What My Kid Taught Me About Being a Better Adult 

This summer I got the chance to take my kid to Kennywood Park, an iconic, All-American amusement park just outside of Pittsburgh.

A lot has changed about the park over the years. Some of the older rides are gone, making way for newer, faster, more thrilling experiences. The park is a little bigger these days. And sure, everything is way more expensive than I remember from previous visits growing up in the area.

Still, the place has retained enough of its character to create a strong impression on someone, especially a young kid. There’s a constant buzz of excitement in the air that hits you the moment you enter the park. The place has a unique, unmistakable smell — a mixture of cotton candy, Potato Patch fries, flowers from the park’s gardens and axle grease on the roller coaster’s rails.

I was standing with my son in line for Noah’s Ark, a great old funhouse-style walkthrough attraction for perhaps the ninth time that day when I witnessed something really amazing.

As little boys tend to do in a slow-moving line, mine writhed, shimmied, bobbed and swung on the end of my arm. Just ahead of us in line, another little boy roughly my son’s age was similarly attached to a father of his own and squirming just as much. And all at once, the boys saw each other and stopped.

“I like your face paint,” my son says, complimenting the little boy’s Hulk makeup with great and genuine excitement.

“Thanks, I like yours too,” the boy ahead replied, praising my kid’s Spiderman makeup.

The conversation rolls on for a good 10 minutes, these two learning about each other, until they’ve got a bunch of the important stuff figured out like names and hometowns and more stuff about Super Heroes that goes over my head.

And then we’re crowding into the beginning of the funhouse and the lights go down. The boys are standing next to each other, when my son’s new buddy says, “Here we go.” My kid responds in a curt affirmative, the experienced response of someone who’s been on the thing half a dozen times.

Throughout the experience, the boy and his dad are ahead of us, but the little boy is urging his dad to “wait, let them catch up.” When we walk out into the light after it’s all over, my kid is waving goodbye to his new friend, someone there’s no chance he’ll ever see again, and I find myself strangely sad the whole experience is over.

For whatever reason, I think a lot about this brief summer moment.

I think about a total stranger opening a conversation with another equally total stranger in a positive manner. I think about how such a moment started between two strangers and the words “I like your…”

I think about how the boys had nothing to gain from each other and still remained so friendly. I think about how it played out and find it pretty odd that both the adults involved — us two dads — treated the kind and friendly exchange as strange.

I think there’s a lot everyone can learn from the way kids talk to each other and how it can apply to how we can treat people we don’t know. We can have a real, genuine interest in people. We can make friends and have those friendships benefit us as adults. We can rethink strangers and recognize them for what they are — people, just like us.

If we apply some of these childlike principles to our daily lives, it could make us all better adults.

We Can Take Genuine Interest in Other People

When I think about the first thing came out of my kid’s mouth when he addressed a total stranger, I get hung up on the fact that it was complimentary. He could’ve said nothing at all or complained of how long the wait was for the ride. Instead, he saw someone like him and saw something he felt compelled to tell him.

My son’s genuine interest in the other boy’s face paint was so strong that he needed to tell him — even if he was a total stranger.

There are some adults that have this genuine interest thing down, too. My cousin Keith, a teacher in Grand Rapids, MI, is one of them.

Aside from being an amazing teacher, he’s an expert conversationalist, and in addition to listening intently to each and every word he hears from someone, he expresses real interest in the words they use.

Keith is the kind of person that should deliver every piece of bad news ever. If he was to tell you that the Apocalypse was imminent, you’d probably think, “Huh, you know, that actually doesn’t sound all that bad.”

Having a conversation with Keith is like being interviewed by a reporter who believes he is writing a feature story about the best person in the entire world.

It’s only after the conversation has ended that you realize just how little you know about Keith, which means you spent 90% of the conversation revealing details about yourself. To be clear, he could’ve been the best salesperson in Michigan — perhaps the country — but his calling was teaching so there he went.

Talking to people is an art form for Keith, but it’s not because he’s trying to sell you something. Keith cares about people. He takes an intense interest in people and genuinely enjoys getting to know them, which has translated into a huge group of loyal friends and close, reliable professional contacts.

In his 1929 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie spent a good bit of time talking about the important of taking a genuine interest in people and how it relates to being successful.

Whether you’re meeting people for the first time or catching up with your best friend, these are tips you can use to make sure you’re being a better human being.

Make Sure Your Greeting is Memorable

Plastering a smile on your face, however impossible it might seem sometimes, is the first step in making sure your meeting is enjoyable with someone. In Carnegie’s book, he says you “must have a good time meeting people if you expect them to have a good time meeting you.”

Use (and Remember) the Person’s Name

A name is vital to someone and remembering that name is critical in business, social settings, wherever. Forgetting someone’s name is akin to saying they aren’t worth remembering in the first place. If you need help, check out this really useful article.

Listen with Genuine Interest

Imagine this: You’re at a party and you meet someone for the first time who is a friend of a friend. You get to talking and eventually stumble upon that fact that you both share an interest in some obscure movie. Or maybe you both like some rare album or cutting-edge TV show.

What happens? You point at each other and start freaking out. You smile so wide it hurts and say, “Oh my God, I thought I was the only one!” When we take genuine interest in people — in the things they enjoy — it puts a lot of points on the plus side of our “likeability” chart.

Ask Questions


A really great way to let the person you’re talking to know you’re interested (and to keep the air out of the conversation) is to ask questions. It gives you a foothold in the exchange — something to build from — and keeps the other person talking.

