[ It may sound incredibly simple to do but many fail at this all the time ]
Let’s say you’re writing to someone about an event you’d like them to come to. There are so many things you would like to say, and frankly, you can provide a whole lot of information. You want to tell them about what an exciting event it is. Maybe even the fact that it’s hugely popular. You may want to try to convince them about why you believe in the need for this event for many people, including your reader.
If you are communicating something of relative importance to you, the first thing to understand is that it is important to you but not necessarily to your reader.
Now think about the various states of mind that the person receiving such an email or letter may be in. She might open the email while taking an important phone call. She may receive some terrible news while she is reading the information. She may be preoccupied with a looming deadline. She may be upset about an argument that happened earlier in the day. In each situation above, there is a different emotion and mental state that the person receiving the information is in. This state has a direct effect on how she processes whatever information she receives at that time.
If you are communicating something of relative importance to you, the first thing to understand is that it is important to you but not necessarily to your reader. You want your message to deliver the meaning and import intended. You want your reader to ‘get it’ immediately. So here are three effective strategies to use to ensure that your writing achieves this aim.
Be clear about why and what you are communicating
Achieving clarity here requires you to understand what your primary aim is and then to work backwards to see what you can do to make things happen. You consider different ways you may achieve success, you ponder on possible responses and tactics that may bring about a reaction or response. Then you put things into action. What comes next is equally important ie you need to tweak your efforts and adjust them till you begin to see the results you want.
If you want someone to do something, you must be clear about what that thing is. In marketing speak, we call that a ‘CTA’ or a call to action. It simply means you are instructing your reader in a particular way so you can provoke an immediate response. On websites, this may typically involve getting viewers to click on a buy button or to make a phone call. With your letter or email, this may be one of many things. So you need to be clear about what you want them to do. This is not a situation where you can expect that they will know what to do or assume it. This is also not a situation where you can ask them to do many things – just ask for one thing.
Compelling is not about you and what you need. Compelling is about figuring out what your reader cares about and why what you say matters to them.
In any communication, understand that there cannot be too many messages within. A variety of messages (some of which may even conflict with one another) only means a dilution of your primary message. The more messages within, the more you increase the chance for your reader to get distracted or bored.
Alongside whatever it is you are requesting your reader to do must be a compelling reason for doing so. Companies, brands and individuals ask many things of us every day, through print advertisements, through the radio, when we visit websites or even use a search engine. This never-ending barrage of advertising, requests and sometimes, demands on our time, attention and money, often lead us to ignore all these incoming messages. We’ve become very good at knowing when to switch off.
Your message will be yet another one your reader sees. Compelling is not about you and what you need. Compelling is about figuring out what your reader cares about and why what you say matters to them. Compelling is about being interesting and quick enough to get your message through before they switch off.
Be short and sweet
This brings me to my second point -be short and sweet. This is a tricky one. If you are too quick to get to your point, it may come across as a demand and that’s not something you’re after. If your reader doesn’t see the point or is not convinced why she should do something asked of her, then you will receive nothing.
Your message needs to be short enough to maintain their attention yet presented in a way that begets curiosity and a desire to learn more. Fake this (as you’ve seen many Facebook posts and websites that indulge in clickbait, pushing snazzy shocking headlines that get you very curious, get you clicking and then deeply disappointed at the results) and your losses run deep. Not only do you lose out on this one occasion, you’ve lost your reader forever. You have lost their trust and shown them that you are inauthentic.
Be focused on how your reader will receive the information
This is what separates the winners from the losers. Often, those who succeed in winning their reader’s attention and get their full message across in the manner intended are the ones who think about it from the reader’s perspective…
… what do they want;
… what do they care about;
… what will make them stop and listen;
… how will they likely think about the issue;
… what will make them decide in your favour; and
… what would make them take action.
In other words, it’s not about the features and benefits of what you have to offer. It’s about why your reader will care about this. It’s not about how great it is and how everyone important enough is getting this too. It is about what matters, in a deep way, to your reader and how what you have, brings her closer to her goals and desires.
Mastering the art of communication is a deeply gratifying skill to possess. When you can come to see things from a different perspective, when you can empathise with your reader, when you can almost become an active participant in their story, it makes you far more compelling, in so many ways. People are far more self-absorbed than you think. When you step out of yourself to focus on your reader, they will bask in your attention, they will really hear what you have to say, they will give you their time and effort. In short, they will let you into their life. This is when the magic happens.
If you like this post, I hope you will share it. If you need help with your writing, with getting published or with strengthening your brand, feel free to reach out. Let’s have a chat.
Anybody listening image courtesy Bas van den Eijkhof of freeimages.com