8 ways to make your content Thoroughly Good

Reflections on how I make the content I make: seek out the detail in everything, be brave, and be curious

I recently gave a presentation to a group of business owners in nearby East Dulwich about my content production work.

It was an unexpectedly rich experience – one that required me to articulate what I’ve instinctively done for a long time. In this way the process legitimised my work as a content producer more than I anticipated I needed.

But the experience of giving the presentation also raised some questions (well, let’s be honest some doubts).

What’s the best way of helping people make content? Does it matter if my perspective appears different from what others say? How do you share the finer points of how you think and what you do, without giving away too much for free?

In the weeks that followed, I worked on a couple of content projects – both arts based. Both were videography projects. I used both of these experiences to build on the presentation I’d given the business owners.

What follows is an amalgamation of both the presentation and that subsequent thinking.

Content production is storytelling

If there’s no story, there’s no motivation to keep reading, watching or listening.

Story doesn’t necessarily mean fiction, or the answer to a question, or an illustrative example supporting a piece of advice.

Story means making sure that even the smallest element of your content has been included with intent.

Find the story in the moment

Sometimes you won’t know what those tiny ‘micro-stories’ are until you’re in the moment of creating.

Take an event I was filming last weekend about women composers hearing their works performed for the first time in front of a cohort of artistic directors, mentors and other creatives.

I was fiddling around with the zoom lens and the focus ring as I was preparing my close up on one of the composers. The focus momentarily caught the corner of a piece of manuscript the performer was singing from, before eventually falling on the subject of the shot – the composer. This changed the shot dramatically for me – opening up a new opportunity to transition to the composer’s reaction the moment the singing had stopped.

I don’t expect someone watching that sequence to tell themselves ‘that was the story’.

Instead, I want them to respond to the intimacy of the moment framed in a tight shot with a shifting depth of field.

Also .. find the story in the edit

This stems from video editing, but can just as easily apply to text, audio, or imagery.

I find deliberately capturing only pre-planned sequences or audio, a surefire way of ending up with insufficient material – I will never end up with sufficient content to fill in the gaps or illustrate my story.

So, approach the capture phase committed to 8-10 shots, reflections, angles or perspectives (regardless of the content format). Then maintain an open mind and let your curiosity drive you.

Like the coaching process, some captures will trigger different perspectives in the moment. In this way, I’m referring back to the point about finding the story in the moment. By doing that – or being open to doing it – you’ll have more possibilities to discover a different story in the edit.

That’s what happened when I visited the Bussey Building in Peckham (podcast above) to interview two creatives about a new opera there. The building was such an invigorating space to be in when I was there, that capturing the experience of being present in it was a no brainer.

When I then heard the ambience and the implicit angle in the interviews, and reflected on my own experience being present at the first playthrough a new work, the structure of the story immediately became obvious.

When it comes to editing that material together, reviewing it amounts to a reflecting back experience. This in itself will trigger other thoughts which help drive a narrative arc invariably different from the one you started out on.

Seek out the detail

From time to time, I’ll look over my own work to see how I respond to it. Sometimes I’ll do that with the sound turned off.

Or, in the case of a podcast, I’ll upload it to YouTube and watch the subtitles back instead of listening to the audio.

The video for Nepali Children’s Trust (above) made a couple of years back is a case in point. It’s the looks on the kids faces which uplift me whenever I watch this film back. This is the detail which transports me back to the most challenging work I’ve ever done.

Seeking out and documenting detail is crucial to storytelling.

Bake something of you in everything you make

Whatever the outcome of your project, from Instagram post or story, Tweet, vlog or podcast, make sure you’re able to identify what the element is that speaks to you personally on a one-to-one basis.

What is the creative element that is most aligned to your personal and professional values?

Don’t be ruled by statistics

It’s easy to assume that a blog post with only a few views is something which wasn’t worth the time or effort.

Measuring success by statistics invariably triggers negative thinking and stops you from creating at all. I regard high traffic as the equivalent an unexpected win on the Lottery. Make the motivation about creativity first.

Over time, you’ll streamline your content creation process, meaning any low-traffic won’t impact on your bottom line. Along the path of streamlining, you’ll find your voice, find your angle, and discover your audience.

Discover your audience don’t perceive it

This one is a bit controversial. Some people won’t agree. It’s probably an extension of my own personality.

My view is that if I try and perceive who my ideal audience is, I end up communicating in an inauthentic way.

If I start by communicating in an authentic way (ie aligned to my own values) then those who resonate with that will connect with me and, over time, I’ll discover who those people are.

That’s where this video of BBC staff paying homage to Roy Castle’s record-breaking tap-dancing sequence for children’s TV stems from.

I wanted to make this because it was something really important to me personally (the final shot of this film is where my first proper BBC job was offered to me – the location really resonated for me). I didn’t start from the perspective of wanting to make this for a perceived audience. To date, this is my most successful piece of authored video content.

That approach does mean ignoring most of the quick-fix one-size-fits-all content solutions which are shared on digital platforms. So you’ll need to be resolute if you adopt this strategy.

Don’t expect quick wins

Writing takes time. No one has ever said that writing is a quick process.

Video editing takes a long time. That we’re able to take photos quickly and easily on our phone, sharing an image that has impact and cut-through is a quick and easy process.

So, the greater the impact sought, the greater the investment needed.

Building audiences takes time too.

It is a phenomenally noisy world out there. Digital as a content portal is a time suck for users: video demands more of the senses than audio does; text insists on 100% attention. Your content will need to be re-purposed (not just pointed to) across multiple platforms.

Be brave

This one definitely comes from my personality so may not be an easy hat to wear for others.

Story comes from conflict. Where there’s conflict there’s the potential for resolution. If there’s story, people will unwittingly stick with that story even if they don’t realise they’re doing so.

Sometimes the story may not be one you’d not normally tell. If you experience a sense of resistance thinking about whether to tell that story or not, then my advice would be to go ahead and tell it. You’ll end up with something distinctive, touching and impactful as a result.

If there’s no resistance, ie there’s nothing to implicitly or explicitly rail against, then there’s no conflict, there’s no motivation, and there’s no resolution.

If you’ve got a content production project you’d like to collaborate on please get in touch by emailing jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me.  

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