Offer Genuine Compliments

Everyone likes to be praised for what they do, so do it often. Let people know the things you like about them, whether it’s something they do or something they’ve accomplished.

We Can Make Real Friends and Have Real Friendships

I have 1,347 connections on LinkedIn — a low number relative to the company I keep. When it comes to true friends, however, I only need to count on one hand and I can come up with the number.

Every year around Memorial Day, we all get together and hang out in Somerset County, just outside of Pittsburgh. In the summer, we get all head down to Deep Creek, MD, and spend a week together. Most of us have kids now so they play together. My few pals that are single enjoy it all as well. I feel pretty lucky to have those friends and wouldn’t trade them for all of my LinkedIn connections, with the exceptions of buddies who are also linked up with me.

But what is it about having friends that is so important?

Huffington Post columnist, noted psychologist, and published author Susan Krauss Whitbourne writes a lot about friendship and why it’s important. She says as kids, having friends helps us start our learning process and as teens, it helps us shape our romantic bonds later in life. But Krauss Whitbourne points out some pretty significant upsides to having friends as adults.

  • Friends can give you a reality check.
  • You’re less lonely when you have friends.
  • Friends can help you define your priorities.

In his book Transform, Jeff Haden talks a lot about happiness. He points out pretty well the things that make us unhappy as well, in vivid, arresting detail. One of the things he says that leads to unhappiness is that “we have no one to call at 3 a.m.”

Thinking about that kind of statement and finding it to be true can be a pretty depressing thought. Conversely, it can be really satisfying to have piece of mind that someone will pick up the phone in the middle of the night if things get really bad.

Haden points to insecurity as the armor that shields us from having real friends and, consequently, makes us lonely. Insecurities are learned as we get older, so as kids it’s pretty easy to make friends — just like my kid did with his buddy in line for the funhouse.

Just think about the friendships we could make if we cut the insecurities out of our lives.

We Can Learn to Not Be So Afraid of Strangers

Doing conferences is pretty brutal and the one I was doing about three months ago in Cleveland was no different.

I was standing outside the city’s main conference center after a pretty long day on the show floor. My throat was the kind of dry and scratchy you get from talking to people non-stop for eight hours. I was parked three blocks away and had my booth in its case by my side. I was not looking forward to the walk to the parking garage, let alone the three-hour drive home.

I was tired and I don’t mind saying a bit cranky. Standing next to me was Mark Meisel, a colleague of mine and, at that moment, the polar opposite of my bad mood.

Mark makes his living in sales, but the thing you need to know about him is he makes friends everywhere he goes. Mark is easily the most popular guy anywhere he goes — industry conference, restaurant, dentist’s office. Mark has a way of pulling you into a conversation and capturing your imagination. At conferences, he’s the guy who everyone can’t wait to see. He fills the booth with smiling customers and keeps everyone laughing.

In fact, Mark creates this kind of company wherever he goes. It’s a thing of beauty and not everyone can do it, but Mark certainly can.

So we’re standing outside the conference center and guy in a business suit crosses our path. He’s obviously heading home from a long day at work.

“Hey, how’s it going?” Mark pipes up.

“Not to bad, how about yourself?” the stranger said flatly, slowing his walk and gazing back.

“Looking forward to relaxing after a long day,” Mark says after him.

“You and me both,” the stranger says. At this point, the guy has stopped and is turned to us, smiling wide. “Going to enjoy a cold beverage.”

“Ah man, that sounds amazing,” Mark says. “You have yourself a lovely afternoon.”

“You too,” the stranger says.

Now, this entire exchange between two strangers was wholly unnecessary. It could’ve been avoided altogether if both Mark and the stranger had, as we nearly always do, stared hard into the concrete in front of us and minded our own business. Mark never had to say anything to the man and, in nearly any situation, the guy probably wouldn’t waste a breath on a stranger.

Still, the eight-sentence exchange made the three of us smile and everyone felt better from experience. I don’t remember what the stranger looked like exactly, but the experience was memorable enough that I talk about it today.

The strange thing about the experience is normally we’re convinced that talking to strangers is something we should avoid. From a very early age, we’re taught not to talk to strangers and that makes total sense because children are vulnerable.

But when that blanket idea pervades someone’s adulthood, it can be damaging. We distrust strangers — nearly all of them — to the point where we avoid meeting new people. For whatever reason, we avoid eye contact with strangers and in no way will we engage someone we don’t know in conversation.

The common-sense security that keeps the car doors locked, windows latched, and doors dead-bolted pervades our adults lives, workplaces and social settings, forcing us to bottle up our interactions with others.

Kids will connect with kids for nearly any reason, including something as simple as a vague shared interest. They’ll start a conversation and moments later are friends.

We don’t necessarily have to greet every person we see on the street — that could lead to disaster. But we could certainly be a little less cold to each other, perhaps if only to create a memory that will last. Or, at the very least, we can brighten someone’s day.

I think back a lot on the moment in line with my kid. I’m happy to have witnessed a moment like that in being a dad.

I think what sticks with me the most, though, is how the adults in that situation — myself and the other dad — just shook our heads at the whole affair. It seems disappointing now that we just couldn’t understand what was happening and treated it like something out of the ordinary. And I think about how as they gets older, our sons will grow to distrust one another and avoid trying to connect with each other so easily.

