Early in my advertising days, I chanced upon a cheesy-looking book in the bargain bin at the Australian Institute of Management in Sydney. The cover showed its author, John Lyons, wearing an expression I've never in 25 years been adequately able to decode. Was it arrogance? Smugness? Compassionate earnestness? It didn't matter; I bought it. Partly because I was a neophyte desperate for reference points to guide me in my new career, partly because it was, in fact, a bargain.
The bargain got better. I soon discovered that the book was a gem, a pearl mysteriously held to be of little value - else why was it in the bargain bin? It was like finding advertising's soft-back correlate of The Shawshank Redemption.
The book was full of secrets for agency creatives about engaging with the principal beasts that threatened their path: account executives - 'the suits' whose only purpose seemed sometimes to be to stymie creative thought - and clients, with whom creatives were rarely to be trusted on their own lest they sell them some work the suits hadn't approved, no matter how good it might have been for the client.
It was a revelation.
Of all the book's many lessons, one lodged deeper in me than any other. Regarding presentations - the dog-and-pony shows to suits and clients that populate the advertising calendar - Lyons maintained that whoever you are, whatever the quirks of your personality may be, "it will play."
I love that idea so much, I'm going to say it again and let it linger:
"It will play."
Now, anyone who knows me would scarcely describe me as being possessed of great confidence. But here was a successful advertising creative telling me that my lack of confidence might be the very thing that would be tradeable at considerable value in the marketplace of advertising ideas.
As it turns out, Lyons was right. Despite my confidence issues, I became creative director of a multinational ad agency after only a couple of years' apprenticeship as a copywriter, clutching Lyons' book in my sweaty left hand all the while. Writing became and remains my strength because I let my voice play.
You see, writing is presentation. Whoever you are in your writing, so long as you write with the full force of that personality, it will play.
Does that mean that things will always end happily? Not at all: not everyone is always going to like what you have to say. Does it mean you can dispense with grammar, punctuation? Good luck with that.
What it does mean is that, by letting your voice play, your writing will carry the heft and spirit of authenticity - even in your lighter moments.
Authenticity is the foundation of strong relationships, especially the ones you're trying to forge in business. People trust people who they feel to be authentic, even if they don't ultimately agree with them. People are also entertained by authenticity, and enjoy watching how a personality reveals itself in thoughts expressed on a page. Authenticity is captivating, and who doesn't want to captivate their audience?
When you write, there's no-one else there but you. So be there. Be there in the fullness of who you actually are.
You really are all the strength you need.
"The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by." - E.B White, The Elements of Style