Don’t be like this jerk

November 20, 2019 | 13 comments

At my niece’s baccalaureate in May the main speaker said, “I don’t like microphones” and proceeded to give his talk without a microphone. 

While technically I could hear him, I had to strain and concentrate to follow. I know I missed key words and phrases. His selfishness annoyed me so much I dug through my purse and found an old receipt so I could make notes.

Not about his talk, but the experience. In part I wrote, “He might not like using a microphone, but a better question or focus for him as a speaker would be: do you like being heard?

As someone who communicates through newsletters and values communicating with supporters, his attitude pushed my buttons because he put his preferences ahead of the needs of the audience.

In the title I called him a jerk. Truth be told, he a lovely young man who has dedicated his twenties to working with local youth groups. He communicates and connects well with young people. The problem was not him or his content, the problem was in that context, the way he chose to communicate distracted from his message.

Had he simply used the microphone provided, the audience would not have noticed he was using a microphone, we would have been captured by his message.

So, what I really mean is don’t be an unnecessary jerk when you write newsletters. I love newsletters and you enjoying communicating with your supporters I wrote two books. Love, Amy: An Accidental Memoir Told in Newsletters From China and Enjoying Newsletters: How to Write Christian Communication People Want to Read.

One of the cardinal rules of writing is to think of your reader. Make it easy for them to read.

Case in point, I received an email newsletter today and after briefly scanning it almost hit delete because my brain could not quickly and easily read it. However, even though I love deleting emails and getting them out of my inbox, I saved it to review as an example of well-meaning folks who didn’t think enough about their readers. My takeaway from their newsletter:

1. Break up the content. Long paragraphs that are jammed together make it hard for a reader to know what to focus on. 

2. Be clear, not clever. I am a fan of clever communicating! A well-placed pun, poking fun at yourself, a culture lesson where you learn through humorous error? All welcome. Using seven different colors in print, doesn’t actually help your eyes, does it? (I tried to mimic it here, but it didn’t work, so I made a document showing this post you are reading with different spacing and color added for you to see what I mean.)

3. Use simple language. The curse of knowledge is when you forget what it is like not to know something. You might know what “Peace 4.0” is, but chances are, your reader who is a supporter doesn’t. Without meaning to, we can lose our supporters in details that might seem necessary in a first draft. But when you edit and proofread your letter, look for places you can substitute jargon (such as “Peace 4.0”) for simple language (“a workshop about marriage”).

What I learned from the baccalaureate speakers is that no one cares what you have to say if you say it in a way they can’t follow or have to work too hard. But more than that, with one simple easy to make change, he could have had us eating out of the palm of his hand.

Your supporters want to hear from you! They really do. They love you and care about you. But they are also human, and will barely scan your newsletter if 

  • The text is too dense without any line breaks
  • Your cleverness muddies the water
  • They don’t know what you are talking about (and are too embarrassed to ask, because it might make them lose face)

Thankfully, if you do these three simple things, your supporters will get to the end of your letter with little effort because you helped them.

Three newsletter resources:

1. The newsletter mailing list challenge (available until the end of November)

2. Love, Amy

3. Enjoying Newsletters:

Leave a comment in the next 48 hours and three of you will win your choice of Love, Amy or Enjoying Newsletters! Woot woot!!!

(Winners have been notified.)

Amy Young

Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Supporting Cross-cultural work.

LATEST WORKSHOP

13 Comments

  1. Avatar

    I am thoroughly enjoying your tips on communicating. Thanks for the help.

    Reply
  2. Avatar

    Thanks for the reminders. It is easy to forget when you are in the thick of writing a newsletter. I think these days people also like short articles. Not long ago I didn’t have time to do a “proper” newsletter so I just stuck in a bunch of pictures from the previous month with short captions. People loved it! I have to remind myself to keep things short – unlike this comment!

    Reply
    • Avatar

      Suzy, this idea is great! I have done similarly when in a pinch or just too stressed about writing text. Well-written captions and well-selected photos can be the change of pace to capture some readers’ attention for the next text update. (And the comment is not too long!)

      Reply
    • Amy Young

      Suzy, I agree with Shelly that your comment is not too long :)! And that picture newsletters can be a great way to connect with supporters! I know that I need this reminder too to not always do the same type of newsletter :).

      Reply
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    Thank you. Always glad to receive feedback re newsletters! We’ve been writing (and receiving!) them for over 30 years & can still find ways to improve, both written and oral communication.

    Reply
    • Amy Young

      Karen, isn’t that the truth?! I’ve been writing them for almost as long, and love that there is still more to learn :)! (and also at times, a bit warn out that there is still more to learn :))

      Reply
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    Amy, reading your post this afternoon is well timed! Just last week I completed a big part of the Newsletter Challenge, and got those changes to my org. Just this morning I sent my newsletter to my org for processing. Hm? How did I do with those suggestions you made? I don’t know what the visual product will be, but I made the effort to use a unifying theme and subheadings for each section. I also have a bullet list of key events of the last year – for it has been that long since a print letter went out. I appreciate the reminder to focus on the audience. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Amy Young

      Shelly, I’m glad that this was well timed :). I also hope the Newsletter Challenge was helpful — even if a bit tedious :)! Thankfully most orgs have people who are gifted at layout and spacing. I miss having someone else do the layout for me :-)! Your supporters will enjoy reading your update :)!

      Reply
  5. Avatar

    These are some great tips! I enjoy writing, and I’m always looking for ways to improve. I’ll be thinking about this when I write my next newsletter.

    Reply
    • Amy Young

      Thanks Aleta, I enjoy newsletter writing too. I know not everyone does, so I hope comments like yours or posts like this help spark at least a little more inspiration for those who truly do not like writing them :).

      Reply
  6. Avatar

    Don’t even get me started on the “I-dont-like-microphones” people. 🙂 :).Or they don’t know how to use a microphone when using it (like turning their head away from microphone instead of letting the microphone travel with their mouths…or thinking they can speak in a soft spoken voice because they don’t like the “loudness” of their voice in the microphone). Whenever I am working with speakers for an event I’m putting together we have a little reminder tutorial about “using the microphone properly.” What really gets me is when people tell me I’m only saying all this because I have a hearing loss. Which is true (the hearing loss), but that’s not why I’m saying it. It’s Communication 101, friends!! Communicate in a way your audience will understand you!!

    And pretty much everything else you said in this article. Thank you!!

    Reply
    • Amy Young

      Oh yes, I forgot about the people who move their hand that is holding the mircophone. 🙂 . . . so easy to do, but another thing to pay attention to in communicating with folks :). And no, it is NOT about good or poor hearing! Stand your ground :)!

      Reply

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