I think about how lucky my kid would be to retain some of those traits that made it so easy to make a quick friend on a warm summer day. I think about how much better we could be if we all tried to be a little like that.

Ian Blyth writes at ianblyth.com/blog, which is appropriate.

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The Biggest Secret for a Webinar That Wins

Webinar key on the computer keyboard, three-dimensional rendering

So you’ve decided to do a webinar. First of all, congratulations. Nice choice. It’s a great way to get a message across to your audience.

When it comes to webinars, you can pick virtually any topic and pull off a great show with a powerful slide deck, a great presenter, and a decent platform.

Webinars are a very attractive alternative to live events. There’s no room to book or food to order. Your participants can catch the presentation online so there’s no travel involved.

Your audience can watch your presentation live from wherever they are without leaving their desk. You’re bringing the show to them.

If you plan well enough and record the experience, you’ll have a piece of collateral you can use over and over for lead generation. If your audience can’t make the live version, they can watch it on-demand from your website.

That’s why it’s important to remember the most important aspect of a webinar:

Make Sure Your Webinar Is Valuable and Relevant to Your Audience

The secret to having a well-attended webinar is made of two parts — a valuable, worthwhile presentation directed at the right audience. One without the other will produce lackluster results and an utter lack of both is a recipe for disaster.

To be clear, if the webinar is valuable and directed to the right people, they’ll probably attend.

Content marketing is all about delivering valuable content that is relevant to your audience on a consistent basis. Delivering a webinar is a form of content marketing, so providing a presentation that is valuable and relevant is critical.

Simple Strategies for Winning Webinars

Teach Your Audience Something New

One of the best examples of this comes from Mark LaCour, owner of modalpoint, a company that specializes in helping organizations sell their products to the oil and gas industry. LaCour is a heavy hitter in terms of thought leadership and an expert in his field.

But it’s the first thing he says at the beginning of each and every video that makes a ton of sense.

“Hey everybody, let’s learn something new about the oil and gas industry.”

This guy has it figured out. There’s a lot digital marketers can learn about holding a webinar from LaCour.

Regardless of the subject, LaCour makes sure to get the video off on the right foot.

First, he positions himself as the teacher so immediately you’re in the position of the student. Class is in session — you’ve got my attention. Second, we’re learning something so I’m not in a position to buy something — this guy is going to help me by teaching me something new. Coming from a position of helping and not selling makes for a pretty comfortable experience. And then I’m watching seven or eight videos before I know what happened.

The point is, a really good webinar teaches the audience something they didn’t know.

If your subject is blogging, considering doing a how-to webinar on all the ways to pull off a blog for free. If automobile repair is your thing, do a step-by-step webinar about changing the oil. Do a webinar on balancing a checkbook. You’d be surprised what people don’t know.

Share Valuable Experience with Your Colleagues

Apart from the networking aspect of LinkedIn, one of the most sought-after aspects of the social media platform is subject matter expertise. In other words, people in your industry want to learn how to do things (and do things better).

Even for the most specialized professions, no job is without its repetition. People amass dozen of tips and tricks in their work that would benefit people just like them in other positions. Share your knowledge!

Leverage Your Customer’s Story

One of the most powerful webinars can be a thorough case study presented by your customer. A company’s story sounds so much better when told by someone outside of the organization.

A customer who is willing to grab the microphone and talk about the great work you did is a powerful ally. Adding a customer as a presenter and placing their company’s logo on the invite is a great way of getting people to register for the webinar.

For some, just saying that the success of a content marketing venture is dependent on its relevance or value is strange. Telling a digital marketer they need to provide value in a webinar might leave them scratching their head.

Who would send a no-value webinar invite to a group of people that couldn’t care less? Where in the world does this happen?

It happens all the time — with alarming regularity — and for good and bad reasons.

There’s a Good Reason Bad Webinars Happen

To be clear, it’s easy to hold a bad webinar. It’s simple to put together a bland pitch for what will eventually be an equally boring webinar. Digital marketers do it every day in all industries. Junk mail folders are filled with invites to poorly planned webinars.

It’s tough to place blame for these webinars occurring because, more often than not, the culprit is complex content.

Conveying even the simplest ideas is sometimes a frustrating, perhaps maddening, in extreme cases throw-a-chair-across-the-room angry affair. Now imagine you’re cooking up an invite for something you have no background in.

Sometimes, and especially in small businesses, it’s just a lack of resources or expertise on the side of the marketer that leads to webinars with no teeth.

In industries where the most mundane aspects of the business can be incredibly complex, it’s not difficult see how compelling, razor-sharp ideas get filed down by someone’s lack of understanding until they become bland presentations.

Even if the people marketing the webinar have a strong grasp on the source material it’s easy to see how webinars come off as boring or simple. After all, it’s tough to be witty, dangerous, or cool with your marketing lingo when you’re trying write around a tough subjects like health care, residential construction, or banking.

There’s an easy fix for this situation and it comes from teamwork.

In 90% of these cases, there’s a two-person team tackling the webinar — the subject matter expert serving as the presenter and the marketing person working to get folks in the door.

To avoid a bad webinar, the marketing side of the team doesn’t need to be on the same level of intelligence as the presenter or even understand the content.

The role of the marketer in a webinar team is to be a strong advocate for what is best for the webinar. The markets needs to make sure the webinar presents real value to the attendees and the selected audience needs to be appropriate for the subject matter.

A good strategy for putting together a great invite on a complex subject is to have an expert explain it in such a way that a child would understand it. The clearer the message the better — and the more your audience will appreciate the simple message.

