I started confidently.
“He’s not perfect. You aren’t either. And the two of you will never be perfect.
But if he can make you laugh at least once, causes you to think twice,
And admits to being human and making mistakes, then hold onto him, and give him the most you can…”
I’m a reasonable, yet involuntarily shaky speaker, so I’d done a few run-throughs of the Bob Marley lines I was reading for my brother’s marriage. In practising, I had reached a certain point and my voice had cracked with emotion each and every time. I figured it would go smoothly when people were watching though, since I wouldn’t be focusing on the sentiment so much in front of the audience. I’d just get on with it. Plough through.
“… Don’t hurt him. Don’t change him. And don’t expect more than he can give.
Smile when he makes you happy. Yell when he makes you mad. And miss him…”
I glanced at my brother. He grinned.
“And miss him…”
“And miss him when he’s not there.”
I know what it is to miss him. I know what it is to miss his grin. And I know what it is to miss others too. When you travel like I’ve been travelling the last few years, you’re always missing someone.
Deep breath. I continued.
“… Love hard when there is love to be had,
Because perfect guys don’t exist, but there’s always one guy who is perfect for you.”
I took my seat as the audience applauded. I hadn’t expected applause in a wedding ceremony. Is that usual? I barely gave it another thought, as I looked forward to my more low-key role in the evening ahead.
During pre-dinner drinks, I met a woman of about my age who recognised me. It was unexpected when she congratulated me and said I’d reduced her to tears. As gracefully as possible, I thanked the stranger and we went back to our respective conversations.
After the cake-cutting, I was stopped on the stairs by a friend of the bride. She told me she’d been a wreck in the ceremony because she could tell how much I’d sincerely meant it when I was speaking.
Later on the dancefloor, another guest told me it was touching to hear me speak and clear how much I must care for my brother.
“Don’t worry that you stumbled a bit at the end. Everyone knows it’s an emotional day.”
This threw me. Worried? Why would I be worried? Maybe it’s a generational thing, but showing emotion does not faze me. I hadn’t for a moment been ashamed. I hadn’t been concerned about faltering. Quite the opposite. Faltering was real. Emotion was honest. I was glad that had come across and I hadn’t done a robotic, loveless, practised version.
When the audience connects, they remember.
Even hours later on a day that’s not your day.
Even after speeches and dancing and drinking.
Emotion is memorable.
Aim to be memorable.
Emotion is where it’s at. It’s powerful and your people can sense it. By the same measure, an audience experiences the exact same in reverse. Your people can sense a lack of emotion too. And even false emotion.
Think of your idols and the reasons you love them. I’ll bet they’re the sort who are themselves unapologetically. No try-hards. No fakes. No frauds. We can smell those at a gazillion paces, can’t we?
It’s an energy, an air of insincerity.
In writing, it’s just as prevalent as in person. But “being sincere” online is pretty intangible. So how can you guarantee your audience will know you to be true to your word, genuine, honest? What do you do to make sure your writing is as sincere as you think it is?
Here’s what you need to know to make sure you’re keeping it real.
1 Don’t say something online that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face
“Speaking your truth”.
Why are these even things we need to talk about? When did we start assuming that everything online was fake, fraudulent, ‘virtual’? And how did the people we talk to over the internet stop being humans to us and start being just names and profile pics?
I don’t know when it happened, but doubt about integrity set in, perhaps because the internet dulls the strength of our intuition about a person by removing many of the indicators we usually use – body language, eye contact, tone of voice.
The internet is a real place filled by real people with real lives, emotions, ambitions. There’s nothing ‘virtual’ about it. A hook-up is still a hook-up, whether you’re meeting in-person or sexting a stranger. A bitchy comment still hurts the recipient whether you meet them face-to-face or hide behind your screen.
There is no grey area. Integrity is completely straightforward.
Don’t say something to someone online that you wouldn’t say to their face.
It sounds obvious, but write for the right reasons. Explore those reasons. Why are you writing this? What action do you wish the receiver to take? Would you say this if the person was standing in front of you? Always align with your reasons for writing whenever you create a piece of communication.
Your words don’t just disappear into a black hole when you hit send, post or publish.
2 Stop sounding like everybody else
Switch off those notifications, email subscriptions and blog alerts, especially from those you admire in your industry. Nothing good will come from hanging out too long in a niche, talking industry jargon. You’ll start sounding like everyone else around you, but alienate the people you really want to help.
Newsflash! The only people googling “health coach” are other health coaches.
Instead, go and talk to the people who need you. What’s their language? Which words are used in the media for the topic you want to write about? Of those, which ones would you use naturally? And which do you dislike? Because it’s totally okay to not use words that your industry uses if you feel like a total knobhead using them.
Another trick I love…
How would you explain what you do to a five-year-old? What about to your mum? Are the words you’d use the same or different? (Hint: the answer is different!)
3 Write like you speak
Think about your spoken style. If it’s something you would say, write it that way. Don’t edit when you put that on paper.
Likewise, don’t imitate a spoken style that’s not yours. Marie Forleo can get away with all the y’all-ing she likes. She from New Jersey. If you’re a spirituality writer living in San Fran, a marketing consultant in Kensington, or a naturopath from New South Wales, quit the y’all. Please!
Other ideas include starting sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’, shortening the length of your paragraphs, and using contractions like ‘can’t’ or ‘it’s’ (instead of ‘cannot’ and ‘it is’, which make you sound like a robot).
In the end, the only way to guarantee people know you are who you say you are is to act in line with what you put out there in writing (or other content). To do what you say you’re going to do. To show up for your clients and deliver. Consistently. Always. And build a reputation you can be proud of.
But if you’re wondering why something’s not gelling for you right now, if it feels “off” when you release your words to the world, you can get more tips on conversational writing by downloading How To Cheat At Writing below. It’s kinda my speciality.