If you’re old enough to know your total cholesterol count off the top of your head (217), you may remember a man by the name of Jim Fixx.
Fixx gained prominence in 1977 with the publication of his book, The Complete Book of Running, and is widely credited with single-handedly starting the jogging craze in this country. Unfortunately, Fixx died suddenly in 1984.
Hearing what had happened, my Aunt Esther — a woman known for sometimes not quite getting her facts straight — gave me the news:“The guy who invented running died.”
Admittedly, a bit of an oversimplification. However, with those six simple words she had captured the essence — if not the absolute factual truth — of the story. Before Fixx’s book came out, running around the neighborhood for exercise was not a common practice, and in many ways, he had “invented” running.
I’m here to tell you that when it comes to effective communication with an audience, my Aunt Esther had it right — essence matters more than facts.
How many times have you been forced to endure 85 slides worth of a speaker’s Power Point presentation, getting to the point where you start looking for a way to unobtrusively commit suicide? Invariably, the problem isn’t that the data is wrong or even lacking in value, it’s that it’s delivered in a way that is too detailed and too convoluted for the average human being to digest. You arrive eager to learn something, but the delivery itself gets in the way.
Many newsletters suffer from the same “good information; poor delivery” syndrome. The facts are there, but the reader is not able to — or not interested in — finding them. With that in mind, I offer some suggestions for being heard and appreciated:
• Pick one idea. I always find it kind of funny that the biggest worry people have about producing a newsletter is “running out of content,” and yet the biggest problem I see is “too much content in each issue.” You don’t need to explain your entire field of expertise in each issue any more than you need to review everything you know each time you eat lunch with a client. Break it up into little pieces. You’ll have more content to choose from next time and your readers will find it easier to hear your message.
• Boil it down. An E-Newsletter is really just a glorified email, and mixed in with all the jokes, appointment confirmations and pieces of information that fly into our respective in-boxes every day, this is not a medium that lends itself well to lots of detail. Be prepared to edit, simplify and throw out information on your way to getting to the heart of the matter.
• Speak like a human being. I don’t know who started the rumor that business communication must be formal to be valuable, but it seems to have caught on nonetheless — that’s an opportunity for you and me. Your readers will find it a breath of fresh air to “hear” the people behind the newsletter. Nobody is interested in reading one more “critical communication” from a company that claims to be, “the leading provider of cross platform broadband solutions” (or whatever). If you can’t read your newsletter out loud to your spouse without bursting out laughing, you’ve got too much marketing-speak in there.
Bottom Line: You’ve got 800 words of opportunity each month to get your message across. Sure you’ve got to have something useful to give your audience, but remember that these people are busy, tired and often just plain bored. Make your publication the one they wait for and you’ll never again live in fear of the delete key.