Want People to Listen? Get a Life.

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Picture this…

You’re a 32 year old burgeoning genius who’s living in your mom’s attic and working at the quickie mart. Late one night, something really deep comes to you, something truly edgy and profound, so you blast it out on your blog, twitter and Facebook pages.

This is going to change the world, you think as you drift off to sleep.

Next morning, you awaken and run to the computer to see just how viral your mind blowing proclamation has become…only to discover it’s been brushed off as the ramblings of someone with time on their hands by the general population.

Over the next month, you stumble upon blog posts and videos from well-known thought leaders, Chris Brogan, Seth Godin, Darren Rowse, Leo Babauta, Gretchen Rubin, Tamar Weinberg and Gary V who, totally by chance, happen to be sharing an almost identical point of view.

But when they say it, the world says “damn, that’s some profound stuff!”

Millions flock to read it, thousands comment.

What the…?

Fact is, every word you say, write, sing or film and release into the world is judged against a backdrop of who you are, what you’ve said, done and achieved in the past…and what you HAVEN’T said, done and achieved. That’s why one of the first things most people do when they read an interesting post on a new blog is jump over to the “about” page to see who the writer is. They’re looking to frame the message. Because…

Context is as important as content.

So, if you’re wondering why your brilliance seems to be falling on deaf ears, maybe it’s time to step back, look at the bigger footprint you’ve been leaving and ask:

Has what I’ve said and done to date allowed people to buy into the possibility that what I say and do now and from this moment forward has substantial value?

If the answer is yes, keep on keeping on.

And, if it’s no…maybe it’s time to stop observing life and start getting enough of a life to have things that are consistently valuable to share (trust me, I’m still working on this myself, lol!).

Begin to build a mountain of “social proof” that’ll demonstrate to others it’s worth giving up their most precious asset, time, to listen to you. It may be as simple as posting phenomenal content on a regular basis. And, maybe that can be fabricated largely out of the internal machinations of your own brain and internal world.

But, I’ve found, more often than not, it requires something more.

A greater willingness to contribute to, explore and immerse yourself in the world around you, to do what others dream of doing, to risk success and failure, then share your experiences, discoveries, insights and observations…in your own voice, through the window of your own eyes.

People don’t just want to know what’s on your mind, they want to know you’ve got skin in the game.

That makes for a far more compelling story.

It’s why James Frey couldn’t sell the manuscript for A Million Little Pieces when he shopped it around as fiction, but as soon as he started pitching it as “real-life” (yeah, let’s not go there), publishers were tripping over themselves to buy it.

Same essential content, different context.

So, if you’re wondering why you still don’t have more readers, listeners, followers, fans, buyers, customers or evangelists and you’ve read this far, try this.

Step away from the screen. Live a little. Hell, live a lot.

Then come back to your blog, to twitter to your book in progress, to your podium, armchair or classroom when you have something compelling to say and you can frame it against the backdrop of your own personal experience in the world.

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do YOU think?

Talk to me…

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74 responses

74 responses to “Want People to Listen? Get a Life.”

  1. Randy Zeitman says:

    “Context is as important as content.”

    Maybe at best content is only a fraction as important as context. People do NOT buy ideas…they buy the vicarious association with the speaker.

    To vicariously associate yourself with others who portray an image you like is an attempt to validate yourself as well.

    My favorite sports team, my music, my favorite authors, god, etc…I am “with them”.

    How many times do you hear someone say “I hate the person but I love their ideas so I’m gonna take them on in earnest.”

    Existential Marketing 101: Impression, not product. Perception = reality.

  2. Patrick says:

    Wow, this post is convicting. Not only as a business owner but also as a husband, son and friend. I can tell you many a time I have shared facts and ideas with people close to me only to not be believed until they read or hear it from the original source. Thanks for the reminder about this. I am working through some stuff in my personal life and all too often I have been in retreat in social networks online while at the same time putting family and close friends on the backburner while I post away. Nothing wrong with blogging and social networking but instead just throwing out my crazy thoughts all the time I need to be having more of a real life doing stuff at home, in the yard, for friends and family that I can share instead of my own “greatness.”

  3. Jeff Turner says:

    This is one of those posts I wish I had written myself. Only, I’m certain I would not have written it as well.

  4. eddie says:

    yeah i knowwwwww boostah

  5. Kay says:

    This is possibly the most helpful post I’ve ever read. I’d never pegged credibility + presentation + content like that in my own mind (I don’t know why, but I hadn’t!).

    Lots of food for thought. Thank you.

