So what? Who cares?

Closeup portrait dumb clueless young executive man, arm out asking why what problem so who cares, I don't know, isolated orange color background. Negative human emotion facial expression feelings

I have been teaching people how to write for over 21 years now. It is, after writing itself, my favourite thing to do, so I’ll never stop. I teach workshops, but I also regularly go into the education system to design, deliver, and assess units in what I believe is one of the best writing courses in the world, the Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. It occurred to me, after all these years of designing, delivering, and assessing writing courses, that there are things I find myself saying over, and over, and over again. Maybe I’ve been at this too long. Or maybe they are basic, fundamental things that need to be constantly driven home.

This is one of the most common:

As you write, every few paragraphs, ask yourself:

“So what? Who cares?”

It might sound simple, but it isn’t. When you sit down to write – indeed, when you sit down to plan a business – you think that everybody will care. But the truth is that they don’t.

And oh: how those questions strike at the ego! And point and laugh at it as it lies, winded and humiliated on the floor!

Obviously, I’m a horrible teacher: no student likes to have “So what? Who cares?” scrawled on their precious piece of writing. But the students who decide to ignore their bruised-and-battered egos and ask themselves those questions immediately become infinitely better writers. With instantly interested readers. And hopefully, they forgive me – eventually.

So what? Who cares?

When you communicate professionally – whether it’s writing content, or answering questions on the phone – you must be able to answer these questions. They keep you focused. When you’re trying to communicate with your audience or market, it’s no time to be abstract or to indulge in punditry. You need to know why people should read your words or listen to what you have to say. And if you don’t know why, you have to ask yourself, “Who am I doing this for?”

So what? Who cares?

No matter how interesting, beautiful, or thought-provoking what you have to say is, there has to be some payoff for the receiver. If that sounds like self-interest on their part, that’s because it is self-interest, and it should be: they have invested considerable time or money in either what you provide or what you have to say, and investments require dividends.

I used to subscribe to a very popular, well-regarded business newsletter. One time, the weekly mailout was about presidents of the United States who had been atheists. It was interesting because, you know, we hear all the time about how they have always been men of faith, but towards the end, I was waiting for the big wrap up. I was waiting for something that would tell me how this was relevant to me and my business, and it didn’t happen. It didn’t even lead to someone’s new book about atheist presidents. It did nothing.

What you communicate professionally has to actually stand for something for the people you’re communicating with. You need to address the things that concern them; the things that benefit them.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m opinionated. If you’ve read my personal work, or if you’re my friend on Facebook, you’ll know that I can go on and on. My professional communication can’t. That’s because my professional communication isn’t about me, it’s about them.

So what? Who cares?

A few days ago I was on the phone to the telephone company. The operator on the line – who had her limits, and with whom I sympathised – was telling me this protracted story about why the technicians would take between seven and ten days to get back to me about my son’s broken mobile phone line. Lady, none of that stuff has anything to do with me. It’s irrelevant. Just give me a solution to the problem so I don’t have to worry myself into a fresh ulcer every time my son walks out the door for the next seven to ten days. (She couldn’t, by the way. I had to come up with a solution of my own. Like I said: she had limits around her responsibilities, but it points to this company’s woeful policy or training that her focus was explaining the company position rather than exploring how to solve my problem.)

So what? Who cares?

Write these questions on cards and stick them on your computer monitor, next to your phone, on your whiteboard… anywhere that professional communication happens. When you can answer them honestly and consistently, you are a student no longer.

Photo credit © SIphotography via Depositphotos