A Fish Called Content: Meeting John Cleese With Kristina Halvorson

Kristina Halvorson runs Brain Traffic, a content strategy consultancy. She's the author of Content Strategy for the Web and the founder of Confab: The Content Strategy Conference. We caught up with Kristina to discuss her encounter with John Cleese of Monty Python, her favorite work tools and techniques, and more.

Image: Peter Hart

Let's just get right to the main thing: YOU MET JOHN CLEESE! Tell us the whole story!

I was invited to give a keynote at a big conference earlier this year. It was the kind of conference that has lots of hype, fog machines, and fireworks. You know, like An Event Apart! Just kidding. Anyhow, every year they invite a celebrity to come speak. So one day, l went to the conference website because I forgot what day I was speaking, as usual, and there—right next to my picture, like right next to it—was a photo of John Cleese. I honestly couldn't process what I was seeing. Then I started yelling and shaking and pretty much didn't get anything done for the rest of the day.

You have to understand, if Monty Python hadn't been a thing, I would have had absolutely nothing to talk about in high school. I have so many skits and movie scenes memorized. John Cleese is…OMG, he's John Cleese! OMG!

Anyhow, at the conference, I think I was more wrecked about meeting him than I was about giving a talk to 4,000 people. When the time finally came, I stood in this short line backstage behind this weird little curtained-off area, because that's how celebrities roll, and then he walked in and I sort of froze and couldn't speak, and my friend was like, “are you okay, are you okay,” and, no, I was definitely not okay. When it was my turn, I started smiling so hard I felt like my face was going to burst into flames. It was the usual celebrity encounter when you worship the celebrity you are encountering. He was charming and kind and signed my book and then took me into his arms for the pictures people were taking.

And then I walked away, sat down in the empty auditorium, and cried for ten minutes. That is true. The end.

Wow. It hardly seems possible to follow that with anything, but we'll try anyway. What are some tools, tricks, and/or techniques you can't work without?


  • Slack. It changed the way we work at Brain Traffic. Cut down on email by like 50%. Also, now none of us actually needs to speak to each other ever again, which is great, because I hate people.
  • Evernote. I use it for all of my business development and active project work.
  • Dropbox. Sending people a link to a file versus the actual file is so great. And the file storage interface is so much happier than, oh, say, Google Docs?
  • Rescue Time. It is the only way I can focus on “deep work” for more than ten minutes at a time. Otherwise I can't stay off Twitter.

Technique: Here's how I get lunch. I like to wait until everyone else is ready to go to pick up food and then be all, “Oh, I'm so busy, can you grab something for me while you're there?” Suckers.

Trick: To get myself to exercise, I pick a series on Netflix that I can only watch while I'm working out. The problem is when I finish a series and can't figure out what to watch next. I saw the final episode of Justified three weeks ago and haven't worked out since. True story.

What would you say is the most overlooked aspect of our work?

I'd love it if teams were constantly looking for new ways to work together more effectively and efficiently. And I mean more than just “go agile” or “be more empathetic.” How can we run better meetings? How can we listen effectively? How can we manage conflict without acting like jerks? I guess these lessons really matter in every kind of work, but I think they're especially important in ours. I mean, we can't build the internet by ourselves.

You're bringing a brand-new talk to AEA called “Mission Possible: Stakeholder Alignment.” What's it all about, and what will people take away from it?

COINCIDENTALLY, I'll be talking about a lot of these topics in the context of getting people aligned on teams and projects. I've learned a lot of hard lessons on this topic, both as a content strategist and as a business owner. Turns out there are specific skills and tools you can employ to keep people working from the same playbook. And no, these tools do not include trust falls. Unless you like trust falls. Then by all means, enjoy your trust falls.

What has you most excited these days?

At the moment, it's the lunch my Brain Traffic coworkers are bringing me any minute.

In the near future… I've blocked off twelve full weeks for no travel in 2016. Considering I usually travel 3-4 times a month, this is a pretty big deal. I'm planning to learn how my stove works, exercise, reintroduce myself to friends, and not eat a single airport chicken salad. Oh, and I'm going to direct a play at my kids' elementary school. (I realize this would literally be the ninth circle of hell for most people.) So it's not going to necessarily be a relaxing few months…but I can't wait!

Kristina will bring “Mission Possible: Stakeholder Alignment” to An Event Apart Nashville, March 14-16, 2016. Don't miss out on this essential information—plus eleven other great presentations for people who make websites. Register today! Folks who register for any two- or three-day AEA event before January 1, 2016 can save $125 with discount code AEADEC15.