There’s a Bad Reason Bad Webinars Happen

The scourge of all webinars — perhaps all content marketing — is the straight-up sales pitch. The reasoning all comes back to the idea that, by definition, content marketing needs to be valuable and relevant to the audience.

A sales pitch is hardly ever valuable to anyone, unless there’s a compelling reason to buy. A sales pitch as a webinar title and content is a recipe for disaster.

Now, it’s worth backing up a bit and making one thing abundantly clear, which is that we’re all here in the pursuit of the sale. The lead generation, advertising, public relations, marketing — all of it is in an effort to sell something.

Selling a product or services — that’s the end game. It’s the bottom line.

And that’s fine, even digital marketing purists will agree to that.

Still, the Internet has changed the world in such a large way. It’s certainly shifted the scales in the favor of the consumer and changed how they form opinions on “brand.”

While the term gets tossed around an awful lot, brand, as it pertains marketing, deals mostly with the emotional and psychological relationship between a company and its consumers. If you feel strongly toward one product over another, it’s your brand. You have a tight emotional relationship with it. You trust the company.

However, someone’s trust in your organization in the digital age is no longer just about the post-sale things like a warranty or the promise of “will you be there for me tomorrow.” A customer’s trust is being formed so much sooner, or at least, far before the sale is finalized.

Ideas about your organization are being formed well before people become customers. In the past, a brand impression was built mainly from the experiences of owning the product or experience a service, whereas a person’s impressions about a brand now are being formed far before they even become customers — in downloads, white papers, YouTube videos, and of course, webinars.

It’s no longer just about the sketchy tire job you got from the dealership that left the bad taste in your mouth and caused you to never visit that auto shop again. It’s not only about the great service you received from the awesome server at the bar and grill down the street.

Today’s consumer is judging their relationship with companies on the time they spend with the prospect before they ever begin to think about buying. The real experts in this field create such a trust in their marketing that the prospect ends up coming on their own and asking to be sold to, which is a good situation to be in.

All that said, it makes no sense to waste a webinar on a sales pitch when the organization could do far more good building trust with the audience by providing value.

Instead of investing time selling your product, give your audience helpful tips on how the industry is moving toward the use of your product and how it can solve problems. Plant seeds in their mind as to how the product can be used to solve problems and watch them approach you with questions.

Ian Blyth writes at ianblyth.com, which is appropriate.

Three Things Twin Peaks Taught Me About Work

On Oct. 3, 2014, surrealist, artist, and film and television director David Lynch published an inside reference via various social media channels that set a tiny fire in a select few, interested still more, and confused many others.

The announcement was a seemingly vague but not unexpected message from the 69-year-old director of surrealist, strange movies.

For those who haven’t seen the show, either during its two-season run in the 90’s or on Netflix, DVD, or other source, it is pretty meaningless.

But for those who know, it was something pretty significant. It was something a long time in coming.

To be clear, Lynch was making an inside reference to announce that after 25 years, Twin Peaks, one of television’s most fearless, groundbreaking, shows, was returning for more.

Twin Peaks was a murder-mystery that involved the killing of a high school homecoming queen in a small town in Washington state. The show created a die-hard fan base not dissimilar to the throngs of fans who follow Star Trek or Dr. Who. The difference is that, despite producing no new content in the Twin Peaks universe in over two decades, fans still discuss and debate the show in online forums and live events.

Even now, it’s hard to imagine how Twin Peaks and other shows that pushed the limits before it like All in the Family and MASH ever got on the air. TV is seemingly so filled with shows that follow procedural storylines and predictable patterns, it seems that’s the norm and what’s expected.

But all of these shows that have had such a huge impact on us culturally have done so in large part because the people behind them choose to take risks. They choose to be fearless in the pursuit of their art and not to dismiss ideas simply because they sounded out of bounds.

There’s a lot we can learn from this in how we approach creativity in our daily lives and especially in our work lives. We can learn to give ideas an honest attempt at living and then pushing the bounds of creativity past our comfort zones.

Lynch, and perhaps the network that hired him, got something so right with the show. Twin Peaks was a huge success in the early 90’s and one of the things that made it such a hit was Lynch’s unwavering dedication to his art.

Lynch’s style of storytelling is often described as surreal, which only scratches the surface of the director’s approach. He’s often seen as an artist first and filmmaker second, creating moving paintings made of actors, dialogue, and scenery. The scenes often make enough or as little sense realistically as needed – whatever will better serve the director’s vision better.

These active paintings can be tied together into something that resembles a plot that can be tied quite loosely together but still evoke some pretty powerful emotions nonetheless.

When ABC signed Lynch to an initial eight-episode deal in 1991, they did so with a clear understanding of all of this. They knew who Lynch was.

After all, he was the art-house filmmaker turned Hollywood icon that broke onto the scene in 1976 with the dystopian classic Eraserhead. Lynch’s first full-length feature gained an incredible cult following and counted Mel Brooks, director of Blazing Saddles, of all people as huge fan. Lynch was also the guy who tackled the tough material like The Elephant Man and walked away with eight Academy Award nominations for this efforts.

To be clear, Lynch was the guy who turned down George Lucas when offered the director’s seat for The Return of the Jedi, the final in the original Star Wars trilogy.

That’s right, Lynch turned down Return of the Jedi. Imagine for a second what the world would’ve been like if the guy who brought us Lost Highway had directed Episode Six.

