Stanford Smith makes some great points this post about “preaching to the choir” if you will. And he’s right. It’s great to have the support of like-minded people, but if the right people aren’t getting your message the right way, you’re getting nowhere. I’ve talked before about how it’s important to know your audience. And, whether your marketing a university, developing adult learning content, or producing a killer video, you need to make sure the audience you’re creating your story for is the audience that gets it. It happens all the time. We write a marketing piece in a way that appeals to our executive, but is it written in a way that will appeal (and sell to) your audience? Will your learners love the content as much as the other instructional designers do, or will the be confused and turned-off by it? Those special-effects and artistic edits are awesome, but are you doing it to show off your favorite skills or to reach wedding and corporate clients? It’s so easy to study your audience and develop something for them but do it in a way that appeals not to the audience, but to ourselves or our peers. I think we’re all guilty of it from time to time. I’ll be the first to admit that I have. I’ve done promos and videos that I thought were great but missed the mark with the audience because they just didn’t get it. But, I’ve also done videos that I didn’t really connect with that were exactly what the client and the audience needed to see. I challenge you to go back and take an honest look at the stories you’re telling. I have and I’m going to be doing a few rewrites on a project I’m working on where the target audience is very different from the people involved. I did a pretty good job in the beginning, but I can see now that I lost that edge a bit. Now that I’m aware I can make it right. If you’re in the same boat I’m in, here are a few suggestions to help you stay on track:
Get out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to the interests and environment of your audience. Remind yourself where they’re coming from. Don’t assume you know.
Do a focus group or have an informal chat with folks from your target audience. What story do they want to hear from you or your client?
Look for outside experts. Don’t just listen to the usual people get opinions from, find someone from outside your circle to give an objective opinion.
I’ve been known to put up signs up around my desk to remind me about the audience I’m trying to reach.
Take a minute. Think about the stories you’re telling now. Are you telling your story in a way that will move, excite or affect your audience? Is your story being told in a way that’s too “inside” your environment to reach that target audience out there? Are you telling the right story, the right way, to the right audience?
The answer to those questions are the difference between telling your story and selling your story.
Over the last few days I’ve been reminded again how important it is to write for your audience and your medium. We’ve all heard about writing for the intended audience (you don’t write at a college level when your audience is 4th graders) and how important it is to make sure the audience will understand what you’re trying to say. If we’re lucky we’ve even had a little time to study the audience and understand them. The final product has a better chance of being accepted when we know the audience and write for them.
A lot of people forget about the importance of writing to the medium as well. In my experience a lot of people forget that there is a difference between the way you should write for a text-book, a presentation, a website and video. The delivery method has a huge impact on the way information is received, so it should influence the content itself. For example, how do you think a video would be received when the script sounds like it’s been directly lifted from a text-book? Would a presentation have the same feeling as an article on a web? If you want to be successful the answer should be no.
I’ve worked in video, marketing and instructional design. I’ve written for everything from TV promos to kiosks to instructor guides. Trust me, if you want to hold people’s interest and make your point you need to think about how your message is being delivered. If what you delivered will be read aloud, then you need to read it out-loud. You need to hear the way the words sound together and make sure it’s easy to listen to, and just as importantly, that it can be easily read. If the words are awkward or hard to say the person you are trying to communicate with will have a hard time receiving the message. I have had the opportunity to rewrite a number of scripts so that look good on paper, but when you read them out loud it is a whole different story. (As a side note, scripts that have been proofread and approved by lawyers is often difficult to read out-loud and to hear).
Take my advice, and save yourself a lot of trouble, add delivery medium to the list of things you think about before you start to write. Your audience will thank you for it.