School Daze

I don’t claim to know all there is to know about parenting. But I do know this:

  1. There’s no way on Earth you can leave an empty Kit Kat wrapper in the kitchen garbage and expect to get away with it. Yesterday, and not 10 minutes after strategically placing the wrapper beneath an empty can of tuna and a banana peel, my 11-year-old son Jonathan was asking, “Who had the Kit Kat?!”
  1. If you’ve got a child in school, you’ll be attending “Parents Night” at some point in September. We’ve got three kids – ages 11, 14 and 17 – and so for us, these first few weeks of the month have been a minefield of back-to-school events.

Last night was the middle school happening. I’m not saying these are predictable, but if you told me that the phrase, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all,” was first coined by Aristotle while attending one of these events in ancient Greece, I wouldn’t call you a liar either.

Here’s the way it usually goes. First, everyone gathers in the auditorium for about 30 minutes while the principal clicks through a stack of nearly indecipherable PowerPoint slides filled with popular middle school words like curriculum, rhombus and wedgie.

Next, the parents follow their own child’s schedule, moving from class to class every 10 minutes in a Reader’s Digest dramatization of what their offspring go through every day.

I love this part. Not for the classes themselves mind you (see Aristotle, above). No, what I enjoy are the five minute breaks between classes during which the dazed and confused grownups are challenged to figure out where the hell they’re supposed to go next.

It’s bedlam. The moms are asking directions, the dads are studying the maps, bells are ringing, teachers are laughing, everyone’s hurrying someplace.

The hallways are overflowing with doctors, lawyers, MBAs, company CEOs, you name it. And yet with all this brain power close at hand, none of us can do what our sixth grade children do easily and perfectly, every single day.

Is it because we’re dumber? Probably not. Is it because we have less life experience? Nope. Is it because we’re so tall? Hmm, there is a strong correlation there, but I don’t think that’s it either.

The answer, of course, is that despite our intelligence and extensive experience out in the world at large, we know next to nothing about this particular environment. When you see a 50-year-old orthopedic surgeon asking a four foot tall “Parent Helper” for directions to the Boys Room, you know that when it comes to navigating the hallways, situation-specific knowledge rules.

In this respect, your E-Newsletter is very similar to middle school (minus, presumably, the wedgies). If you’ve done it right, you focus on a narrow topic for a narrow audience … an audience who typically knows little about the subject at hand (that’s why they read your newsletter in the first place).

They’re not peers in this arena: They’re business owners who want a little bit of your accounting knowledge; they’re hiring managers who want to get a little smarter about recruiting; they’re home owners who want to learn a little more about gardening.

Your challenge in writing your newsletter, therefore, is to aim low in terms of the level and complexity of the content you provide. Too much too fast and you’ll lose them.

Yes, I know your readers (and prospects and clients) are super-smart. And yes, I know that in your particular area of expertise, you know all there is to know.

In terms of choosing and delivering your content, however, that’s largely beside the point.

Remember, in your world, these are people who don’t even know where the bathroom is. Take them by the hand, show them where to go next, and keep it simple.

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