Writing (and speaking) made easy – Part 2 – Writing and Public Speaking are both creative forms of selling

You might have noticed that I do quite a lot of writing and public speaking. I actually enjoy both enormously, which helps. When I was 16, I had to sit a set of exams known then as ‘O’ levels. Typically we did 10 or so subjects, before specialising in the following year. English as it was taught at that time was divided into two parts – English Language and English Literature.

I never could get my head around English Literature. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading… there’s always a dozen books on the go at any one time, and I love the excitement of both fiction and non-fiction. But I could never understand why we had to dissect everything we read and project onto the author all our own meanings and interpretations, when we knew that they had actually just been starving, living in a garret, with a girlfriend who was pregnant, and a mistress whose husband was mysteriously powerful and they were desperately scribbling to get the money to get away from it all! Not surprisingly, when it came to the exam I scraped through with the lowest pass mark.

English Language, on the other hand, fascinated me – I couldn’t handle the fancy terminology of nouns, adjectives, verbs, and so on, but I loved the incredibly inexpensive way of being creative. Give me a pen (a real one with ink in it) and several sheets of paper, and I could be lost for hours. My English Language exam wasn’t without a little trauma – the exam question was to write an essay on a practical joke that misfired. I remember writing a story, in the first person, about an incident at school where a bucket of water was placed above a door and fell onto someone as they came through. The punchline went “Christ, you’ve bloody killed him!” And in a short paragraph at the end I described the probation sentence that we had all received.

The exam finished, and I went out to the school bus, I sat alone, I began to shake, I began to get worried, by the time I got home I was in a right state. As an adult, I’d have had a drink to settle my nerves, but of course I couldn’t just do that as a kid. I don’t think I explained to my parents why I wanted to disappear into my room that night – I really thought I had goofed! I even thought that I’d get into trouble for what I’d written, though I soon rationalised that one away. You can imagine the relief a few weeks later when the results came through and I’d got a top grade!

With hindsight, I’d actually applied the selling model that I’m about to share with you. As you’ll see below.

After a rather upsetting experience at junior school, where one teacher used me to get at another in our annual performance of song and dance (I was “Harry Hawk” in the song “Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all”), I took a distinctly back seat when it came to the performing arts!

We had the occasional balloon debate at secondary school, where I rarely got to even try my parachute, and I remember a school trip where a large group of us were stranded on a Scottish island overnight and kept each other entertained by speaking for 2 minutes on a subject of anyone else’s choosing – my exposition on “the contents of an empty crisp packet” proved so memorable that someone in Australia even remembered it over 30 years later!

It wasn’t until my PhD that I really got to experience that transformational moment, where we have so completely screwed up that we vow ‘never again’. I was given the chance to speak at an academic conference. I completely misjudged the audience, gave a poorly prepared presentation, tried to tell them FAR too much, got mangled in my own notes and so on. I knew it was happening, but could I stop myself?

There’s more to speaking than delivering – you need to know what you are going to say, in what order, and what you want the audience to do as a result of hearing you. There are far too many speakers who don’t know the answer to all three parts before they open their mouths. And that is where selling comes in again – we are trying to influence someone so that they do what we want them to do.

The selling model is great, because it provides a structure, based on a simple understanding of the psychology of decision making that you can then apply to both your writing and your speaking.

So let’s think for a moment about what goes on when someone decides to do something…

There are three ‘qualities’ that need to be met. To be persuaded someone has to have a CURIOSITY about something. If I am not curious then I will stick to what I have always done. Curiosity is an incredibly under-acknowledged professional attitude. People who have curiosity are nice people to work with. People who express an interest in you (who are curious about your story) are the people you like and will develop friendships with. Leaders who show a genuine interest in the people they work with are the ones who people will follow despite enormous personal risk and discomfort. Curiosity keeps rigidity of thinking at bay, it brings a freshness to our experience of the world. In a funny way, curiousity keeps people young – at least in their minds if not their bodies.

The second quality is RELEVANCE. There’s a reason why charities that support children and animals are more popular than others. Growing up is a tough process – it involves a lot of experiments and many failures and, while we may forget most if not all of these, we can’t help but experience growing up as a time of vulnerability – a time when we depended on others to help us. Most adults can therefore empathise with others who are vulnerable. If you want to win someone over tug on their vulnerability. These charities become relevant to almost everyone. Anything that we ‘sell’ needs to have relevance to the other person. Some will be a direct match to their need, others will satisfy a hidden psychological connection, but they always need to be relevant.

Assuming that we have somehow fascinated the other person, or the audience, and that we have convinced them that whatever we are selling them is relevant to them, we still need to do one thing to get them to go along with it…

That third quality is EMOTION. People often say they want something. They may even devote hours to studying it. The step that is missing though is a real desire to change from what they do at the moment. Ask any weight-loss specialist, and they will say that people often know all about their diet and what they need to do to lose weight, it is simply that they haven’t really got excited about being lighter.

So the selling model that I’m about to explain has to (and does) address all three – it raises curiosity, it highlights relevance and it excites the passions.

Time to go on to part three…
Part 1 : http://www.the-confidant.info/2009/writing-and-speaking-made-easy-part-1-the-pervasive-nature-of-selling/
Part 2 : http://www.the-confidant.info/2009/writing-and-speaking-made-easy-part-2-writing-and-public-speaking-are-both-creative-forms-of-selling/
Part 3 : http://www.the-confidant.info/2009/writing-and-speaking-made-easy-part-3-the-sales-model/

I am happy to comment, or deliver keynote sessions, on any of the topics that I post about.  For media and speaking enquiries, please call me, Graham Wilson, on 07785 222380.

Best wishes

Graham Wilson

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