PhotoOne of the greatest criticisms you hear for legal content is that it’s lacking in personality. Lawyers have the talent and the intelligence to communicate their valuable legal expertise, but often, their passion for the subject doesn’t translate well for someone who’d prefer that they “give it to them straight” instead of filling an article, post, or video with legalese.

But what does that mean – “add personality” to your content? And how do you do it?

The Content Marketing Institute’s Sarah Rickerd authored a great post this week with 10 Tips to Pack More Personality into Your Content, and two of them really stuck out for me. Before we touch on them, I know your first question is going to be “why bother?” The reason is simple, and Sarah addresses it early on – it’s about engagement.

We’ve talked before about how short our attention spans are today – ideally, the right audience would see your post, realize how important your message is for them, and hang on every word. But the reality is that we’re all busy people, and unless we’re engaged in what we’re reading, we’re going to move on to the next thing in seconds. Your audience may save your content for another day, when they have “more time,” or with the greatest of intentions of reading or viewing it, or they may never pay attention to it at all.

If you’re going to do the hard work of putting your expertise together in a consumable format for your audience, whom you know will find it valuable, why not do it in a way that’s going to also engage them? It will not only encourage them to read/view the current content, but it will give them a reason to seek out any future pieces you produce too because it’s given them a connection to you.

While Sarah offers ten tips for you to consider when looking to add personality to your content, we’re going to focus on just two of them today.

Tip One: Read Entertaining Content

I’m a huge reader, so I love this tip. Sarah says:

Giving your writing more personality doesn’t necessarily have to be giving it more of your personality. By reading entertaining content – fiction or nonfiction – you’ll soon find your writing inspired by other styles and voices.

If you are serious about making your written content really sing, subscribe to a few magazines, pick up a novel from time to time, and follow blogs that offer content you admire. Not only are these great ways to pass time, they’ll also help you become a better writer without any effort beyond consuming content.

As Jeff Goins, an authority in writing advice and author of four best-selling books, says:

‘Writers need to read. A lot. Magazines. Books. Periodicals. And so on. They need to grasp the art of language, to appreciate the finer points of words. As they read, they should jot down ideas and capture thoughts as they come.'”

All of that is perfect advice, so let’s distill this into a few key tips for lawyers. I know it sounds like you’re adding just another thing to your to-do list, but this one can be fun. Last year, I signed up for Goodreads, an app on my phone that allows me to track what books I’ve read, am interested in reading, and what I’m currently reading. I can connect with friends to see their lists and recommendations, see what the app recommends for me based on what I’ve read and liked in the past, and rate and review books. I also signed up for a reading challenge, and this has been the difference maker for me – you can give yourself any number of books to challenge yourself with in the calendar year. Last year, I chose 50 for what I thought was the full year, but ended up being the second half of 2015 (I’m super competitive, so I managed it).

I prioritized reading novels, both fiction and nonfiction, over checking social media and spending time on my iPad before bed, and lo and behold, found the time for reading. So it IS possible to find more time for reading, if you look for it, and it DOES help you with your writing.

Some things you can do:

  • Find an RSS reader that you like (something like Feedly) and search for and subscribe to some blogs you might like. They don’t have to be in the legal sphere, though you may want to add some in where you admire the author’s writing style. Add those into your reading rotation.
  • Pick up a couple of new magazines when you’re traveling that look interesting, things that you wouldn’t ordinarily read, but might find interesting. I grabbed a Time Magazine special on King Tut today as I’m headed out to Tokyo, and usually pick up an English women’s running magazine anytime I’m in London. It gives you a feel for different authors, and different styles. They don’t have to have anything to do with the law, but also feel free to subscribe to legal publications or industry publications for your niche and follow the authors that you like.
  • Seek out the authors that you like on Twitter and follow their public Facebook pages. They may share other types of writing that they do, a first look at their articles, and posts of authors that are similar to them, who will be new to you. It’s also an opportunity to engage with them, especially if you cite them in your own writing.
  • Read more books. I find it difficult to read work-related books, because it can feel like homework, so unless I’m really motivated, I stick with novels that I’m interested in. That counts because you’re getting a different perspective that can influence your writing.

As Sarah quotes, Jeff Goins tells us that writers need to read a lot. If you’re a content writer, you’re still a writer. So add more personality to your writing by doing more reading.

Tip Two: Build Suspense

Think this is a tactic reserved only for the greatest of mystery writers? Think again, says Sarah.

You can build suspense in your own writing even if you aren’t writing a mystery novel. Ask yourself what the most interesting part of your piece is and build toward its reveal. Subtly mention that you’re going to offer the reader some powerful new insight, but don’t disclose what it is right away. Work toward it little by little by little, unraveling the details and building suspense as you go.

Lee Child, best-selling author of the Jack Reacher series, offers these words of wisdom:

‘All books are suspenseful, even the driest nonfiction. It’s about asking a question and making the reader wait until the end for the answer … The very act of asking a question makes people want to stick around and find out the answer. The power of asking a question is enormous.’

If you’re serious about keeping your reader hanging on your every word – whether you’re writing a blog or a best-seller – take Lee’s suggestion to heart. It’s a win-win tactic that can powerfully increase the personality in your writing.”

I especially like this for lawyers, because quite often, you ARE going to offer your audience a powerful new insight on some piece of the law, or the impact on their business. Are you revealing this too soon, or can you build suspense through your writing, or during the course of a video, that would capture and hold the attention of your audience?

When I think of the illustration of this tactic, I think of the difference between most recitations of the events surrounding the sinking of the Lusitania, versus Erik Larson’s book, Dead Wake (If you haven’t read it, really, I urge you to pick it up). Larson turns what could be a boring recitation of events into a very real and palpable narrative, which makes you feel as if you were part of the story surrounding the tragedy. It’s quite a feat, and something he does with all of his historical writing. In a genre that can easily be typically dry, Larson is a refreshing voice.

So for those of you who may be inclined to wonder whether it’s possible to build suspense and add drama to a professional blog, the answer is yes – if it’s possible to do so with historical events, it’s equally possible to do so with professional ones.

Which of Sarah’s other tips for adding personality into your content do you find particularly intriguing? Are there any tips you think she may have overlooked?