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Michael Long is a speechwriter, author, educator, and award-winning screenwriter and playwright.

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The Writer's Biggest Problem...
is to become aware of the audience's biggest challenge. Here's what that is, and how to deal with it. 

The Molecule of More explains in a revolutionary way why you do what you do. If you would like an autographed copy, let me know. It's $25 per copy, US shipping including, and I accept PayPal and ZellePay. Just send me an email with your address and I'll send your copy right along.

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A few years ago, a friend of mine shared an observation that I have made use of ever since: Listening is hard.

Think about it. When you’re in the audience for a speech, your job is to consider what you’re hearing, to separate what’s valuable from what’s not, to calculate how the speaker’s self-interest has influenced the presentation of fact, to identify what it is you're supposed to do with this information, then to decide whether or not to do it.

Phew! Who knew listening to a speech was so demanding? 

Schedule a Mike Long writing seminar.

Well, you knew. You just hadn’t thought about it in such detail. In fact, we feel it more than we think it: It’s hard not to get distracted. It’s hard to bat away the temptation of stealing a glance at your phone. It’s hard to reject whispering a snarky remark to your friend sitting next to you. It's hard not to think about the pile of work waiting back at your desk. And it’s hard to work through all this information, persuasion and rhetoric you supposedly showed up to hear.

And then there’s the physical part: you have to pose so that you appear to the world as if you’re interested even if you are not.

Listening is hard.

I was on the phone a few hours ago with two people who had attended my speechwriting seminar. (They’re bringing me to their organization to deliver it to their coworkers.) We were sorting through what to emphasize and add for this group, and we ended up talking about the most useful advice for any writer, whether it’s for a speech or correspondence or anything else.

I said, “If I had only one minute with a room full of writers, I’d tell them to remember that listening is hard. Everything I teach flows from this idea. Human beings naturally seek distraction – they want relief from the hard work of sustained paying attention – and they can focus for only so long before they will take a break whether they can afford to or not. It’s the writer’s job to plan for that. Make your material so compelling, so well structured, and so accessible that the audience can’t help but stay tuned.”

Making the audience’s job easier makes the writer’s job harder, but that’s fine. It’s the clever writers who get the work, get the raises, get the praise -- and get the job done. The good news is it’s a skill you can cultivate. I may teach those skills, but like you I work to build new ones every day.

Every sentence has to deliver value in the form of intriguing fact, persuasion, conflict, validation, fight-picking, sound, rhythm, request, admonition, argument, humor, drama, or fear. 

Picking up tips and techniques like the ones I share is part of the solution, but there’s something else to do: write with the audience’s in-the-moment feelings in mind. Think about how they will feel when they hear (or read, for that matter) the thing you’re putting on the page. At every turn, ask yourself: will this make them more interested, or less? Don’t kid yourself that every other sentence is neither one, just a necessary interstitial carrying them to the next point. Those sentences are classified as making them “less interested.” You’re either pulling them along or you’re not.

Every sentence has to deliver value in the form of intriguing fact, persuasion, conflict, validation, fight-picking, sound, rhythm, request, admonition, argument, humor, drama, fear, or any of dozens of other options. And if you imagine that your material is so dry or your audience so serious that you can't afford to worry about their feelings, you've already lost. No matter the topic, we are still reactive human beings when we are listening. (Whether your boss will accept this truth is another matter.)

The choice is always yours, but the goal is focused on them: deny the audience any reason to let human nature take over so they stop paying attention.

As I often say, write as if they don’t care. Remember that listening is hard, so make them care – every line.

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© 2019 Mike Long. All rights reserved.
Burke, VA  22015
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