“Why talk about what we want? That is childish. Absurd. Of course, you are interested in what you want. You are eternally interested in it. But no one else is. The rest of us are just like you: we are interested in what we want.” – Dale Carnegie
You can forget everything I’ve taught. If you learn to engage your reader, you won’t need anything else. Once people are interested in what you have to say, your work is done, you can cash in.
If Carnegie is right and we must engage, how can we go about it? Your audience is different from mine, and engagement doesn’t offer a concrete formula. Don’t try all of these at once, but here’s everything I know about engagement.
1. Get Passionate!
Even if you’re a naturally timid writer, you’ll be surprisingly eloquent if you’re passionate. Words flow when emotions are high. Remember what happened to John McEnroe and how he reacted? That’s engagement. We can’t get enough of that talk.
Before you write, emotionally involve yourself with your subject.
2. Give ‘Em What They’re Looking For
What EXACTLY are your readers looking for? Find out – it’s not hard. With email, Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus, it’s inexcusably easy. In my last email I asked my dedicated readers what they wanted to read. The feedback was invaluable.
An objection I often hear is, “But I thought we were supposed to be innovative. Didn’t Henry Ford say, ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses’?” Actually Henry never said that, but it applies to products and business, not blog posts. I dare you show me an article written over its readers’ intelligence that went viral. Such prose disappears in a hussel of confusion.
3. Tell A Story About Yourself (You Can’t Be the Hero)
I’m still laughing about Robert’s restaurant story. The whole thing is about himself, but he’s positioned himself in such a way that we feel superior. He’s the antiquated, bearded raconteur with a legal pad and pen, surrounded in a room of 23-year-olds sipping Latino Americas behind their MacBook Airs. That’s hilarious even without the bathroom incident.
Or take Adam Baker, who launched his first product and failed miserably. His WordPress dashboard crashed at the last minute, leaving an empty, useless landing page. Massive traffic from blogs like Zen Habits hit the page only the bounce immediately. Baker lost literally weeks of preparation and momentum, and after 72 hours of sleepless finalizing, he broke down in tears.
That was my favorite blog post for 2010.
Write about yourself, and put the reader on top. If the story is interesting, don’t hold it back. You don’t have to live like James Bond. If you’re a good writer like Bruce, readers are engaged with just a trip to town.
4. Be Outrageous!
Try being outrageous, just for the sake of being annoying. – Seth Godin, Purple Cow, pg 121
Go ahead, look it up. He really wrote that. Of course, you have to be careful, but it’s an exhilarating lifestyle. Don’t confuse it with libel, but some writers have successfully built their entire blogs on the outrageous. The fundamental premise of my free eBook is centered on this concept.
5. Reveal the Overlooked
As Ecclesiastes states so well, “There is no new thing under the sun.” It’s impossible to say something novel (unless you’re a news station, but even “news” starts repeating itself). So don’t even try.
Yeah, nothing’s new, but some things are repeated more than others. Your job is to repeat what is seldom repeated. Of course, this is hard, which is why my article here is a few days late.
6. Write with Style
Style will make you an unforgettable writer. Style ain’t easy, and few have it. Take heart, for with style you can stand out in a saturated niche. As one generous reader wrote, “Somehow, you say the same thing that others do, but you’re able to do it in style.”
Style will open doors that no other key can turn.
7. Be Dogmatic, Even if You’re Unsure
Better to burn in a blaze of glory than eek a mediocre blog. Never allow yourself to submerge into “I think” or “I hope” or “probably” or “perhaps” or “more than likely.” No reader was ever engaged with sketchy prose. Be decisive. Stick.
8. Admit You Were Wrong
“Why should you get excited about iCloud? After all, this is the same company that brought you Mobile Me.” When former CEO Steve Jobs uttered those self-criticizing words at his final Keynote, the audience roared with laughter. He was openly stating that Mobile Me was a mistake. This was Jobs’ finest hour: by admitting his shortcoming, he immediately connected with his skeptical audience.
I ain’t much baby – but I’m all I got. – Jess Lair
9. Write from Your Perspective
If you have already have a dedicated audience (here’s how) you can write about commonly-discussed topics with your point of view as the focus.
When Robert Scoble vented his opinion of Google Plus, the audience went crazy. Scoble wasn’t cold journaling, just sharing the facts. He was pouring fizz, and the audience burped. It works.
10. Host a Giveaway Challenge
How would you like to break 2,000 pageviews in a single day, attract 100 subscribers, and persuade Seth Godin to contribute to a free eBook with 79 additional authors? That’s what happened when I hosted a writing challenge on Copyblogger for a free blog tweak. Here’s the story and a link to the eBook.
Challenges engage, hands down.
So, What About You?
You know your audience best. Some of this will work for you, some of it won’t. That’s the fun of blogging – we play with our sandboxes, learning as we go.
How are you engaging?