THE BLOG
09/16/2013 12:23 pm ET Updated Nov 16, 2013

The Message That Matters

In my new book, "So...what are you saying?", I get the privilege of telling a few stories that I hope will be encouraging to readers who are trying to figure out how best to connect to their target audience in their business or personal life.

And, as you know, connecting with your audience and engaging them can sometimes be a challenge these days, given how busy and distracted we all are.

But, stay encouraged. Great things can happen when you get it right!_____________________________________________________________________________

How do we get the message that matters -- our message -- through to the people we are trying to reach? I would contend that there are really only three questions that our targets are asking when they get an email or correspondence of some kind from us:

• What's the message?
• Who's the messenger?
• Why do I care about it today?

Our mission as "message senders" is really a simple one: answer these three vitally important questions.

Period.

Do so and you begin to change things; conversations start, the sales cycle can begin, people with good books, ideas, and products of all kinds can start sharing them with a wider audience.

And incidentally, you don't have to be a book publicist or even in the PR business to deal with these problems. You have customers, right? You have business associates, yes? You communicate with them (or try) every day; maybe several times a day. Those people are mentally scrolling through these three questions with every email or phone call they receive from you.

Answer them quickly and concisely and your chances of winning rise dramatically.
Let's take a look at each individual question and discuss each one for a minute or two.

What's the Message?
It is difficult to take really complex ideas that are numerous and profound enough to fill a book, and boil them down to an elevator speech or an executive summary. But this is important to know: Every message, no matter how complicated or arcane, has a few hooks hidden somewhere inside, and those hooks are the most important part of getting attention from people who have too many suitors, too many communicators at the door, each thinking their message and messenger is most important.

And, by the way, brevity matters. If you can't keep it relatively concise you're probably dead in the water and going nowhere. Have you ever gotten emails from people who have no filter and no idea what's important so they just send everything? The lights dim when the email comes over and you sigh because you know that every thought that entered the sender's head during the writing of this massive and unfocused epic will be in that note somewhere; you also know that you just might as well sit down and kick your shoes off because this is going to take a while. The bad news? At the end of all this gibberish you may still not know why they sent it or why you should care. Just think if you worked for CNBC or the New York Times. No wonder they are such a tough audience, and getting their attention is so complicated and seemingly impossible sometimes.

Who's the Messenger?
Well, it sure helps when you're working with Bill Clinton, or Jack Welch. The 'Who's the messenger?' question overrides everything and people are clamoring to hear what these people have to say.

But what if you are a first time author, nobody famous, and you have a great idea and you really deserve a wider audience? Somehow, I have to make hard-bitten news people and editors believe that is true about you, and I have to tell you that it is by far the hardest thing I do. But, I totally love doing it! I get a kick out of finding those who are for now unknown and helping them find their audience. In some ways, it is what I feel called to do--what I was put on this earth for.

And, I can assure you that it's doable. Explaining the messenger so that your targets can relate is vital to any success in engaging with them. Technology has changed everything, but one thing has not changed: people, for the most part, prefer doing business with people that they know and like and relate to in some way.

Why Should I Care about It Today?
This question is really about just one thing--urgency. People are busy. They have a lot of noise, and lots of choices to take their attention away from you and your message. They may love the messenger, and they may even be drawn to the message, but if you can't tell them in no uncertain terms why they should care about it today, then, they are done here and they are on to the next thing.

Simple rule: cut to the chase. People will love that.

Talking to Ourselves
I think one of the most common enemies of answering these questions successfully is being insular and using taxonomy that we understand but that is completely foreign to our listeners. Remember, we live what we do every day and it becomes commonplace; thus our conversations with each other about what we do takes on a language all its own. In fact, just recently I was on a call with a new client who used acronyms and abbreviations and terms that totally stopped the conversation for me. Remember, you have to think about your audience, many (or perhaps most) of whom are not among the initiated regarding your product, idea, or service. You can't fall back on your tried-and-true taxonomy. You have to take the time to find a verbal bridge that allows your audience to get on board with you.

That's very hard to do. I grew up in the church, a shining example of insular thinking. Back then, we used terms about Christianity that only we understood. And, then we wondered why people didn't want to become Christians. When I started writing songs, I tried very hard to paint verbal pictures about real issues that my listener could understand and relate to. It was a hundred times harder to do that than to fall back on the familiar.

But, let me assure you, you can get some amazing conversations started about your "church" if you figure out how to make what you do relatable and understandable and answer the Big Three questions your targets are asking.