How To Write Things the People You Lead Actually Want to Read

Chances are this week you’re going to write something you hope people will read.

An email to your volunteers

A blog post for your organization

Social media updates

A note to parents

Teasers outlining your next message series or big initiative

A request for money/volunteers

And chances are you’ll be frustrated because you don’t get nearly the response you’d hope for.

You can change that. Quite easily actually. Starting today.

writing things people actually want to read

 

Three Mistakes Almost Everyone Makes When Writing

Most people who write on behalf of organizations (and churches) make three mistakes.

 They mostly communicate information about what, where, and when something is taking place.

 They write from the viewpoint of the organization.

 What they write only helps them, not the reader.

 

And Then They Delete You

Write like that on a regular basis, and most people will begin to delete whatever you send them the moment they see who it’s from.

Sure, your mom might read it and tell you that you did a good job, but if you actually knew how few people read your stuff, it would be…depressing.

As someone who writes a lot, the last thing I want to do is spend time writing something nobody reads.

 

Make These Three Changes

The good news is, if you can successfully change just three things, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a better—and far more effective—writer.

 

 1. Figure Out Why This Matters.

Most of us naturally start communicating by outlining the what, how and when behind our subject.

The problem is nobody actually cares about what, how or when of your issue until they understand why it matters. I completely agree with Simon Sinek, that people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

Why would someone attend/serve/give/act on your invitation. Why? 

Why does this matter?

How are people going to be better off as a result of attending?

What would they miss out on if they didn’t participate?

If you can’t figure out why, either you have an event not worth putting on or you have more work to do on defining its purpose.

But once you’ve isolated it, you’ve got the beginning of a great angle for composing your piece.

 

 2. Shift Your Screen View to Uncover the WIFM.

To really isolate the why behind your what, try this every time you write something: shift your screen view. Imagine what it would be like to receive your email.

It’s amazing to me that as I’ve coached people on this point they instinctively know how they’d receive something they just wrote: it would bore them and they’d delete it.

The best way to avoid that is to think about how you would receive the email if you were sitting on the other side of the screen.

When you begin to isolate that, you’ll start to answer the age old marketing question: What’s In it For Me (marketing people call this the WIFM). As much as you might resist that (it sounds selfish), the truth is you pass everything that comes your way through that filter. You ask yourself: what’s in it for me?

If you can isolate what’s in it for your readers—why they would act—you have struck a chord that will resonate with them.

Then do something great with the why and the WIFM—lead off with it. Make that the first sentence.

Ever wonder what your 13 year old son is thinking?

Chances are you want to do something significant next year.

Did you know that what you did last Sunday helped 10 families get a fresh start?

Hard to ignore that, isn’t it?

All you did is shift your screen view, zero in on the WIFM and isolate why it all matters. Now you’ve got something people care about.

 

3. Be Helpful.

So what really makes people read, click and care in the long run? If I had to summarize an answer in a single word, I would choose the word helpful. 

People are drawn to things that help them—that make their life better or give greater meaning to it (this is good news if you lead a church or non-profit, or work in a company where you’re passionate about your product.)

If you bend over backwards to help people, you will always have an audience.

If you run all your writing/events/activities through a ‘helpful’ filter, you will find engagement grows.

Let me give you what I think is a great example of how someone on our team at Connexus did that.

We wanted to communicate that Daylight Savings Time was beginning and that there was a Pyjama Party for kids at our church on time change Sunday. Could have been an instant-ignore blog post and instant-delete email. (Set Your Clocks Forward and Don’t Miss Our Pyjama Party [insert exclamation marks and emoticons here].)

Emily on our team decided to be helpful. So she wrote a short article called “5 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to Daylight Savings Time”.  At the end she said “Oh, and by the way we’re having a Pyjama Party at church this weekend…bring your kids!” You can read it here.

Guess what? Over 1000 people read her article in a few days. At least 50 parents took time to share it with it with friends who were struggling with getting their kids to adjust. And our team hosted a very well attended pyjama party Sunday morning!

The best part is Emily was an 18 year old intern with us when she wrote it. You don’t need a degree in journalism to do this. It’s a mindset

The most fun part for me is you can implement all three tips immediately on your very next piece of writing.

What have you found helpful in communicating better? What do you struggle with most? Leave a comment!

12 Comments

  1. Mike Sorcinelli on January 4, 2018 at 9:15 am

    the link to Emily’s post is inactive just fyi

    other than that, thanks for this helpful post!

  2. How To Write Things the People You Lead Actuall... on December 11, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    […] Chance are you need to write something this week you hope people will read. But often people just delete it. These three changes can change your writing completely.  […]

  3. How To Write Things the People You Lead Actuall... on December 11, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    […] “Chance are you need to write something this week you hope people will read. But often people just delete it. These three changes can change your writing completely.”  […]

  4. Mark Dance on December 5, 2013 at 10:56 am

    very helpful blog. thank you

  5. Alicia on November 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks, Carey – this is great! Always looking for ways to create more interaction between my blog & its followers, rather than just disperse information.

  6. Chris Pascarella on November 12, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Really helpful. I am a pastor at a mid-sized church in New Jersey and I am already more satisfied with the types of emails I am sending out to our leadership team.

  7. Links I'm Loving » Anarchist Reverend on November 12, 2013 at 9:02 am

    […] great post from Cary Nieuwhof this week who writes about how to get people to actually read the stuff you write. I found this one […]

  8. Brent Dumler on November 11, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Thanks for the WIFM reminder, Carey. Often when I blog I’m writing on topics/issues I assume readers need more than want. Hoping I can constantly apply this filter to my writing moving forward.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 11, 2013 at 7:42 pm

      We always try to figure out where the want is when we’re addressing the need. If you can address a want you have more permission to strike at a need. Thanks for raising that issue Brent.

  9. Lawrence W. Wilson on November 11, 2013 at 8:43 am

    This is pure gold, and it applies to preaching too. I’ve started adding an item to my sermons–just like an intro or conclusion–a section I call “why this matters.” I make that clear, up front, in every message.

    • Brent Dumler on November 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

      This is really good. Thanks for mentioning this.

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