You can make anything interesting, just keep digging: Melissa Rach

You can make anything interesting, just keep digging: Melissa Rach

If the content you create is boring, it’s a safe bet you’re bored by the subject matter. So you can’t really blame anyone else if they don’t want to read, watch or listen to it. But you can spice it up — the trick is to find some part of the topic that’s interesting to you. It’s not always easy, said Melissa Rach of Dialog Studios, but there are ways to breathe some life into even moribund subjects.

In “This IS Interesting: Content and Science of Interest,” at Confab 2013, Melissa showed there are ways to make just about any subject compelling.

Science of learning

Rach wanted to find out just what it is that makes something interesting. Diving in to teaching methodology, she found that interest is a necessary survival mechanism, that to be human is to be interested. “We are information foragers,” she said. “We need information — it’s equal to food.” She laid out three reasons why humans learn:

  • Goal-oriented: We learn to be good at our jobs, to do well on tests.
  • Action-oriented: We want to experience something, we want to share with someone else.
  • Learning-oriented: Learning for enjoyment, learning just for the sake of learning.

When you come across something you don’t care about at first, there are ways to use the reasons we learn to make it different. Knowing the reasons also makes it easier to give your audience something they want.

Get yourself interested

Find out everything you can about your subject, there’s something that’s bound to spark an interest. “We’re not always good at listening and letting people share in our story,” said Rach. Find out why other people find it interesting.

  • If you’re bored, ask different questions
  • If you’re confused, seek out the experts
  • Search for any interesting tidbit
  • You can make anything interesting, just dig deeper

Focus on helping people

Concentrate on creating content serves a purpose. “We’ve been focusing on selling to people,” said Rach, “but we should think of it as a service business.” Help people find their own ways through challenging subject matter.

  • Be a content concierge, facilitate learning
  • Figure out the bigger story — like why someone is visiting your website
  • Be selective in the audience you’re talking to — what’s interesting to them may be specifically related to the product or not

Find information gaps

There are the known gaps — things you know people are looking for. But where it gets interesting are in the unknown gaps, like what does your end-user need to know next? You can present information of increasing complexity. But you need to know what the customer wants, said Rach.

Create information gaps

If you can’t find the gap, make one. Rach used the Weather Channel as an example. “I went on to see what the weather was going to be and saw the headline ‘Huge Space Rock Headed Our Way,’” she said. She promptly forgot about the 10-day forecast and followed the link — simply because the headline was compelling, because it created a gap in her knowledge that she didn’t know she had, but wanted to fill.

Make it easy

“Comprehension is the hinge between interest and confusion,” said Rach, citing the Silvia Appraisal Theory. Start simply and build understanding within your audience, so you can get increasingly complex.  Make your content equal to the people who are there, and match the vocabulary, writing and content types with their skills.

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