Is there one principle, above all others, that you can take on board to gain the foundation of better communication? I think there is, and this is the most boiled-down version I’ve come up with:
IS NOT WHAT’S IN YOUR HEAD
It’s about realising that you have a responsibility to meet your audience at least halfway. You can’t just throw some words down that you would understand yourself, presented in a way that you would find pleasant and digestible. Because they ain’t you.
(You could make various parallel rule versions, like, “Their life is not your life”, or even, “Their computer is not your computer”. But I think the above sums it up pretty well.)
In Yorkshire, where I grew up, we sometimes said “so-and-so can’t see beyond their own nose end” – meaning that all a person thought about was themselves and their own picture of the world. Someone like that can never be a great communicator. They can only appeal to people like themselves, and get frustrated when they come up against barriers.
Getting good at this requires qualities like empathy and adaptability – the ability to step outside your own worldview and habits – alongside skills in use of language and presenting information.
Of course, you can often know something about your audience, especially if you’re targeting a particular sort of person. That lets you get at least partly into their mindset and adjust accordingly. But making your work accessible to a general audience as well is usually a good thing.
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LIKE YOU CARE ABOUT YOUR STUFF
This kind of falls out of Rule One, but it’s worth hammering it home. I bet that, like me, you’ve had the experience of somebody talking to you about something they’re enthusiastic, even passionate, about – but failing to make the bridge to why you should be interested in it too.
To them, they’ve internalised the greatness of the thing so that obviously everyone else will see it too, and your lack of engagement frustrates them. To you, this person has just parachuted into your life and is expecting you to jump straight in to something you’ve never even thought about before, and you want to defend your space.
What’s the lesson for your writing? You can’t assume the reader’s interest. You have to earn it. Sell the benefits; draw out the points; bring them along with you. Respect filtering. Make your key points briefly and let them ask for more if they want to. Write your stuff well enough that you end up with the readers who actually want what you have to say.
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Those are two excerpts from my book The Radio-Controlled Message Bottle – writing to communicate. Click through to find out more. You can get the pdf from me, and Kindle and print formats from Amazon.