Regardless, Lynch was also the man who wrote and directed Blue Velvet, a visceral, violent film that pulled back the drapes on small town America, with its beautiful houses with the white picket fences, to reveal a shocking, incredibly abusive world. Lynch found a twisted beauty in the things that happen behind closed doors, which ended up serving him well in the world of Twin Peaks.

But it wasn’t like the director had a grand plan for his television show. In fact, it started and was pitched mainly as an idea – one that won over a network.

Don’t Kill Ideas – That’s Where Great Things Come From

You might think that TV shows or movies get rolling after months of planning or from weeks spent hashing out a script in a dark room and for the most part, that’s pretty true. People work awful hard to get their dreams realized on the screen, whether big or small.

But it’s also true that on rare occasions, it comes from a single image so powerful and compelling, it literally conveys a million words.

That’s pretty much how Twin Peaks started.

Armed with an image – the now iconic body washing ashore wrapped in plastic — and a back-of-the-napkin, murder-in-a-small-town concept, Lynch and co-creator Mark Frost held a 10-minute meeting with ABC and convinced the network to fund a script.

David Lynch, left, at the 1990’s Emmys. Attribution below.

Ten days later Lynch and Frost delivered the script and ABC ordered a two-hour pilot, industry speak for a test-episode, be filmed. And the rest is history.

Stop and think about that for a second, and not just that these two guys won over a network with a 10-minute meeting, which in itself is salesmanship on an expert level.

Think about how powerful the simple image and idea must have been to get Lynch and Frost to walk into a network executive’s office and pitch the idea.

Conversely, think about what a loss it would’ve been had either let the idea die without following through with it.

We so often generate ideas for projects, stories, campaigns and pieces of art that we either forget about because we’re so busy or dismiss outright because we feel they aren’t worth the time.

This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Ideas are powerful – they’re the place where amazing things come from. Every journey starts with a single step and every project is borne of a single idea.

As artists, marketers, writers, and anyone who is creative in their jobs, which should be all of us, it’s important to learn how to embrace ideas fully and allow ourselves to realize them, no matter how absurd they may seem.

Sometimes ideas hit you like a tidal wave all at once and other times they are fleeting and need to be fostered, but more often than not, they start small, like a slow leak escaping from a tiny sliver in a dam. It’s our duty to chip away at the crack and see what pours out. When you see it before you, you’ll be amazed at the thing you’ve created.

Imagine the ideas you’ve killed because you’ve said the worst thing imaginable:

“That idea is stupid.” 

This is the worst kind of negativity – it kills the idea before it’s explored. Even if the idea gets worked out and is sketched, white boarded or brainstormed, you’re bound to at least come up with three or four more ideas from the original.

And sure, not every idea is going to result in a classic project. But following through with ideas and fleshing them out will give you practice in your craft and let you learn a few things about your process.

That flash across your mind – whether it’s a combination of words, trick of light and color, or a form wrapped in plastic floating down the river – could flourish into a pop culture phenomenon.

Be Fearless in Your Pursuit of Your Art

On Thursday, April 19, 1990, over 19 million households across the country tuned in to ABC to watch the third episode of Twin Peaks entitled “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer”.

While the previous two episodes of the show offered up some of Lynch’s signature style, the ensuing 47-minute story included the brunt of it. The show culminated in a jarring, disturbing, surrealist dream sequence unlike anything that ever aired on television until then.

The dream sequence involved the show’s protagonist, FBI Agent Dale Cooper, a three-foot tall-man dressed in cardinal red suit known as the Man from Another Place, and Laura Palmer, the young girl whose murder was at the center of the show’s plot.

Both the Man from Another Place and Laura Palmer spoke in a halted, unnatural, unnerving manner. The “dream speak” effect was achieved by having the actors learn and then perform their lines in backwards, then recording the scenes, and playing them in reverse as well. The “backwards” scenes were then chained together with Cooper’s normal parts, creating an eerie, otherworldly that was not unlike the dream it was attempting to emulate.

This unorthodox recording technique, coupled with the absurd, seemingly ludicrous dialogue, and random imagery, created the strangest six minutes of television ever aired.

The move was an obvious risk. Turning a television drama into an art form in such a jarring manner was a bold move to say the least. But the boldness paid off handsomely.

Critics praised the episode as groundbreaking. Still today, it’s regarded as an inspiration for the way it gave shows like Lost and The Sopranos the permission to take risks with their audiences. And the show only got more popular with fans for the move. Members of its loyal fan base started huddling around water coolers following every episode in an attempt to piece together the fragments and dissect the show’s symbolism.

Even the Simpsons parodied the scene, which is a clear sign that it had made a significant impact on American culture.

There’s a lot we can take away from the move. Lynch was utterly fearless in the pursuit of his art and let nothing interfere with his vision. It obvious from the end product that he held nothing back from the experience and worked to realize it as fully as possible.

What if we approached every project the same way? What if we worked to be as creative as possible and approach each endeavor without fear of ridicule or failure?

How far could we go?

Having a Lynchian level of fearlessness in the pursuit of expression certainly doesn’t come easy. And of course we don’t all have the same level of leeway he had when he was behind the camera. Our projects on a day-to-day level and our audience are certainly not in the millions.

But we can all step outside our comfort zone when it comes to creativity and add some much needed color to our normally bland routine.

It’s much more simple to work to create something and hold back when you feel like your going out of bounds. It’s the easiest thing in the world to color within the lines with respect to work and forgo creativity in an effort to get the job done and move on.

