“Perfect! You make me sound so smart!”
What writer wouldn’t want to get these kinds of compliments? They came from happy clients, which are the kinds of clients you want. It wasn’t the correct grammar, syntax, and punctuation that made these clients happy, though. They loved the content, which turned out better than they’d expected. How was I able to deliver those kinds of results?
Good listeners make good writers, and good writers make clients happy. However, listening means more than just jotting down the words that someone says. You need to really hear what they’re saying, then be willing to change your strategy if needed. Whether you’re writing articles or business copy, here are four ways you can hone your listening skills to create content that will impress your clients.
- Hear what they say. Do they talk about their hobbies? The places they’ve been? Their education? If your client mentions something a lot, it’s probably important to him. Weaving that into the content will show that you picked up on it.
Example: One client told me all about his wife, daughters, and granddaughter, referring to his wife and his lighthouse and admitting that his granddaughter had him wrapped around her little finger. It wasn’t a stretch to call him a dedicated family man. He loved that I’d noticed that and included it in his biography.
- Hear what they DON’T say. Inflections. Avoidance. All of those show you what a client may not want to discuss or highlight, but that doesn’t mean you should leave it out of your article/content. You need to interpret what those pauses mean.
Example: I once interviewed an award-winning teacher. I was supposed to write an article about him, but he answered every question with as few words as possible. Instead of forcing it, I asked him about his students. I then spent some extra time asking his students about him (not originally part of the plan). In the final article, I talked about his humility and dedication to the school and about not taking the spotlight for himself, then I filled the space with praise for him from his students. His colleagues said the article perfectly reflected him and his teaching style.
- Hear what they’re trying to say. Few people take the time to think before they speak. They’re uncomfortable with silence, so they talk through their thought processes. It’s easy to accumulate 1,000+ words of rambling notes for a 500-word article or blog post. It’s your job to sift through that to figure out what your client really wants to say.
Example: Every year I interview an organization regarding their annual event. Per their request, I email the questions in advance. When I arrive, they give me pages of typed out information, then we conduct the interview. I end up with pages of notes that I sift through to find the heart of the story. It always means cutting entertaining (but unrelated) information, but I end up with a concise, focused article. Every year I receive a thank you letter saying how happy they are – again – that I found the heart of their event and put it into words.
- Hear the real Sometimes you’ll got into a meeting with a page of pre-written questions because you think you know what you’re going to write. If you don’t listen to your client’s answers, however, you might miss the real story. Be flexible enough to make adjustments.
Example: I was assigned to write a business feature about a local entrepreneur. As we talked, however, I learned that she was also a talented singer/songwriter. The longer we talked, the clearer it became – her business wasn’t nearly as interesting as she was. Instead of a business feature, I pitched my editor the idea of a personal feature. Instead of talking about her work, I talked about her passion for people – a passion that fueled both her business and her music. She was thrilled with the final result and how it told her whole story.
When you listen well, you write better because you have a deeper understanding of your clients and their stories. Whether you’re writing web biographies, articles, or books, listening to and processing your clients’ stories will create more accurate, better-developed content that you can both be proud of.
Did you find this information helpful? Sign up now to receive more business writing and entrepreneurial tips right in your inbox! And don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook!