Respect The Unexpected

I organized a roundtable meeting yesterday on the subject of E-Newsletters, and invited about a dozen small business owners to come in and talk about the progress and challenges they’ve faced regarding their respective publications (thank you Roving Software for hosting the event!).

Although I knew them all, they were strangers to each other, and so we spent the first 30 minutes or so getting acquainted by filling in a big grid that summarized each person’s E-Newsletter efforts (target audience, publication frequency, newsletter name, etc.).

In addition to these relevant questions, I asked one more thing: “What was the first car you owned?”

I did this for two reasons. Number one, I wanted to see if anybody had ever owned a crappier car than my 1977 rusted out Toyota Corolla Number two, I was concerned that this exercise — although valuable — would be tedious, and I thought that by asking a nonbusiness, off topic question, I could break things up a bit.

I’m happy to say that not only were there no objections to my “wasting time” talking about old cars, it was this final question that generated the most interaction and the most energy among the group. It was almost as if getting to tell your old car story was the reward for answering the other questions.

The reason I mention all this is that a common flaw among E-Newsletters is that they are just too tedious and too predictable to slog through. The information might be useful and relevant, but if it becomes too much work to take it all in, I either stop “listening,” or bail out and delete the thing entirely.

On the other hand, when you provide nonbusiness (even off-topic) pieces in your newsletter — whether in the form of personal anecdotes, humorous asides or unexpected tidbits — you give your readers a mental break.

And although this may seem like an unproductive distraction, this change of pace actually makes it easier for your readers to refocus and digest your “serious” business information.

Take it from someone whose official title is “Chief Penguin:” Not only is adding a dash of unpredictability to your work an effective means for standing out from the crowd, it’s a surefire way to keep and hold the attention of your audience.

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