How my Dad taught me the power of nerd’s knowledge

MediaHQ, Storytelling
January 23, 2019
by Jack Murray

The sharpest communicators have a native instinct for their subject. They love their topic so much there is nothing about it they don’t want to know. Great storytellers are nerds about their subject.

A nerd is simply defined as:

“A person who is extremely interested in one subject, and knows a lot of facts about it.”

In the new order of communications your audience is hungry for details and the process of what you do. They don’t just want to know what you are going to put in a press release or on your company website. They want to know as much detail as possible about your product, your movement, or your service. No detail is too small or insignificant for them.

This is where the power of nerd’s knowledge will help you to tell even better stories.

How I discovered nerd’s knowledge

As a small boy I used to spend my holidays working in my Mam and late Dad’s agricultural supply shop in Ballinasloe in the west of Ireland. It is a local institution that was started by my great grandfather in the 1880s.

In the summer months farmers used to sell us their grain crops and their sheep’s wool. We had a contract with Guinness in Dublin for the barley and had many different buyers in England for the sheep’s wool. As a child I have vivid memories of a large truck arriving every few months from Bradford in the North of England to bring off a carefully packed 80 tonnes of wool.

To watch my Dad in action preparing the wool for export was to watch a master at his craft. It was the first time I truly understood the power of nerd’s knowledge.

In the corner of the yard he had one whole shed dedicated to preparing and packing the wool. It all started when a farmer backed their trailer into the shed and tipped out a load of a couple of hundred fleeces. Then my father would take over like he was conducting an orchestra.

After the load was emptied on the shed floor, two helpers would sift through this massive pile of wool by grabbing random fleeces for the master’s assessment. To the untrained eye they all looked the same, but not to an expert.

In an instant my Dad would know what each fleece was. He would break in to the language of wool.

“Stained.”

“Super stained.”

“Mountain sheep.”

Each fleece was then thrown by a helper into the correct bay, so that the wool could be packed correctly for export in the right categories. No one wanted a bag of mixed up wool.

In the other corner of the shed was a long steel machine called the press packer. It had two large containers, which you had to fill to the brim with fleeces of wool—standing them tightly to fit as many as you could. You then had to shut the lid and the machine pushed the wool into tonne-bags—one at either end of the machine. And the operation was finished with 2 tonnes of wool freshly packed and ready to be transported to a processing facility.

It was only as an adult that I asked my Dad how he had amassed all of this nerd’s knowledge.

He told me that before Ireland joined the European Union in 1973 there was very poor technical knowledge of sheep’s wool, and we were likely to miss out on a very valuable market. The Government spent hundred’s of hours educating young men like my Dad—equipping them with the nerd’s knowledge to succeed in the wool business.

How to get your nerd’s knowledge?

So how do you acquire the nerd’s knowledge to be a great storyteller and communicator?

The first way is simple. You have to love what you do. It has to be your passion. When you love your subject you will possess an innate curiosity to always try and learn more. You will become a sponge for knowledge, and not just any knowledge. Curious people have an ability to ferret out the most useful and interesting information.

When you don’t have the hunger to learn, or the curiosity to find out more. You will run into dead ends very quickly.

I recently had a meeting with a tax consultancy organisation who were trying to develop more exciting stories about their work.

“So what’s the problem?” I enquired off their head of communications.

“It’s our topic,” was the terse reply.

“What’s do you mean it’s the topic?” I probed a little confused.

“It’s the topic—tax. It’s just very dull. There is not much that you can do with it,” she said.

“And do you think tax is very dull?” I asked.

“Yes I do, don’t you?” she replied.

That was the problem. Because she wasn’t excited about tax—there was very little chance she was going to excite anybody else.

We have two simple rules about the stories we share about Mediahq.com. They are so important that they’re written on the wall in the office. They are:

If you care—they will care.

If you love it—so will they.

It is a simple message that says—believe in your work and so will the world. The more you love what you do, the more everyone else will too.

The problem isn’t that tax is dull. It was that the company’s head of communications thought that tax was dull. If they aren’t endless fascinated about how tax effects all of our lives, there was very little chance anybody else would be.

I have an entirely non-scientific equation about how interested the world will be in your topic. Imagine there is a magnifier to the power of 10 that you can apply to anything you love or anything that you’re ambivalent about. The next time you aren’t feeling good about something that you are going to share with the world. Imagine that your audience will like it 10 times less than you do. Can you see how your lack of enthusiasm will kill it? Equally think of that great idea that really excites you so much you can hardly sleep. The world will love it 10 times more. You can see why believing is always the best ways to go.

Action items

How can you put this to work for you? Here are some lessons that you can put into practical effect:

  • Who has the most knowledge about what your organisation does? Pause, sit down and talk to them in detail about the work. You’ll be amazed at the story ideas that will come out.
  • What is your process? What is unique to you in it? Write it all down. There will be some golden ideas on the page.
  • Take one story idea and ask yourself how could you make five stories from that one idea—really drill down. Some of them will be very niche but some of them will be really good.
  • Draw up a list of colleagues that you could interview for stories for your website. The act and the exchange of the interview will draw out new and interesting information.

And don’t forget to embrace your nerd’s knowledge.

Now that you know how to harness your nerd’s knowledge, we want our PR software to help you get your story out into the world. Click here to see what we do, or call Gaye on (01) 254 1845.