Oh, how we struggle to find just the right words to use to make our messages cut through the clutter. We sit at our laptops staring at the blank screen. (Curse you, blinking cursor!) We take a walk (or a shower) seeking inspiration. We search for synonyms on an online thesaurus. We even ask the Microsoft Word gods if they can help improve our copy.
But you don't have to fuss and fidget; the answer is as close as your nearest refrigerator. In fact, there are two ways the fridge can help you create communication that appeals to your audience:
1. First, create a lot of draft ideas--and pin them all up. It's easy to get paralyzed by expectations that the thing you're working on has to be The Best Ever. So, according to author and artist Austin Kleon, it's important to make a bunch of stuff and then advance the ones that deserve to get to the next level.
Kleon quotes Jeff Tweedy, core songwriter for the band Wilco, about the problem with trying to be perfect:
"The internal stuff is the stuff that kills you. I want to write the greatest song in the world sometimes. I don't think there's anything wrong in wanting to do that, but I think you're better off when you realize you have no control over it. You just gotta keep making s-t up, scribbling--like sitting down and drawing with my kids. It reminds me to do that in my songs. It doesn't matter if it's good or bad. I think it looks great. Let's hang it on the refrigerator."
Kleon explains that his blog is his refrigerator. "I make something, or I clip out something I like, and I put it on the refrigerator. The next day, I go and find something else to put on the fridge." Last year, Kleon started blogging every day; 350 posts later, he has a book coming out next year to show for it.
"I know that book wouldn't exist in the shape it's in if I hadn't gone back to what works for me: Putting things on the refrigerator."
2. The second way the refrigerator can help you create great communication is to focus on your audience members. Don Ranly, professor emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, coined the phrase "refrigerator journalism" to describe content that audience members find so useful that they cut it out (or print it out) and stick it on their fridge.
"In today's microwave world, in-a-hurry readers want practical information presented in the most efficient and effective way," writes Ranly. "Perhaps the primary rule of writing today is: Did you give the message in such a way as to take the reader the least amount of time? Readers will pay attention to what you say only if you show them respect."
Although Ranly refers to his principle as "refrigerator journalism" or "service journalism," the advice is useful not just for journalists, but for anyone working to create content that audience members want to open, click to and spend time with.
To achieve that, according to Ranly, your content needs to be:
- Useful. "Find ways to demonstrate how the reader can use the information. See how often you can get 'you' in the first sentence of your copy."
- Usable. For instance, "make a list. Lists get more attention, better comprehension and more retention. Five ways to save money. Do this; don't do that. Advantages, disadvantages. 'Tips' is a magical word."
- Used. "Service journalism is action journalism. You are successful only if people use the information. People stop paying attention to information they never use."
But people do pay attention when the content helps them solve a problem or achieve an objective. When they stick it on their refrigerator, you've achieved success.