It's simple: The most effective way to get your audience's attention is to make communication about audience members' needs and interests.
But here's where you--the person creating the communication--come in. Your audience wants to hear from you, not from the company or department you work for. This is not the time to hide your light behind your cubicle walls; you need to let the real you--complete with bad jokes, an exhaustive knowledge of Civil War history and a collection of every CD Bruce Springsteen even sneezed on--come through.
This may be a little scary because it means you can't disguise yourself (You know what Bruce sang: "Is that you, baby, or just a brilliant disguise?") or hide behind your public identities: Mr. MBA. Ms. CEO. Mr. VP of Logistics.
To be compelling, communication needs to come from the real you, reaching out to the person you're trying to reach. Just the two of you, alone on the porch swing on a summer's evening. The stars in the sky and the cicadas humming. Feels kind of nice, doesn't it?
This is especially important because we spend so much time these days feeling like a tiny cog in the wheel, lost in a high-tech maze, reduced to nothing more than a number and a password. So we crave the human touch. We love walking into the local hardware store and knowing the shopkeeper, who gives us advice not based on guiding us to the most expensive solution, but what's best for us ("This 45-cent bolt should do the trick.") The funny thing is, we'd pay more for the privilege of having a caring person help us.
We bring that person-to-person preference to communication as well. (After all, we'd much rather receive a personal letter than an anonymous mass mailing.) The personality of communication is often called "voice." Every communication has a voice--from the bureaucratic tone of government reports to the fun, energetic style of Target ads.
Here's what this means: To engage your audience, uncover your authentic voice and let your wonderful personality come through. In other words, put yourself into your communication so that your audience can recognize and relate to you.
Here are three ways to do so:
- "Never forget that you're a real person communicating with other people," advise Steve Peha, partner in The Word Factory, a company that teaches writing. Even if you're creating communication for a large organization, preserve that one-to-one feeling.
- Write like you talk. Many of us get a keyboard in our hands, and we stiffen up as if we're on our best behavior in school. We want to sound impressive, so we become more formal. If this happens to you, try two things: First, read your work out loud to make sure it sounds conversational and real. Second, if you still have trouble being conversational, record what you want to say on a tape recorder, then use the recording as the basis for your communication.
- If you're writing on behalf of your organization, decide what the collective "voice" should be. As Mr. Peha says, "To decide on the voice of your organization, ask yourself, 'If your company were a person, who would that person be? What would the organization's character? Would it be more friendly or more formal? What would be the unique characteristics that makes your organization distinctive?"
Simple, isn't it? Just be yourself.