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Why subject-matter experts need to speak the language of story

Updated: Oct 28, 2021

I work for a lot of professional service companies editing and writing their reports on a variety of topics. The people I interview to get the story are super smart, ideas-driven and articulate. I learn a lot about a wide variety of subjects through interviews directly with the experts from the business. When I get tough in my line of questioning, the experts are usually able to back up what they’re saying with facts, figures and a business narrative that makes sense.

When expertise meets the journalistic skillset

In my experience: These people know their stuff. But most of the experts I work with are not skilled in journalistic-style writing. They are good talkers, but their writing is, well, academic. Their job is to analyze and advise. And they do a great job of that.

Nonetheless, companies and individuals must position themselves around their good ideas to win the next engagement. Most of these companies are asking their subject-matter experts to write for external publication. The communications departments cannot produce all the content themselves anymore. They have enlisted the troops to do more writing. Some companies even send out automated messages requesting the next article for the company blog from their experts. But most companies are giving their experts no training on how to write. They are sending their people into the arena unprepared.

Sometimes I am asked to edit this work, and many of the stories that come across my desk present novel ideas in a way that shows deep experience and knowledge. But far too often the stories are not framed up in a way that makes them interesting.

Getting the right story angle

For example, over and over again, I see stories that essentially have this angle: “Digital is here to stay, and your business needs a digital transformation.”

In fact, this is a correct assessment. Digital is here to stay. And almost every company needs a digital transformation. But that’s not a story anymore because we all know it. That story angle results in a “here are the facts, mam” story. The business world really does need smart advice on the topic of digital. There’s quite a gap for thought leaders to fill. But they will have to get readers’ attention with a better angle.

I believe that emerging thought leaders can distinguish themselves by finding interesting story angles about their niche subject.

With the right story angles, experts can keep the conversation fresh and lead the conversation to new territories.

What’s your fresh take on a classic dilemma in your business?

See my previous stories on story-finding and story angles here.

-Rhea Wessel is the Founder and Head of the Institute for Thought Leadership

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