I’ve Got a Crutch on You

May I speak frankly? I’ve been on crutches for three weeks now and have come to one, simple conclusion: There’s nothing very convenient about it.

You can’t carry anything; you can’t find a good place to put the crutches when you’re sitting in a restaurant, or a movie theater, or an airplane; and you may as well not even bother trying to take care of business in a public restroom.

No, my friend, I’m sorry to say that crutches add nothing to your overall speed and mobility, a fact that explains why so few land mammals have evolved to the point where they are born with these appendages already attached.

But there is a silver lining: Crutches, I’ve discovered in recent weeks, are the ultimate, conversation ice breaker.

Everywhere I go – the supermarket, the gym, my office parking lot – complete strangers go out of their way to chat me up. The fact is, I’ve been approached by more people in the last three weeks than in the previous three years combined. (I know what you’re thinking: Too bad you didn’t know about this crutch thing when you were still single.)

But why, I’ve wondered while massaging my aching underarms, is this so? What’s so compelling about a perfect stranger on crutches that has people crossing the street to talk to him? I’ve got two thoughts on this, both of which (surprise, surprise) relate to what makes for an effective E-Newsletter:

  1. Crutches beg a question. The most common greeting from my crutch-infatuated new friends is, “What did you do to your leg?” To a person, everyone wants to know what happened. Seeing me hobble by is like watching half a movie; they can’t rest until they know how it ends.

    A well written newsletter also adds an element of suspense. I don’t mean of the murder mystery kind, but it ought to be intriguing enough and unpredictable enough that readers stick with you, if only to find out where you’re going. My favorite format is a (seemingly unrelated) lead-in story that finally resolves to make a connection with some useful piece of information.

  1. Crutches are familiar, and yet unexpected. I bet you’ve seen people on crutches before. I also bet you haven’t seen anybody today on crutches. You know what they are, but they’re still uncommon enough to catch your attention when a pair clomps by.

    Similarly, your monthly newsletter presents a dozen opportunities each year to either bore or fascinate your readers. And in my experience, it’s less about the particular topic chosen than it is the way you decide to approach it that makes the difference.

    Consider this example from the March newsletter of one of my clients, a market research firm. The topic was “instrument bias” – the pollution of research results through the delivery of a badly constructed survey. Not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, I admit. And yet by using a recent comic strip from the Sunday paper to demonstrate the concept, the topic suddenly became clear, funny and memorable… three words you don’t usually see sharing a sentence with “market research.”

Okay, here’s the bottom line. For my money, most people writing business communications (E-Newsletters being just one example) spend much too much time fine-tuning the idea, and not enough time thinking about the best way for it to be communicated. I think that’s a mistake.

Because while there certainly has to be some useful meat within every message you send, if that’s all there is, you’ll have a hard time getting and keeping the attention of your readers, most of whom are way more starved for an interesting diversion, than they are for information.

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