Monday, July 30, 2007

Step into your reader's shoes

A basic principle of NLP-based communication is that the meaning of a message is the feedback it receives. When we think about this in terms of writing, it reminds us that what is important is how the message sounds to its intended reader(s). Instead of writing what sounds good to you, you want to write in the common ground between what sounds good to you and what will sound good to your reader.

Think of something you want to write - an email, a proposal, a memo or letter, or a more substantial report, whitepaper or article. What impact do you want to have on your reader? You may have a very specific outcome in mind or you might have a more general sense of what you want the reader to know, think, feel or do differently after s/he has read your piece. Allow your attention to focus on whatever impact you have in mind, noticing your intention to accomplish this impact.

Now, move your attention to your reader. Allow yourself to fully imagine a real person - this is easy if you are writing to someone you know. Just imagine yourself engaged in conversation with that person. If you are writing for someone you have never met, just accept whatever comes into your awareness as you imagine having a really terrific meeting with that person. Allow yourself to become fully caught up in your imagined conversation, curious and engaged and connected.

Now, keep your focus on that conversation with your intended reader as you allow your imaginary point of view to float up out of your own perspective, as if you were watching yourself and the other person from across the room. Notice the give and take in the conversation as both people are fully engaged. Notice how their body postures, movements and expressions match as they move through the conversation. Notice that you can tell they are moving fluidly through shared ground.

Then let your attention move again. Instead of moving back into your own perspective, move into the shoes of your intended reader. Notice how the conversation is unfolding from this point of view. Get engaged with a person who looks and sounds like you while you become the person with whom you want to connect through your writing.

You might find that it's hard to hold the scene you are imaging in your mind while you try to imagine what your reader hears, sees, feels and thinks while talking to you. That's okay. Just try two or three or four times until you are sure that you have put your best effort into connecting with the person for whom you will be writing.

Now sit down and write a fast, focused draft of your piece of writing. Do not mistake this for your final copy (see previous and future writing tips for more advice on what to do with your draft).

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