Can You Read Me Now?
What will people read? This question stands like Doubting Thomas over all the wrestling we do with language. Is the average reader actually reading it at all? How many people just look at the pictures? Or read only the lines flexing in bold type? Or oblige the introduction with a fast skim and then skip to the end?
Are you even reading this?
We don’t know, of course. We can learn a little from research and statistical analysis (studies suggest that a piece of unsolicited direct mail has about 5 seconds to capture someone’s attention, but that doesn’t tell us how much they read once they’re captured), and we can try to gauge our own tendencies and biases. But the fact remains that countless variables will always influence the commitment of a reader: how much he or she cares about the subject, the style and quality of the writing and presentation, how much time the reader has, what’s on TV, where the wild things are, how full is the moon. There’s no end to the distractions and competitive forces.
We understand that organizations have a lot to say, and we respect that most people have busy lives. Between these two realities exists a clear conflict where we make our living. We know what most people are thinking when they encounter a communications piece: You want my attention? Now? But I’m swamped!
Before your constituents hear even the first word of your message, they’re already hoping it won’t take too long. We like to find compelling ways to turn this tension into positive energy. Our goal is to deliver your message powerfully and succinctly, then unpack it carefully in a way that demonstrates how much you value the investment of time it requires of your audience.
How do we do it? Well, not surprisingly, it always comes down to finding the right words and then putting them in the best order. Again and again. And again. Lean the wrong way and messaging falls flat. Get it right and the reader can suddenly become emotionally engaged with your perspective—smiling, remembering, even crying—which is far more powerful than simply processing content. To the extent possible, we want readers to enjoy an experience, not endure an assignment. This is how you keep them reading. By encouraging people to identify personally with your story, they begin to feel connected to it, and this is the essential first step to winning their involvement with your cause—even when the moon is full, and no matter where the wild things are.
Stephen is M Creative creative writer extraordinaire.