  6. A splendid articulation of the nature of credibility.

    I’d like to add that even if you haven’t yet established your provenance as a credible source, to go ahead and put your ideas out there anyway. If it turns out that your ideas are honestly in synch with the leaders in your field, if nothing else it lets you know that you’re on the right track & that you’re likely on the good side of the risk/reward continuum should you decide to put some “skin in the game.”

  7. Hi Jonathan – Thank you. It’s like we’re all supposed to be authentic nowadays. Ummm, authentic whats, exactly?

    If you’re not actually doing anything, and/or haven’t been in a while, all you’ve got to base your authenticity is nothing, unless you want to be a has-been. So, that would still make you an authentic nothing, pretty much. Okay, possibly, if you’re Sartre. Otherwise, not so much.

    As to Randy’s comment above, agreed on the vicarious-ness point, but also if the idea induces further action (riffing?), not so bad, right?

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Randy – no doubt, there is the element of being part of “the band” that’s very alluring. I’m actually working on a post that’s gonna talk about that in a lot more detail

    @ Patrick – Nothing wrong with spending time online sharing, as long as you’re spending more time doing things worth sharing

    @ Jeff – Beat ya, LOL!

    @ Kay – Glad to be of help.

    @ Eric – agreed, sometimes just putting great value out there on a consistent basis is all you need to build that base of credibility, but it’s how you develop those ideas that also matters

    @ Betsy – Yeah, it’s like I wrote in a recent post, authenticity isn’t enough, it needs to be coupled with sginificance

  9. CareerAnnie says:

    You’re talking about building a platform and/or not giving your life away to cyberspace.

    I’ve found that the irony of building a platform is that to build a platform, you almost have to have a platform.

    Especially as a younger person, I find it hard to decide which challenges to pursue. A lot of people become known as being one thing or another. And then they get stuck doing it. There are so many things that I want to explore, I find it hard to pick one and designate it as my “activity of significance.”

  10. Nicole says:

    This perspective makes a lot of sense.

    Another component is popularity begetting popularity.

    Even looking at some of the examples you cited, it’s like the hot girl in high school. Popular only because everyone keeps going along with it, not necessarily because it’s the best.

  11. Sarah Bray says:

    Beautiful, Jonathan. Have you been spying on me getting a suntan from my computer monitor? 😉

  12. This is something I’ve written about before, and I have a feeling your post has a lot more eyeballs on it than all of mine combined.

    For every reason you listed, of course.

    That’s the key, though. Those who have built a name for themselves get noticed, and those who haven’t can either keep building or give up. There is room for another voice from an up-and-comer.

    Of course, it’s about the journey. It’s about execution. It’s about getting things done well. That’s what people want in the end, right? Amazing results.

    Amazing results + ability to get point across = the best

  13. Mouli Cohen says:

    it’s a strange world out there for people with ideas. Obviously, ideas are sacred. The trick is not putting them into context but getting them out in a way which is unique, eye-catching, and truthful. There are a lot of entrepreneurs out there with great ideas and no unique forum in which to express them.

    The internet as it stands today is both a tool to produce ideas and a factory in which to mass market them.

  14. brian PAPA says:

    The thing about Gary, Chris, and the other guys you mention is you FEEL: they are on a MISSION. It’s something you feel, and I think it’s part of our natural instinct to be part of something great.

    So to add: BE that person, the person on a mission doing GOOD… others will get in line!

    Excellent post, Jonathan. Re-tweeted.

  15. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ CareerAnnie – Gotta completely disagree there. This blog is case and point. Nobody knew who I was when I launched it. WriterDad.com is another example. He came out of nowhere and was getting 20 comments on his posts a month into blogging.

    To build a platform you don’t need a pre-existing platform, you just need to be doing something worthy of people’s attention, which is huge challenge in an attention economy. And, that’s true regardless of age.

    @ Nicole – Similar answer to CareerAnnie, popularity or a preexisting platform can make it easier, but over the long haul, with so much competition for eyes, hearts, minds and souls, value, significance, depth and relationships are what make it happen.

    @ Jonathan – True, true, but add one more thing to your formula…perseverance

    @ Mouli – The trick is…it’s not a trick. Differentiation is key, but again, you can be as unique, eye-catching and truthful as you want, but all that will still be weighed against the backdrop of context. There are not shortcuts, not tricks. It just takes a huge effort, a commitment to living, not just reporting…and time. 🙂

  16. Randy Zeitman says:

    “there is the element of being part of “the band” that’s very alluring”

    Yes, and I think it largely has to do with managing shame. We are afraid (shamed) that what we think isn’t good enough so we seek validation (agreement) by associating (and being accepted) by those who share our self-perceptions or values.