The thing that holds us back more than anything is fear of the ways others will judge us. Lynch could’ve thought the same thing and ditched the idea.

But he didn’t. He worked to realize his dream – regardless of how irregular or outside the norm it was. And the result was a piece of television history that is still referenced for its beauty today.

Find Ways to Reward Yourself on a Daily Basis

There’s two sides to the show’s protagonist, FBI Agent Dale Cooper. On one hand, there’s by-the-book, strict lawman that handles tense situations and criminals with calculated measures and a stoic tone.

Then there’s the jubilant and animated Agent Cooper who finds delight in the simple charm of a small town like Twin Peaks. Though it’s a story and he’s playing it big for the camera, there’s something great about seeing someone who enjoys being alive as much as Cooper does.

He so intensely wrings every moment of joy out of the day’s minor pleasures like a warm cup of coffee or a piece of cherry pie that you can’t help but smile along with him. I think we can learn a lot from how someone works incredibly hard and still finds in life the ability to enjoy simple pleasures with immense satisfaction.

Every day, once a day, give yourself a present – Cooper

We all have unique skills. Even if we’re part of a team in a role-position, we probably have things we do that put our personal stamp on our daily tasks. It’s important to take a moment and appreciate the work you do.

Far too often we’re so dialed-in and goal-driven that we’re constantly moving at such a lightning pace. Deadlines come and go and we forget to celebrate our success as the next project’s kickoff meeting abuts the previous endeavor’s wrap-up.

We so often focus not on what we have but what we want and what we need to achieve. (Thanks Jeff Haden).

It’s true that being driven to succeed is an admirable trait but it’s equally true that having such a laser focus on success can make you lose sight of the important things – like your own self worth or the importance of friends and family.

Take a moment each day and reward yourself in someway. Reflect on the great things you’ve done and congratulate yourself. Get away from your desk for a few minutes and take a walk during lunch. Have a good conversation with a friend or call your mom and rehash a good story.

Whatever the activity, reward yourself by stopping and enjoying life.

Tweed’s Diner: https://flic.kr/p/ayjCWF
L
ynch in Tux: https://flic.kr/p/4b1os9
Red Room Decor: https://flic.kr/p/c4uf33
Damn Fine Coffee: http://katukoira.deviantart.com/art/A-damn-fine-cup-of-coffee-444509321

3 Amazing Ways to Write Killer Headlines

First, let me get something out of the the way as quickly as possible: if you’re reading this, it’s because the headline I crafted worked exactly as it was intended.

And even now, after all the research and writing, I’m still not 100% comfortable with crafting that kind of headline. I am, however, fully convinced in the science behind writing engaging headlines to convince readers to click.

Let me back up a bit and explain what got me interested in headlines.

I’ve had many memorable teachers in my time, but one that always sticks out was my first journalism teacher.

This teacher spent a better part of his life as a beat reporter and editor before landing at Slippery Rock University as an instructor. He was a veteran news man to say the least. All the years he’d spent as a reporter, all the police calls, house fires, board meetings and cats rescued from trees, had made him a quietly imposing character.

His face seemed to be etched rather roughly out of some kind of ancient stone. He spoke confidently but sternly like a father does to a child through a thick, grizzled beard. When he asked you a question, it was an unnerving situation because he’d stare at you in such a way that made you feel like he was not only judging your answer but the way you were delivering it.

He looked like he’d seen it all and if he hadn’t witnessed it firsthand, he’d had it explained to him for a story.

He was tough and stern. He didn’t have time for nonsense. He’d fail you outright if you misspelled a name or did not follow the AP style guide to the letter.

Needless to say, I loved the guy.

The one time I ever saw anything even remotely close to a grin on the old man’s face was when we discussed headlines. My teacher wanted to share his favorite. He pulled a faded New York Post from 1983 from his weathered leather satchel and displayed the front page it proudly to the class.

In huge block letters standing tall across the page was perhaps the most clever and disturbing thing I’d ever seen in my life. And while it’s morbid for sure and deals with someone’s very unfortunate end, it’s still the best headline I’ve ever seen in my life.

That’s an extremely gruesome, graphic set of words in stunning block letters.

Despite its borderline tasteless nature, it correctly paints a picture of New York City in the 80’s, which was spiraling into an abyss of crime and chaos.  And while it sure does deal with human suffering with striking and stunning simplicity, it also goes down in history as one of the most popular headlines ever written.

The headline of an article or blog post is the first impression your reader will get, so you have to make it count. The headline is the thing that grabs your reader’s attention and makes them want to read your work. A boring — or worse yet, irrelevant — headline will have your readers skipping your entire article.

Just think of what that means for all the hard work you put into your writing. You find the perfect pictures to tell your story and spend hours typing away. You use the best pull quotes — the ones that really drive the point home — and in the end, readers skipped your article in its entirety because your headline doesn’t grab their attention.

Here are some pretty insightful statistics around headlines:

  • On average, 8 in 10 people will read your headlines, while only 2 in 10 will ever actually click through to the article. (copyblogger)
  • Traffic can vary as much as 500% because of a headline. (SEOMoz)
  • Readers tend to read the first three and last three words of a headline more than anything, meaning length counts considerably (Buffer)

Still need convincing that headlines are important? Try this.

Go search “How to Write the Perfect Headline” in Google. You’ll get over 14 million results on the subject. Even the top two results are written by the same guy — social media expert Neil Patel.

