Making public comment – it’s risky business

Trying to get noticed among a sea of voices often requires you to say something different. But how can you make sure it’s not so different that it lands you in hot water?

How determined are you to
stand out in a crowd?

How confident are you in putting an opinion ‘out there’?

One of the challenges in getting a brand, company or individual noticed by a broader audience (or finding your point of difference) is that you have to find something meaningful or distinctively different to say.  Preferably both.

The problem is, saying something different can be a risky move.  I was reminded of a particularly egregious example the other day in a Weekend Australian column:

“British politician and author Norman Angell’s Nobel prize-winning bestseller, The Great Illusion, argued — among other things — that free trade had made the possibility of war in Europe irrational and obsolete. The book was published in 1910. Later editions required a certain amount of rewriting.”

Norman Angell was clearly trying to stand out from the crowd and get his voice ‘out there’.  Little did he know how risky that move would be to his credibility.

So, how do you find the right mix between saying something that people will pay attention to without saying something so different that you could, one day, be hoisted by your own petard?

I think there are three things to keep in mind when trying to put your thoughts out there:

  1. Different doesn’t mean crazy.  There’s a temptation to think that in order to rise above the cacophony of comments you have to say something pretty outlandish.  I disagree.  While you might get the attention of people who agree with you, you’re almost guaranteed to enrage people who’ve both never heard of you and disagree with you.  And, before you know it, you’ll probably end up being cancelled in one form or another.  So, don’t go nuts.

  2. Nuance is hard work, but worth it.  It seems nuance is a dead concept.  Discussion all around the world is increasingly being divided into good ideas and evil ideas.  There’s little room for respectful discussion on difficult and complex issues.  So why not try to be that voice? 

    For example, if you’re in the accounting sector, there’s a chorus of voices criticising the Federal Government for excluding international workers or short-term casuals from the Job Keeper payment.  What if you could offer some analysis that, perhaps doesn’t defend the government’s decision, but extrapolates what the flow on effects of offering such an extension to the program would mean?  How much would it increase total debt? What would be the economic benefit?  This kind of nuanced analysis would likely get noticed, but also wouldn’t be crazy.

  3. Do your homework.  If you’re going to publicly advocate for something, you better be damn well sure that you know what your talking about, that no one else has said it before, and you understand what the opposing perspectives are.

    You can be certain that if you put a contentious or forward-thinking view ‘out there’, there’ll be someone who will disagree with it.  So, how confident are you of your facts?  How much have you actually considered the opposing perspective?  If challenged, could you stand up and defend your perspective (for example, if a journalist gets stuck into you during an interview)?

I reckon if you can follow these three tips, you’ll be in a much stronger position to get noticed, increase your potential client base, and be well on your way to establishing your point of difference.

Now, what do you have to say for yourself?