    I think marketing is mostly about giving people the means to mitigate shame. If my house is cleaner then I am better and therefore less shamed.

    Same for the control trigger… if I have ‘currency of control’ then I have been validated by others that my position/celebrity is valid and I can position myself as a leader.

    See… I keep tellin’ people that happiness is informed by certainty which is informed by control which is inversely proportional to shame but skeptics they remain!

  17. […] Fields published a post this week that hit home for me. In fact, I recently had a similar revelation. I spent last week in […]

  18. I think I love you, that’s what I think. Great post and so right on.

    I’ve got lots more thoughts about it, but my honey is waiting to take me to a 12-course meal a some fancy restaurant in Chicago, so I’m going to go get a life and come back with my thoughts later. 🙂

    Alexis

  19. Dayne says:

    You nailed it in one word in your post…VALUE. Not only do you have to give value in what you do, you have to truly humanize it so others can really relate. Once you make that connection, then people listen, and then you begin to matter to them.

    Don’t be afraid to let your humanness show through in the points you try to make, otherwise, things just are perceived as flat and lifeless.

    That’s my take anyway. 🙂

    Nice post

  20. This is so true!

    I like it 🙂

  21. Alan Takushi says:

    That just knocked a whole lot of sense into me… I’m definitely guilty of trying so hard to create an online identity that I’ve been neglecting my real life identity.

    Creating, writing, recording, photographing your genuine thoughts and real life experiences is what life’s all about… “being real” as the kids say these days. Thanks for that punch to the noggin!

  22. Mari Smith says:

    Excellent post!! Yes, love this – I’m a big fan of living my life “out loud!” I wear my heart on my sleeve and find that when I’m uber transparent in sharing with my community, our connection and trust really deepens.

    Two thumbs up!
    @marismith

  23. Rhonda Cort says:

    I love this! Definitely fresh, timely and much needed. I believe in “live first, teach second”. You can never manufacture having walked your talk.

    Thanks for sharing!
    @MagneticWoman

  24. Vanessa says:

    I love this post

    There are so many people out there who are giving advice and tell others what to do and it just feels like they have read it in a book or learnt it in a classroom so think they are an expert.
    Like the guy who was giving advice about buying shares and then admitted that he had never bought shares and was too scared to. I stopped reading that blog.
    Nothing beats experience in life – as they say you learn from it. So share what you have learnt the hard way – by living it!!
    Vanessa

  25. Kelly says:

    I am always acutely aware of how different I am than my friends, family and colleagues when it comes to my level of curiosity and interest in the people and world around me. I’m confident that I speak for many when I say this can make knowledge-experience junkies like me feel a tad lonely at times BUT it makes writing and communicating sooooo much easier.

    It took me to my mid-40’s to realize that all those experience, all that sucking up detail and story, all that listening paid off in being able to have a wealth of ideas, and the ability to share them, for and with my clients.

    Be interesting and people will be interested.

    The End. Great post as usual Jonathan.

  26. John says:

    Oh yeah, live life. That’s what I’m all about. If you don’t have a life to share on your blog, then what can you blog about?

    It’s time to get a life. Offline (sometimes) and alive is how we should be. Great stuff Jonathan.

  27. great post Jonathan….try try & try until you get readers…but why do one want so many readers….what happiness level or goal does it reach

  28. U’r welcome! 🙂

  29. Susan says:

    Stepping away from the screen and living a little is something I try to remind people of in my blog. Thanks for this interesting post. Someone will surely do a PHD on this topic of finding a valid voice.

  30. Wow, great point of view!

  31. Jeff says:

    I think this is precisely why Chris Guillebeau became a rockstar almost overnight

  32. russ says:

    So true. I find that sometimes i will continue read a persons blog even if there writing is mediocre but they have an awesome personality or personal story. Great point you’ve made.

  33. Interesting perspective, but sometimes I feel that I don’t get noticed online because I’m out having a life instead of making my presence known on the web and becoming a household name.

    It’s a fine line to walk – getting away from the computer to have the context to be credible, but also to spend enough time in front of the computer to become one of the names you mention above.

    I haven’t yet found that balance… (I’m too busy putting my own principles into action and having a life away from the computer). 😉

  34. Anand says:

    Hmm.. Quite an interesting take on the ‘practice what you preach’ paradigm.

    A very engrossing read. Quite a few takeaways.

    thank you for sharing.

  35. Thanks for the reminder – After reading this I went right back to my blog to rewrite my bio there 🙂 Now it’s more about what I do and HAVE achieved, than about what I don’t do or haven’t achieved.

  36. Very true!

    An unknown person has trouble getting anyone to listen, because most people don’t really know what a good idea is.

