Law job, the Quiet Normal life.) Let the Last Generation fight on without me – it’s filled with 5th columnists away. Not only do I want to retire, I feel like I’ve earned it.“
I tire too. I tire of translating thoughts out of an overwrought mind, craving connection with an audience (imaginary and real), dreaming of making it, only to then have people misinterpret me and my words. Forget it. It’s December, Christmas music is playing, and I just want to mindlessly sip hot chocolate. Turn my computer off forever. Pretend I’m normal and forget being the role model, because being a role model at 20something is oxymoronic anyway.
At the ragged age of 23, I’m preemptively announcing my retirement. To those who have followed me on this November journey, thanks for your readership. Who knows what happens from here. Maybe I’ll find a boyfriend, maybe I’ll completely up and leave the digital sphere, or move out of New York. I’m tempted to say I will never jot thoughts into the universe again.
But knowing me, I’ll wake up tomorrow, retreat to my favorite coffee shop in the neighborhood, order an Almond Biscuit with black coffee, and…do it all over again. Because truthfully folks, the day I can no longer pour out the addled contents of my mind will be a sad one. And that day, I will retire.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Monica McCarthy, actress, producer, and founder of Show & Tell Stories Productions, a boutique video production company based in NYC that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, artists, and organizations share their story. I talked to her about the importance of storytelling for InnerGap (an upcoming interviewing platform for HR professionals and recruiters), for both those being interviewed AND those asking the questions.
Why storytelling? It’s a buzzword these days, but why is it especially important for those on the job market?
M: It’s important these days for anyone who’s trying to get their message across because these days there’s so much information out there with social media. If you’re just spitting out facts it just gets lost in the deluge of information. So, it’s really important when you want to be able to express something that’s unique to you and why people should be listening to you. You need to have a story.
InnerGap caters to HR professionals and recruiters. How can they ask the right questions to draw out people’s stories?
M: One of the main things that I would say for interviewers is that you’re looking for connection. You already have the person’s resume. One mistake that a lot of recruiters make is that they’re taking time to ask questions that they can get the answer to on the resume (ie. Where did you go to school? What was your major?) Instead they should be using the resume as a starting off point…What they’re ultimately trying to do is to get more information than just a fact on a piece of paper.
Recruiters should also ask questions that don’t require just a yes or no answer. Recruiters usually have a set criteria of questions they’re going to ask, but they shouldn’t be afraid to be present in the moment. If someone says something that is very intriguing, feel free to follow up with that. You don’t have to stick to set questions. That way, you can really find out more about that person.
For those being interviewed, how should they respond to more spontaneous questions that don’t directly relate to their skill set?
M: When you’re being interviewed, you actually have a lot more control over the interview than most people think. Celebrities and politicians are great at this. Several things to note:
1. Be empowered.
2. Know ahead of time what your talking points are.
3. Do your research on the company. Preferably find out who will be interviewing you because again, it’s about the connection…don’t be afraid to show some of your human connection.
4. Yes – and (borrowed from the improv world) Don’t give a yes or no answer, even if you’re asked a question that just seems like yes or no. It’s always, ‘yes’ and then add a piece of information. That really keeps the conversation going and again spawns that connection between two people.
Be sure to check out Monica and more of her storytelling tips at showandtellstories.com!
Last night, I attended a NYC VIP shopping event for a store opening. The event was sponsored by a reputable magazine and the magazine’s style editor was in attendance. I went, armed with a purpose. Pitch startup idea, make an impression, smile and conquer.
<<< I also shopped a lot. Though in retrospect, I wouldn’t suggest pitching while wearing green pants. People may not take you seriously.
Easy in theory. Here was the reality:
1. Unless you personally know the owner, an event is never as “exclusive” as you think. I arrived 15 minutes after opening and the store was packed. With doors wide open, people were pouring in because…everyone was invited! Receiving a forwarded email from a fashion friend with the word VIP in fancy font had fooled me into believing that this was an actual exclusive high-brow event. Apparently I’m naive enough to believe everything I read. Reality check #1.
2. Upon finding my target, I froze. What was I actually going to say? I had rehearsed the pitch a million times only to realize that you can’t just go up to someone and begin pitching. To be a smooth criminal, you must determine how to start a conversation with someone who has far more better things to do than talk to you. Reality check #2.
3. Once you finally begin to pitch, everything that’s been rehearsed goes unrehearsed. Words sputter and things you swore you’d never say come out. Rambling commences. The perfect elevator pitch is not what you need because the circumstances for a standalone elevator pitch to thrive don’t exist. Instead, proper cushioning and social grace are more effective. Reality check #3.
4. Leaving with 3 new business cards, I’m quite satisfied. Only to realize later that I’ve lost them! Alas, I remember their names! A simple search reveals all the necessary contact information…and Google saves the day! So wait, was all that networking anxiety even necessary?
In summary: if you’re a startup or someone trying to win hearts and minds, note the following:
1. Your pitch doesn’t matter. Context does.
2. What is advertised is not what you get, usually.
3. Brevity, transitions, and cushioning are gold.
4. Contacts, shmontacs. Schmoozing doesn’t work. Be genuine and people will respond. (Dressing well helps a little too.)
5. Try hard, but not too hard. Nothing is ever worth the anxiety.