Everyone’s an opinion maker just like Stijn Baert, Liesbet Stevens, and Frederik Anseel
Liesbet Stevens, Stijn Baert, and Frederik Anseel are real brands in Flanders. The media hang on their every word and eagerly share their analyses with the general public. Why does everyone just eat up their view of things? Simple: Stevens, Baert, and Anseel are masters at sharing clear insights into complex problems. Moreover, they do this in relatable language. Over the years, they have become major references in their fields. Good work, but is it something that is only reserved for, say, professors or leading economists? Certainly not; CEOs and experts in large and small companies can also become opinion makers. We have five simple tips on how to get started, using some concrete examples as a guide.
1. Look for something that’s newsworthy
You don’t just write an opinion piece on the first topic that comes to mind. Look for underexposed (sub)topics or viewpoints within your field of expertise. Survey (contradictory) opinions among colleagues and formulate your vision of the problem in five sentences. Also read what is said and written about it in the media. A golden tip: by reacting to current news items, you increase the chance of getting your own opinion published. Liesbet Stevens of the Institute for Equality between Men and Women, for example, used the 110th International Women’s Day to her advantage. Finding something newsworthy in your area of expertise is what it’s all about.
2. Problem and solution
A good opinion piece starts with the crucial question: why am I writing this piece and what do I want to achieve with it? Why is this relevant in my field and by extension for the whole of society? Spice up your basic idea with arguments that everyone can understand. Also consider whether you want to address one or more people specifically to attract attention. You can address your opinion piece or open letter, for example, to political decision makers, ‘today’s youth’, certain action groups, and so on. For example, in February, Heidi De Pauw, CEO of Child Focus, and Sara Vercauteren, Managing Director of Bepublic Group, did this in a frequently shared opinion piece in De Morgen.
In the first paragraph of your text, also make it clear what position you take on the problem and – importantly – provide one or more plausible (partial) solutions. Telling people that something is wrong without proposing a remedy makes you a sympathetic dreamer, but ensures that your contribution remains implausible.
3. Make it easy to digest
The third golden tip: don’t use technical jargon in your text. Difficult terms without additional explanations and lengthy sentences or irrelevant metaphors turn readers away. Do you want to make a comparison? Then do it with a situation that everyone has experienced. Write easily digestible sentences. And keep it short; simplicity reveals the expert’s hand. An opinion piece in, say, De Tijd seldom exceeds 800 words. That is a maximum of one and a half pages in Word. A good example? This column by Frederik Anseel about hybrid working during and after Covid-19 in De Tijd.
4. Dare to take a real stand
The three previous tips will get you quite far. But to secure a really great publication in a national medium, you have to be willing to take a bold position. An opinion text gives you enough space to express your views – albeit in as many different ways as you like. But being too politically correct does not work. If you are convinced of your point, you have to dare to rock the boat, as Stijn Baert did in his appeal in May 2020 not to being too lenient towards the Covid-19 generation of students.
Be aware of the impact such a piece has. Tall trees – and thus opinion makers – catch a lot of wind, on social media and through traditional channels. Make sure you are ready to parry the criticism, or further nuance your views in talk shows or newspaper articles.
5. Keep it up
This final piece of advice: do not give up after one foray. It is a cliché, but many people give up after one (un)successful attempt. Challenge yourself as a mobility, retail, or labour market expert to continuously launch new ideas and solutions. Because only then will you become a real thought leader and journalists will call you themselves if they want your opinion on a particular news item. A strong reputation in the public domain is not built with one well-aimed opinion piece. The aforementioned opinion makers are the best proof of that too!