You know the old saying, that when you’re nervous about speaking to an audience, you should just think of them as being naked?
I’ve never quite understood that bit of advice. I think I’d be reduced to a fit of giggles, and it would be game over from the get-go.
However, when you’re writing, no matter what you're writing, you have an audience even when you can’t see them. It doesn’t matter if your audience is a bunch of boring officials, or a crazy group of artists, or wiggly children, or intense professionals. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a press release, a marketing campaign, a piece of web content, a novel, or a limerick. An audience is an audience.
And that’s why it’s critical, before you write the first word, to know who’s “listening”. What kind of lives do your listeners have? What are their secret fears and most desperate ambitions? What do they want to know? What are they hoping to get from your words?
Here are a few little tricks for getting to know who you’re talking to:
● Close your eyes. Imagine the people in your readership. Make them real. Give them names, if you like.
● Try speaking to one person. Just one. Make one up. What is that person’s name? What does she look like? What kind of clothes does he wear? Where does he shop for food? What kind of car does she drive?
● Don’t write in the passive voice, ever. Be direct, just as you are when you’re sitting across the table from someone and having a friendly chat.
● You might use visual aids. Look through images on the internet or in magazines. If you’re writing for dental hygienists, for example, find an image of a person who matches the person you’re thinking about. (This is always subjective, of course, but that’s okay.) Put that image in front of you, and talk to her or him.
● Do what fiction writers do: give your person ‒ your character ‒ a background, a list of likes and dislikes, a relationship, a belief, a passion, a hobby, maybe a dog and a cat. Does your character get up each morning raring to go? Does she buy coffee on the way to the office? Does your person even go to an office? Where is he or she reading your words? In the kitchen? On a train?
● Once you know one person in your audience, chances are you know several. Write to that one person, and you’ll get them all. Use the word “you”.
This is about knowing who you’re talking to. It’s about caring who your readers are, about making them real.
Once you do, you’re well on your way to writing something relevant, refreshing, practical, and engaging ‒ from the very first sentence.