3 Ideas for Helping Your Readers

I may as well just come out and say it: I’ve always been a bit suspicious of my dentist.

With perfect hair, a year round tan and a grinning, car salesman’s handshake, he’s always struck me as just a tad too friendly. After all, it seems to me that if you were really paying close attention during all those years of medical school, you wouldn’t have had the time to develop such a winning personal presentation.

For the five years or so that I’ve been a client of his, it hasn’t really mattered. All of the necessary procedures until now were straightforward and routine, and I figured one guy could read an X-ray as well as the next.

All that changed abruptly this past June, however, when Dr. Distractingly Friendly informed me that one of my teeth needed a “crown,” a procedure which, I was disappointed to learn, has very little to do with royalty. In any case, I made another appointment, and yesterday, went in for my coronation.

I have to confess, I was quite pleasantly surprised. What I liked about this guy’s approach, was the way he talked me through the long and (for me) foreign procedure, from beginning to end.

Whether describing the timeline (“Should take about an hour today and then you’ll need to come back in a couple of weeks.”); preparing me for the Novocain needle (“Little bit of a pinch coming.”); or keeping me informed along the way (“Just about five minutes left and we’ll be all done.”), he very deliberately narrated the event, and he did it entirely for my benefit.

As a patient, I found this commentary quite helpful, and in stark contrast to the dentist I grew up with – a somber, unfriendly man who I’m fairly certain was the inspiration for the Laurence Olivier character in Marathon Man.

But here’s the point. Although I’m hopeful that there is little about your newsletter that’s reminiscent of dental surgery, I do encourage you to take a page from my dentist’s book in the way you present your information.

Specifically, I recommend that you also “talk your way through the procedure,” so that your readers – the new ones in particular – always know what to expect.

For example…

  • At the moment of sign-up, tell readers when and how often you intend to publish.

    On both the page where you ask people to sign up for your newsletter (view a sample here) as well as in the “Welcome Letter” that you send as confirmation, make sure to share your publishing schedule. Remember that if you publish a monthly newsletter, and you published yesterday, the person who signs up today has 29 days to go until the next edition arrives. If they know the schedule, they know what to expect.

  • Include a synopsis at the beginning of each issue.

    Not every subscriber will want to read every issue you send out (I’m sorry to have to be the one to tell you this). It doesn’t mean they don’t want to continue receiving your E-Newsletter, it just means that for whatever reason, this topic on this day is not important enough for them to take the time.

    To help readers quickly decide if the topic of the month is useful, include a brief synopsis – an executive summary – at the beginning of each e-mail. Something that indicates what they’ll find. This way, busy readers can read on if it’s relevant, but quickly delete if it’s not.

  • Give your E-Newsletter a meaningful subheading.

    The subheading of this newsletter is, “a free biweekly guide to creating, writing and managing effective e-newsletters.” It serves two purposes:

    First, it reminds people what they’ve subscribed to. In the barrage of e-mails that your readers receive on a daily basis, some of them may forget from month to month who you are and what you write about, or even that they opted in to receive your E-Newsletter in the first place. The subheading helps to reorient them.

    Second, it makes the forwarding process more effective. When one of your subscribers forwards your newsletter to a friend or colleague (one of the main benefits of writing in the electronic world in the first place), a good descriptive subheading will serve to properly prepare the recipient, who very likely has never even heard of you, and whose forwarding friend may have only said, “thought you’d be interested.”

Bottom Line. Like a dental patient exposed to a procedure for the first time, your readers know a lot less about your newsletter’s format and content than you do. By taking deliberate steps to help them understand, use, and enjoy your publication, you’ll find that getting and keeping readers feels a lot less like pulling teeth. (I’m sorry, that was uncalled for.)

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