To start off, stop thinking about the topic as boring, even if it’s about something like air filters. Rejecting the “boring” label for any subject is the first step to turning a tedious topic into compelling content. Below are some ideas for your next steps:
Find Out What Questions People Are Already Asking
If you’re finding the subject boring, you may not have the first clue about what topics or angles an audience might find interesting. So, use web searches or relevant online forums to get an idea of what people want to know. Copyblogger gave a great hypothetical example about mining Quora and Yahoo! Answers for questions about coffee cups and coffee mugs. Since not everyone in your targeted industry will frequent any one online venue, there’s a good chance that others will have the same question and would appreciate your tackling the topic.
Solve Your Audience’s Problems
Your foray into web searches, chat groups, forums, etc. should also give you ideas about what problems people face in terms of your topic. People are interested in information that can make their professional or personal lives better, so share strategies and tips about how they can do so (as it relates to your product/area of expertise).
Plus, bearing in mind that you’re helping people can keep a lackluster tone from seeping into your copy. Even better a helpful attitude can change your perspective so that it’s easier to think about what would provide value for your audience. If you can provide genuinely helpful advice that’s directly related to your product or service, go for it. However, don’t hesitate to branch out from product-specific information. It’s generally better to be helpful than “sales-y.”
Tell a story
One of my favorite television series is How the Universe Works from the Science Channel. One usually does not think of astronomy as a subject for must-see TV, but I tape the episodes and sometimes indulge in binge-watching sessions. I love the music, I especially love the computer-generated imagery, but most of all, I love the storytelling. Here’s a clip that includes one of my favorite stories: how the moon came to be. If you don’t want to sit through the three-minute segment, here’s the gist: 4 billion years ago a Mars-sized rogue planet smacked into our planet. The resulting debris coalesced into the moon (actually two moons, but that’s another story).
A good story has the power to make your audience care about and remember your message. Plus, it provides a context that makes it easier for them to understand and relate to what you’re saying. Best of all, they won’t be bored.
When I was writing press releases for a distribution service, I invariably asked new owners “Why did you decide to create this business?” and/or “How did you come up with the idea?” That usually provided an excellent story that I could include in order to provide a human interest angle (the owner’s dream, passion, or problem) and so increase readers’ interest in the business’ offering.
Tell the Story Visually
If you think that a text-centered delivery of your information will cause readers’ eyes to glaze, try a visual approach, e.g., videos or infographics. A picture can be worth a thousand words, and experts contend that visuals can convey information more efficiently. For example, Funders and Founders.com created an infographic showing how many times particular icons of different industries had attempted something before succeeding at it. The post also includes a bulleted list containing the same information as the infographic. If you’re like me, the information was much easier to absorb in the visual format.
However, this does not mean that you can simply use a visual format to spew forth facts and figures and expect your audience to be riveted. First, you have to determine that the information is in fact suited to a visual format. Then you’ll have to tailor your visuals so that they deliver your message in an appealing manner as in these infographic and video examples.
Write the Way People Talk
Another way that I appreciate about How The Universe Works is that although the subject matter could easily result in a relentless stream of technical jargon and mathematical formulas, everyone in the series explains space phenomena in easy-to-understand terms. And they do it without sounding as if they’re talking down to viewers; instead they sound as if they’re having a conversational with the viewers and their enthusiasm for sharing the information is obvious. All those factors help keep the show from being boring.
So, don’t be afraid to let your personality or your business’ brand voice shine through. Granted, there are places there you may tone things down (e.g., white papers or LinkedIn) and others where you’ll dial it up (other social networks or blog posts), but in all cases, your content should feel like it’s coming from a person, not a corporate machine.
Put Interesting People in the Spotlight
Another series that’s somewhat like How The Universe Works is the science documentary miniseries Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Again, this subject matter would not be considered a draw, but selecting a charismatic and popular personality like astrophysicist Dr. Neil Degrasse Tyson definitely helped. Tyson’s a fun guy; look at this bit he did on The Daily Show, “Neil Degrasse Tyson: Buzzkill of Science.” In addition to the cachet of the original Cosmos attracting those already interested in science, people who had encountered Tyson before very likely decided to give the new version a chance because of his personality.
Speaking of interviews, a video interview with an expert or celebrity who can speak on your target topic can have more impact than if you tackled it yourself. The right interviewees not only provides your audience with useful information that you might not have known, but they also enliven and lend credibility.
I saved this one for last because it’s the riskiest tactic. A light, humorous tone can help add make a topic more fun for you and your audience. A case in point is McCann’s award-winning Dumb Ways to Die train safety campaign.
However, what one person finds funny, another might find offensive. Content usually goes through an approval process before it debuts, but if you’re working on your own, run things by colleagues and some representatives of your audience just to make sure it’s hitting the right note.
So next time you have an assignment that leaves you less than enthused or that you think will put your audience to sleep, try out one or more of these tactics. The more you play with the topic, the more possibilities you’ll see. And who knows? The challenge of it all may end up turning it into one of the most interesting assignments you’ve ever tackled!