Perspective. Articulation. That’s what a recent client hired me to provide for a VIP community forum and workshop. I wasn’t in charge of leading the event, but parsing it down to a final deliverable: a concept brief. I’ve done this kind of thing before. I co-authored a “conference proceedings” book as the final punctuation mark after an international conference, for example. With technical subjects like this, I’ve noticed a particular writing skill that tends to be required—and thus exercised and honed: selective perspective. Since I noticed it, I’ve realized I use it in everything I write!
Selective perspective isn’t referring to the perspective of the piece I’m writing, but the frame of mind I’m in when I’m researching AND writing. It’s input, not output. It’s like opening and closing the aperture of my mind.
Here’s an example of how it works:
Last year, I was hired to attend sessions of the International conference hosted by the Daugherty Global Water for Food Institute at the auditorium of UNL’s Innovation Campus. I sat in a seat about halfway up the rising auditorium rows and to the far right, with my laptop on the flip-up desk. As the session proceeded, I strained to hear and understand the highly technical information being shared by a California water expert. I’m not a water expert, so part of the time all I could do was close the aperture of my mind and focus on his words. I simply typed exactly what he was saying. But every few seconds I forced my brain to open up and consider the meaning of his words. If nothing resonated, I narrowed back down to parroting his words. But if something DID resonate, I opened the aperture of my brain a little wider still to allow the ideas to connect further, and I added questions to my note sheet preceded by my initials (to make sure I wouldn’t later think the speaker said it).
It’s a bit tricky because while I’m parsing ideas, I still have to make sure I capture what I can of the speaker’s points—plus some exact words that can be quoted. I have all kinds of codes and symbols I’ve devised to distinguish between quoted phrases and paraphrasing in my notes.
Once in a while, if there’s a break in the speaker’s cadence—a slowdown in the firehose of ideas—I would look up at the faces of the audience, which were all seated to my left. I would focus on a few faces to see their reaction, then widen my perspective to get an overall “feeling” emanating from the audience.
The drawback of this shifting focus is that I do miss some of the speaker’s exact words. But the resulting depth and variety of perspective makes it worthwhile. It’s not humanly possible to capture every detail, but varying my perspective input can result in a phenomenal bump in understanding (and value) on the part of the end user/reader.
The understanding I gain by opening the aperture of my brain doesn’t always result in a definable, articulatable product or specific words. Sometimes as I focus on the entire room or a big idea, the perspective is fuzzy, and I imagine a glassy-eyed stare on my face as I observe and listen. Other times I hear specific words or see a specific look on someone’s face, or understand one small fact. Then I imagine my eyes focusing in like a laser.
At first this happened by accident as I struggled to understand the technical insights being presented. Then, when I noticed what was going on in my brain, I started to use it—to fine tune it and develop it as a specific skill.
In fact, it has become one of my favorite things to do as a writer. It reminds me of something my dad used to say when we went on hikes in the Rocky Mountains. “Don’t forget to look other places besides down at your feet,” he would say. “Remember to look up, down and all around.” He taught us to change our focus, to be in the moment, and understand our surroundings in a variety of ways. Focus in on a square inch of the bark on a tree and notice the moss and insects treading through the cracks. Then stand up straight, look across the valley and notice the pockets of fog and drifting clouds behind the far-off peaks. And most importantly, take time to notice what you’re feeling and open yourself to what’s emanating from the tree and the earth. That’s how to gain a truer understanding you can share with others. It’s also how to write a better concept brief, annual report or conference proceedings.