    The Washington post did an experiment with violin virtuoso, Joshua Bell a few years ago. He played anonymously in a subway station to see how many people would appreciate the music. He wore normal street clothes but had a body guard nearby to protect his $3.5 million 1713 violin.

    Out of the 1100 people that went by, 27 gave money for a total of $32. This for a guy that sells out concert halls at $100 a pop. The vast majority that went past the musical genius, didn’t even bother to stop.

    Here is a link to the original article.
    http://ow.ly/iGDQ

    Context is everything!

    There is also a flip side to this. Popular bloggers, in an attempt to keep up the quantity of daily posts, pump out a lot of garbage, but it is still read and commented on religiously. People think it is great just because of who it came from.

    It doesn’t really matter how good your ideas are, what counts is how good people perceive your ideas to be.

  37. Joe Hughes says:

    Fantastic post and great points! Now that I think about it, I am more likely to subscribe to a blog written by someone who has done something or is doing something awesome – write a book, travel the world, start a business, etc…

  38. That’s a great post. It is unfortunate that everything has to be based on popularity.

  39. Nicole says:

    Hey Jonathan,
    Introducing context is a concept I’d yet to consider. (yay for a new idea!)

    Respectfully, I’d like to add:

    Humans seem to be inherent followers. If a group keeps touting another’s genius, more will follow without questioning merit or thinking critically, simply because of critical mass.

    There are plenty of examples in society spanning from Hitler to modern athletes.

    Thanks for the conversation. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

  40. That’s why one of the first things most people do when they read an interesting post on a new blog is jump over to the “about” page to see who the writer is.

    Very good point. I was too following with interest my statistics and saw that my About Me page is by far the most important, it has just by a little less views than all the other posts.
    I just “finished” (well.. reached a publishable shape) the design of my new blog, my next step now is to reformulate my About Me page. I didn’t quite realize until now what an important kick-start point it is.

  41. I agree. The best compliment I can give a writer is that they’ve echoed my own similar thoughts, but they had the courage and the talent to put them into words.

  42. I love this post Jonathan. Totally agree that context is as important as content. For example, an advertisement of a blank page in wallstreet journal is going to mean totally different to the reader compared to the very same advertisement in a teenage magazine. I realize that the things that I practice in my own life and my own background say a lot more about me than whatever I say verbally, so I’m always striving to live by example as priority.

  43. kelly n. says:

    Good stuff. I often run into this question when I’m posting on my blog — “how personal are we going to go today?” sort of thing — and like the reminder that that personal disclosure really is what people seem to crave. My manifestation of this is a work in progress, motivated by these kinds of thoughts. 🙂

  44. Lars-Christian Elvenes says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    Great post. What you say about jumping over to the “about” page definitely rings true for me. A lot of the persuasive power lies in who’s saying/posting what. I’m sure I could find your points of view in lots of other blog posts, for example, but having read your book and seen your activity on twitter as well adds to your authority in my eyes, and makes me come back. Same with Seth Godin that you mention, as well other bloggers and twitterers I follow.

    Lars-Christian

  45. Dan Holloway says:

    Great post, Jonathan. I fear that many of us don’t even get to the “brushed off by the general population” stage 🙂

    The internet is supposed to be a great democratiser, and in some ways it is, because everyone with great content “could” “go viral”. On the other hand when it comes to ideas (as opposed to images/sounds/films), however, it can have just as much of a glass ceiling as anywhere supposedly more “traditional”.

    We’ve all suffered from the “who are you?” and “What’s that on the bottom of my shoe?” syndrome. Consistently great content is one thing, but only if people read it. There’s a tipping point somewhere (to make a deliberately ironic reference to one notable “authority”) that sees you move from the position of ignored wannabe and assumed follower to acknowledged intellectual leader. Rather, I think there’s a series of tipping points as you become first an acknowledged authority within a small sphere of people who share a common interest, and then move out, acquiring an ever wider sphere.

    Like everything, establishing a reputation takes time. I think that’s the danger – because a guy playing Pachelbel on his guitar can become an overnight sensation, we think we can become overnight ideologues. It doesn’t work like that – not unless you come up with an alchemical blend of the two, an “idea stunt” where the stunt brings attention to your amazing idea.

    Don’t be downheartened. As “nobodies” we still have a better chance of becoming thought-leaders than we did before the Internet, but it would be wrong to pretend the glass ceiling is no longer there. There’s still a pecking order, and those above you in it will still ignore you. The great saving grace of the Internet is that what those above you think matters a lot less than what those below you think. So the key to success is to build your following from the grass roots up, and nowt to schmooze the next in line.

