The importance of fluff

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Water Bottle

I’ve discovered something over the past year as I focused on story. For a long time I called stuff like storytelling “fluff”, things that distracted from the raw goods, from the “real” information. I had, until last year, discounted the need to pad and fluff up information, from marketing materials to martial arts, to the point where I felt like I was doing people a disservice if I didn’t give them as much information as possible. Prior to last year, I approached public speaking the same way, stuffing as much information into a talk as possible on the premise that information was why people wanted to hear what I had to say in the first place.

It turns out that the fluffy stuff that takes a concept from a 500 word blog post to a 20,000 word book or takes a 2 minute hallway conversation and turns it into a 45 minute talk matters a great deal, and here’s why: very few people can absorb a huge amount of information in a short amount of time. I was on the receiving end of this recently while reading a scholar’s translation of the Heart Sutra, and it was a short, compact translation packed with information. The actual book was maybe 50 pages long at most, but it was so dense that each paragraph required several readings just to get all of the information out of it, and I know that it’s going to take several dozen more readings before I get everything out of it that I can.

Think about how fast you can drink a gallon of water. It’s a lot easier to drink a gallon of water if it’s measured out in small cups over a period of time than it is to simply tip the gallon jug over your mouth and let the entire bottle spill over you. The trick we have to master as marketers is to figure out how fast our audience can drink comfortably. Pouring a thimbleful of water every hour will indeed get a gallon of water into you surely and safely, but you’ll probably lose interest long before the gallon is done. How quickly can your audience drink and still be taking in everything?

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8 responses to “The importance of fluff”

  1. Excellent post. It’s also worth remembering that a longer message gives you the opportunity to hit the reader with different closing styles if, for example, you are trying to convince them to purchase something. A great example of this is the long copy sales letter or landing page.

  2. Fluff gives insight to personality. Is a person’t fluff humorous or snarky? Do they make references to things in their private life that allows us to get to know them?

    Yup, it’s all fluff but it makes a personal connection.

  3. The key point here is the density of information. I personally dislike the business book trend of making a marginal point and then illustrating it with 50 pages of fluff. Too many books are 90% filler these days.

    1. I think there’s a lot of that, Mark, but there’s also the greater problem of teaching people at radically different levels. That’s the hardest part of writing and teaching that I’ve found – offering something for everyone.

    2. Mark, I think you’re talking about something else. But your point is well taken.

      I read a book about a guy’s rags-to-riches and it was 90% ego ego ego. He wouldn’t have seen it as fluff. It was all tiles in the mosaic of his complete magnificence.

      It’s nice to see some fluff–just enough to know that the writer is human, isn’t perfect, has fun, etc.

  4. It’s also about learning theory. I tell teachers- You can’t drive the car faster than the pace of traffic without bad results. If you are teaching faster than the kid can learn it, both will end up frustrated in the process.

    1. I’ve definitely seen this in classes I teach. I’ve had to adapt the information I give to better accommodate the pace and learning styles of my students, while still meeting the learning objectives.

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