In which the writer opts out of a perfectly cromulent headline in the interest of not linkbaiting

Or, if you prefer, the post I almost entitled “Two life affirming insights gleaned from Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical ‘Hamilton’” except that seemed too linkbaitingly brandjackulent

Over the course of my (admittedly still nascent, in the grand scheme of things) career I’ve tried, often, to articulate exactly what it is that underlies all of my various pursuits. I’m a comms guy, yes, but I’m also a writer, speaker and teacher.

It took me time to even embrace some of those labels, somewhat disparate as they are, let alone find the thread of commonality.

And then Lin Manuel Miranda dropped Hamilton on us. And then my brilliant colleague Maddie tipped me off to the Hamilton soundtrack. And then, after far too long, I actually got around to looking into the Hamilton soundtrack (like most rabid fans I haven’t actually seen the show).

It’s really good, people. Like, really. Really, really good.

Like… really good.

It’s good, is what I’m saying.

And then Lin Manuel Miranda announced that there was going to be a book released right around my birthday and that meant I was going to get that book for my birthday. And so I did. And I read it.

And then suddenly everything made sense.

Too dramatic? Maybe. But stick with me, people.

See, I’ve always also fancied the label of “storyteller.” It’s in my blood. My maternal grandfather is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever heard tell a story and it’s a trait that’s easily passed on, it seems.

A gathering of my mother’s family inevitably becomes a master class in storytelling as both passionate craft and, admittedly, blatant oneupmanship. You don’t last long at a Marion gathering if you can’t hold your own. You want to tell a story? Tell it well and tell it compellingly or Uncle Jeff is going to blindside you and steal the spotlight.

But storytelling was always just one of the labels to me. One of the many things I liked to say I did.

Then I read this passage in the Hamilton book and immediately lost my shit in my medium of choice for most shitlosery these days: Twitter.

No but seriously, I sort of had a mini epiphanous meltdown.

The pursuit of moments or ideas or insights or ideas… then articulating them in the most perfect way. That’s what a good comms person does. That’s what a good teacher does. That’s what a good speaker does. Go out, learn what you can, experience what you can, and then find the right way to articulate that so that others can benefit from your efforts.

That’s life affirming insight the first. I promised two. So now’s a good time to top up your beverage and let the dog out for his or her constitutional. I’ll wait.

Ok so I tell stories for a living. That’s cool. But that word “perfectly” looms large from the page, doesn’t it? Perfection. My god, that’s a loaded word.

Remember my brilliant colleague Maddie?

See, Maddie got the book too. And one evening, once we’d both read it, we exchanged a series of DMs on Twitter that can best be described as frantically gushing. We shared our favourite annotations and quotes. We talked about how the book helped us appreciate the musical (that neither of us have actually seen, it’s worth repeating) at another level.

We geeked out, basically.

And in that flurry of messages I found the aforementioned perfect articulation of something I’d mused about many times in the past.

Maddie was talking about how fascinating it was to hear what was cut from the first draft. The place “where passion meets pragmatism” as she so aptly described it. Great songs or witty lyrics that were cut because they confused the narrative. Events in history that were subject to artistic license.

And I replied:

Yes!! That’s my point about craft instead of art. It ISN’T just about unleashing creativity, it’s finding ways to be creative in service of the higher story.

See? Two exclamation marks. You know that shit was epiphanous, yo.

One of my first insights into communications as a career has become one of my most commonly repeated when given the chance to talk to students or otherwise asked for advice for future commsfolk:

Comms isn’t about writing the perfect press release or speech, it’s about writing the perfect press release or speech for your purposes. It’s about accepting that you’re writing (or whatever) in someone else’s voice to communicate someone else’s message to someone else’s audience. It’s about finding the right tone, the right words and the right channel within your specific context.

If there is a gospel truth out there, if there is a pure and objective version of the story (a debatable point, to be sure) that’s merely a baseline. It’s the pile of wood from which you build a birdhouse. You aren’t creating art, you’re practicing a craft. You’re plying a trade.

You’re making sacrifices in service of the greater goal. You’re being creative in service of the higher story. You become a trafficker of insight, connecting the information with the audience that needs it in a way that works for them and for you.

That Hamilton is going to win a boatload of Tony Awards is a given. But the true mark of Lin Manuel Miranda’s greatness is that the soundtrack hit number one on the Billboard charts in the rap category while the show itself won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.

It’s not just a great story. It’s a great story articulated perfectly for the era and the cultural context in which it was written.

And that’s what it’s all about.

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Music, family, politics etc. I direct comms and public affairs @ACFOACAF and sometimes teach stuff to folk. Speak only for myself here.

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Joe Boughner

Music, family, politics etc. I direct comms and public affairs @ACFOACAF and sometimes teach stuff to folk. Speak only for myself here.