    And my current “I thought of this before Godin/Anderson/whoever” – the real danger the net poses to culture – what happens when access to the market vastly outstrips the ability to benefit from the market? The importance of thinking now to avoid a new wave of exploitation in the very near future:
    http://agnieszkasshoes.blogspot.com/2009/07/just-how-free-is-free.html

  46. Dominique says:

    I too love to check out the about page if the blog/website interest me. The personality behind the voice is what is more captivating and interesting to me as it give credibility to the content presented.

  47. David says:

    When speaking at a conference or professional event I have always looked at it like this: if I can just say 1 thing that resonates with each person in the audience, even if it is just a passing reference to a book or website they then check out, I have accomplished my goal – informing them and expanding their horizons just a tiny bit.

    Same goes for generating on-line content and contributing to discussions. Great to have an audience of many, but if you can connect with even 1 person then you have done something worthwhile.

  48. NomadicNeil says:

    So in summary; make sure you can walk the walk as well as talk the talk?

    @John Bardos: So are you saying that people need to be told what a good idea is, or what is good. Should they not be left to make up their own mind about what they like?

  49. Ok, so I have been struggling with this blog for a few days now. I agree with what you said very much and have the battle wounds to show that I have done my time to teach what I teach. I struggle, maybe, with just an “old tape” that says I don’t have to bark up my own tree telling everyone about me, my presence will just show them. Ok so that has worked well on the smaller level but not so much in the bigger picture. My blog is doing well and growing but to what degree do I share with the world what I have gone through to get where I am? I have alway been amazing that the number of hits about me are as many as the subject I’m writing about. Do I spell out the details? Show the pictures of then and now? It goes against the whole concept of BEing vs. doing. Help!!

  50. My thoughts are, if it is a truly profound idea – don’t give your idea away 🙂

    Just joking – I think this was a great post and proved some good points… You always have to trust your own judgment as well, people told me I was crazy leaving a great job and starting my business, now I make much more than I have ever made in my life…

  51. Ryan says:

    Right on. Being persistent and being yourself both go a long way. Your online identity has to match you real-life identity.

  52. Ruri says:

    In my opinion, people need a proof, people need reputation. It doesn’t matter it is outside the house or inside the house. No matter those people stuck in front of facebook or have life outside. But If the person have reputation, let say, a famous Blogger, a famous computer programmer, Sure people will listen.

  53. […] Want People to Listen? Get a Life. […]

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  55. Ron says:

    I’m JUST reading this, but I’m glad I did. Pretty insightful. …and true to bat. Will apply.

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  67. I often want to share, tweet, facebook, send out your best posts to everyone on my list… but then I’d be doing that all day, because there are so many of them! The brilliance (and prolific nature) of your mind and creativity never ceases to amaze me.

    One of my favorite types of things to read, is when someone articulates clearly and brilliantly some thought which has been vaguely lurking in the back of my mind, yet which was too vague or unformed in my own mind for me to articulate.

    You’ve done that brilliantly here.

    I spent a good part of the latter-half of my twenties writing an utterly “subversive” manuscript of creative nonfiction in fragments called “Rock Star Envy” (notice the subconscious implications of the title–I was someone who envied the accomplishments of others)–and released by brilliant work of world-changing genius into the world… and was shocked to find out that *no one cared*. Perhaps they weren’t all that interested in the “brilliant” insights of a broke bitterly-single twenty-something living, “temporarily,” in his parents’ basement, with a mood swing problem.

    Now that I’ve built up more of a life for myself–I got my health and finances in order, I found and co-created a wonderful relationship and got married, I started having some professional success, I am finding, magically–surprise surprise!–people are more interested in hearing what I have to say on things. I actually have a life now that many people would like to have, so they listen.

    Thank you for a wonderful post. You speak truth, my friend.

  68. I wholeheartedly agree with you. Even if a person creates an amazing piece of content and throws it up on their blog, this doesn’t mean they will receive instant accolades and a flood of traffic (unless they already have a big following, which would defeat the purpose of this post). However, by posting more amazing content on some sort of regular basis a person will have slowly built a reputation for putting out impressive content that is bookmark and inbound link worthy.

    I agree also that when I read a compelling blog post or article I immediately want to know more about the author. I am hungry to find out if they have written more high quality content. Awesome post!

  69. Sarah says:

    This is great advice. I’m hoping it doesn’t apply as much to my cooking blog, since I’m not sure of what I can do to gain social proof except continue to provide great recipes and to network. But I’ve often thought about how I know my recipes are tasty and innovative but it’s tough to get strangers to trust my blog enough to try them. This post has given me food for though, thanks!

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