Don't write your content for "the world," rather write it for an individual. Don't try to make yourself *sound* smart. Try to make your reader *feel* smart.
This episode covers some takeaways from Social Media Marketing World 2019 and pulls from a great presentation given by Ann Handley, the author of Everybody Writes.
Full Episode Transcript
But today I want to talk about a presentation I saw by Ann Handley, the author of Everybody Writes.
While her session was called “How to write an email newsletter that people clear their schedules to read,” it could have just as easily been called — it’s time to focus less on the news of newsletter, and more on the letter.
I’m a huge email junky — along with writing email newsletters for my own business and my clients, I also read a lot of emails from brands, journalists, politicians and the like. And I mean a lot. In fact, email has become my primary method for keeping up with the news. I get daily or weekly emails from a ton of journalists and organizations, and let me tell you: there’s a huge difference between an email that was written for me, and one that was written for the world.
And that brings us to our title: Why Warren Buffet is a better writer than you. Warren Buffet is arguably the smartest person alive in his field. He could probably sit down and write his annual report ensuring that you couldn’t understand a word of it. He could use big words, tech jargon and language intended to make him sound smart, rather than to make you become smarter. But he understands that he doesn’t have to prove himself to anyone (at least not in his writing!). He uses his annual letter to convey a message and he wants to ensure that message is accessible to all. To do that, he has a trick. And it’s such a simple trick, you won’t believe it.
Rather than writing his annual letter to his stockholders, en masse, he writes it to his two sisters, Doris and Bertie. Now I’m sure that Doris and Bertie are very smart women. But they aren’t as smart at investing as Warren Buffet — no one is! When I say he writes it to them, I mean literally. He starts his letter “Dear Doris and Bertie.” He removes the line before sending it along, but the DNA of the letter is personal and real. He doesn’t want his sisters to feel dumb — he wants them to feel smart! And he writes accordingly.
Ann Handley talked about this concept at length during her session at social media marketing world and it really resonated with me — because it’s something I’ve recommend to my clients for years.
Along with working with nonprofits and business professionals (as well as solopreneurs, bands, artists, authors and all kids of other brands!) I do a lot of work with candidates and elected politicians. I was doing an audit and a training for a caucus a while back and I realized that a majority of the members of the caucus were regularly tweeting our press releases. No one on Twitter wants to read a press release. NOT EVEN THE PRESS!
I told them that before they sent any further communications, whether it be via Twitter, Facebook, email, anything… they should picture an actual constituent reading their content. Do you think that sweet grandpa you met last month while knocking doors is going to appreciate your press release? He isn’t! Take the message of the release and make it digestable to him. Is he going to know the terminology of laws and budgets and legalese? Maybe. But probably not! So write it for him. The goal is not to make yourself sound smart — the goal is to make your reader feel smart.
I tell all my clients to picture an actual customer before sending a post. I even had someone tell me they loved the idea so much, they wrote a customer’s name down on a post-it note and stuck it to their computer. This way, anytime they write anything, they force themselves to think of this specific person.
Warren Buffet is a better writer than you because he knows his audience — it’s his sisters. Become a better writer simply by focusing on an individual, rather than the world. Because even if your tweet or Facebook post goes viral, or your email gets forwarded on by Oprah and millions of people see it, it’s still being consumed by single individuals, one at a time.
Don’t think of your content as a megaphone, blasting everyone in the area with your knowledge, wisdom and wit. Rather think of it as a telephone, creating a connection between two people. Your writing will be better for it. And your audience will walk away with a much better understanding of your message. And isn’t that kinda the whole point?