Patel makes a pretty bold suggestion in that “half the entire time it takes to write a piece of persuasive copy should be spent on the headline.” Even if you do end up blazing through 2,000 words in 2 hours — as Patel suggests you can do — that means you should spend at least an hour pondering the headline.

Let’s just agree that headlines are pretty important, even for first impressions.  So what should we be doing with headlines?

Here’s What You Should Do With Headlines

1. Pick a Format and Refine It

There are so many opinions on the types of headlines out there. People way smarter than me have written exhaustively on the different types of headlines and how they work. I don’t go as far as most. I just stick to some pretty standard (and tested) formats.

And trust me, if you’re new to this, don’t get discouraged. If you’re trying to hone your headline-writing skills and looking to improve, you’re headed in the right direction.

Question Headlines
Example: “What Impact Do Negative in Headlines Have on Click-Through?”

These headlines work so well because they entice the reader to know the answer, thus forcing the click.

Research from TrackMavens found that in an analysis of over a million blog posts, nearly 95% of the headlines did not contain a question mark. The other 5% of headlines that did, however,  accounted for over 46% of social shares for that particular data set.

That’s a huge number — and one worth considering.  So it’s obvious that posing a question to your audience is worth considering — especially if it will benefit your click-through potential.

How-To Headlines
Example: “How to Craft the Blog Post for Free”

This type of headline is a personal favorite of mine. In its makeup, the headline promises to teach the reader how to do something. It’s an educational promise that the writer is making with the audience.

Numbered List Headlines
Example: 5 Absurd (But Mind-Blowing) Pop Culture Conspiracy Theories

This is the big one — the headline that started it all.

There’s an inherent need for us click on headlines with numbers in them. In “The Science Behind High-Performing Headlines” on crazyegg.com, Sherice Jacob points out how Buzzfeed has made a killing on these types of headlines in the past, citing research that shows how numbered headlines outperform all others.

In fact, there’s science behind why as humans, we’re attracted to headlines with large numbers — that’s why Buzzfeed avoids using numbers below 10 in its headlines.

But the best early example of success with these headlines (and outstanding content) came from cracked.com. Cracked.com had delivered some of most interesting, intense, and engaging content in the past 10 years. Some of its writers have gone on to fame in one form other another. But it’s lasting contribution has been a volume of quality content and awesome numbered headlines.

And they work.

See that example up there? That’s an article written by Jacopo della Quercia in 2010 that currently has over 5 million page views. In fact, the only thing harder than finding an article on cracked.com that doesn’t have a number headline is finding one that has less than 100,000 page views.

Negative Headlines
Example: Email Is Dead and Social Media Killed It

It’s a simple fact negative words spark emotions in people and can contribute to the click.

It’s an idea as old as the newspaper adage, “if it bleeds, it leads,” meaning if there is a story with human suffering involved, it’ll find its way onto the homepage. As morbid as it sounds, adding negative words can really grasp the reader’s attention.

2. Learn to Love a Thesaurus — and All of Its Emotional, Powerful Words

Using common words in a headline can lead to some pretty boring copy. The main goal of the headline is to get someone to act, so use uncommon words.

 When creating a headline, it’s important to catch someone’s attention and you can’t do that with the average copy. Powerful words can evoke emotion, challenge your opinion, and force you to act. With the right collection of emotional words and the correct angle, you can force someone to stop and say, “Well that can’t be right, I need to read more.”

So the next time you’re about to write “annoying” try obnoxious.

Instead of “pain”, try agony. Don’t use “problem” — use catastrophe.

Jon Morrow over at boostblogtraffic.com wrote a staggering post laying out 317 power words that can improve your headlines. Go read it.

3. When All Else Fails, Use the Formula
Lenka Istvanova contributed a world of knowledge with her 2014 article outline of how to write the perfect blog post. Content is king, for sure, but Istanova completed the thought adding the much needed ending: “but presentation is queen.”

The meaning here applies so well to headlines. Your content could be 2,400 words of pure genius that will be all for nothing if the headline doesn’t do its job. To that end, Istanova suggests a formula, first penned by Jeff Goines.

(https://blog.bufferapp.com/headline-formulas)

If categories fail you and you can’t figure them out, try this simple format. It’ll produce some pretty engaging headlines.

4. Test Your Headline — It’s Powerful and Free!

There are a bunch of ways to test your headline for effectiveness. You can ask a friend, perform some scientific live experiments using A/B testing, or you can even pay for feedback through services like TestMyMarketing.com.

Or, since this is the Internet we’re talking about and you’re a smart digital marketer, you can choose one of the free alternatives that are every bit as good as their pay-as-you-go options.

The best, in my opinion, is CoSchedule’s Blog Post Headline Analyzer.

After you submit your headline to CoSchedule’s analyzer, the tool will deliver a detailed report on your work with overall letter grade, score out of 100, and in-depth information on how your sentence is (and is not) working.

The analyzer takes your headline apart word by word, identifies each as either common, uncommon, emotional, and powerful, and distributes them into separate categories. Having a good mix of common, uncommon, emotional and powerful words is essential to a good headline. Striking a balance between the four means you’re on the right path to a winning headline.

The tool gives you a good idea of where you’re lacking and also offers suggestions, so it’s helpful when you’re trying to improve. It even identifies what type of headline you are using and vary the score based on that.

