Why your first question should be “Who?”

Oct 23, 2014 | Better Writing

Writing a blog post?
Writing a book?
Giving a speech?
Making a presentation?

There’s one question you must ask and answer if you want to succeed. Let’s start with an example.

Talking to executives is different

If you’re writing for executives or making a presentation to them, you need to read Tracy Allison Altman post on Evidence Soup: “The lean way to present evidence to decision makers.” The recommendations only make sense if you know who you want to communicate with. Here’s the wisdom kernel from the post

“Skip the storytelling. Begin with ‘Boom! Here’s my answer.’ You’re not Steve Jobs, and this isn’t a TED talk. You’re delivering lean evidence to a busy executive, so think of all that buildup as waste. Stay true to lean, and get rid of it.”

Look, I love storytelling. I think that writers who use stories well write better books and blog posts. I think that most speakers who base their presentation on stories give better speeches. BUT …

Even the best tool isn’t perfect for every situation

A hammer is a great tool, but it’s not good for driving screws or painting walls. Storytelling is a great tool, but not for an executive presentation.

First ask “Who is this for?”

There are four questions you should ask before you write a word. The first one should always be “Who is this for?” “Who will read this book or this post?” “Who will listen to my presentation?” “Who is my reader?”

After you answer that question, you can give sensible answers to other questions.

A moment of personal indulgence

The Evidence Soup post quotes Jeanne Tari from PowerSpeaking. I don’t know Jeanne, but I do know PowerSpeaking. I sat on their Board in the early days of the company. So let me add this. These are very good people who are also very good at what they do. It’s hard to beat that combination. I’m thrilled to see the success they’ve had and what PowerSpeaking has become.