The best thing about the tool is it keeps track of your submitted headlines regardless of whether you completely start over or adjust slightly and resubmit. You can look back through your history and see what scored best or worst, depending on your adjustment.

But Above All, Remember These Things

5 Forgotten Punctuation Marks We Need to Bring Back

This past Thursday, September 24, was National Punctuation Day – a day set aside solely to celebrate the dots, dashes, and points that hold our sentences together.

If you’re anything like me, you celebrated by not noticing at all because it’s not a holiday you get off work for and you only find out about it once it appears on Reddit, Mentalfloss, Mashable, or any of the dozens of content sites that were desperately trying to fill the content void that day.

Still, it’s worth noting the punctuation that has passed its prime and how some of them are still pretty cool. Here are some examples.

The Interrobang

Also known as the “bang” to printers and programmers, the interrobang is a combination of the question mark and exclamation point created by American Martin K. Speckter in 1936.

As can be inferred, the interrobang is meant to mix the quizzical nature of a question mark with the emphasis produced by the exclamation point. It’s custom-made for sentences that attempt to convey the mouth agape, eyes-wide-open feeling you have when you see something both alarming and strange. The interrobang is used to appropriately communicate a situation that is all at once so unbelievably alarming and unnervingly inconceivable that it is, in and of itself, a quandary.

In short, it’s the WTF of punctuation marks.

The now-old punctuation mark was once quite popular, appearing on typewriters in the 60’s and also landing in Merriam-Webster’s version of the dictionary. Fun note: If you check the dictionary, you’ll find the only word that rhymes with interrobang is “orangutan.” Fun.

Usage example: “Land Ho‽” — My approximation of David Barry’s take on the captain of the Titanic’s first words after striking an iceberg.

Better example: “Say What‽”

The Irony Mark

The Wikipedia definition of this punctuation mark refers to it being the diacritical  score that indicates the  sentence should be understood at a “second level.”

One of the greatest episodes of the Twilight Zone — Time Enough At Last —  involves Burgess Meredith playing Henry Bemis, a bookish old man with huge, thick glasses who only wants to spend his time reading but is hounded constantly by his wife, his boss, and everyone else to put the books down.

He finally gets his wish in a terrible way as the he becomes sole survivor of worldwide meltdown by napping on his lunch break in a vault at the bank where he worked. Despite being the last person on the earth, he’s elated because there’s no one around. He stands on the steps of a library surrounded by stacks of books, enough to keep him busy for the rest of his life. Irony is painted on thick though when Bemis bends over too quickly and his glasses slip from his face and crack on the pavement below, leaving him virtually blind.

He finally had everything he wanted, nothing was in his way, the source of his greatest enjoyment was literally within reach, and he’d gone through catastrophe to get there. Still, his own simple actions led to him not being able to experience the joy he sought to much ever. That’s irony.

Usage example: “Wait — someone actually pulled over the highway patrolman for speeding⸮”

Better example: “Time flies like an arrow — Fruit flies like a banana⸮”

The Exclamation Comma

Created in 1992 by three Americans and patented in Canada — this is a real thing — the exclamation comma is an obvious mash-up of the exclamation mark and a comma.

The punctuation is meant to appear not at the end of the sentence as the exclamation mark usually does, but close to the emphatic phrase, as to provide a punch to one portion of the sentence.

The exclamation comma works a lot like a a comma or even em-dash, both of which improve readability by separating ideas but more importantly alert the reader to a pause. The exclamation comma is a similar reading cue to emphasize one part of the sentence way more than the rest. Plus it looks cool.

Here’s the actual patent for the exclamation comma, by the way. An important note: the exclamation comma never really caught on at all — it actually faded from view in 1995 — so it’s tough to actually find in a font set. Below, I’ve substituted the normal exclamation point for the place I think the exclamation comma would go.

Usage example: “My surprise turned into a blood curdling scream! as the Rabbit of Caerbannog lunged for Sir Galahad.”

Better example: “The editors eyes widened in horror! as she discovered the customer-facing email was sent using Comic Sans.”

The Snark

Created in 2007 by American typographer Choz Cunningham, the Snark doesn’t necessarily have to come back as much as it needs to pick up some steam and get off the ground.

Very similar to the Irony Mark, the Snark is intended to end a thought and provide a little extra emphasis on the sentence’s meaning. Only this time, the meaning is supposed to poke fun at the situation or event, not just put out the irony in it. The evidence of a Snark can usually point out the author’s complete opposite meaning of a sentence without actually having any indication. Here’s an example:

The wooden bat connected fully with the baseball and sent it sailing out into the outfield. The centerfielder backpedaled wildly but confidently as he focused on keeping the ball in sight. As he crossed the warning track he leapt and stretched his arm as far as he could, positive the next sound he would hear would be the satisfying sound of the baseball smacking into his leather glove.

Instead, the outfielder misjudged the situation so badly that he slammed into the wall with a terrible, violent thud and the ball cleared the wall easily for a game-winning home run.

“Real nice attempt there buddy.~” One fan called down to the mortified baseball player.

The Asterism

The asterism is a grouping of three asterisks organized in a triangle pattern that is used to break up portions of text within a chapter.

The special character calls attention to specific passages or breaks up sub-sections of chapters.

It’s a cool way to break up large chunks of text in a chapter and an effective way to switch between characters or split between the action as it ramps up.  This really cool symbol was replaced by three asterisks in a row, a punctuation mark with the unfortunate name “dinkus,”which proves its predecessor was far better if only in name.

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