THE BLOG
06/19/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Are You Telling Me This?

We get letters. So far, and it's only been a few weeks that my book has been out, the letters have been pretty nice. No one, yet, has told me they took my advice and bankrupted their company, disinherited their kids, or run off with the circus. But it's only Thursday. There's still time.

A letter arrived last weekend (okay, officially it was an 'email' but it was so carefully composed it seemed like an old-fashioned handwritten note from a previous era) that thanked me for having helped the letter-writer achieve an epiphany regarding a thorny problem her consulting company had been working through for a year. It seems that, among other things, what made it possible for my book to be genuinely helpful was that I had taken care to get myself out of the way of the message.

I have helped a lot of smart people become successful authors and leaders, and one of my first rules for my clients is: you must tell your audience as quickly as possible who you are. Say it on the flap. Say it on the back cover. Say it in the intro. Because if an author tries to keep themselves in the background, the reader will be unable to hear your message until they feel that they know where you're coming from.

Naturally, when it came to writing my own book, I took my own advice. Right in the introduction I explain the importance of getting yourself out of the way, and then I explain as well as I can why I wrote this book. The reader is then free to ask for their money back, throw down the book in despair, or continue reading.

Here's the funny part about this letter. My reader wrote to me:

"First, I always start reading from the back of the book. I have done this since I was a child and now that many authors are placing their acknowledgments in the back, it is even more meaningful for me. You see, I need to know something about the writer and about where the book is going before I can settle in to the process of accepting it and reading it in a linear fashion.

"So, you might imagine my delight/eerie sense of exposure when I finally started the book at the beginning and read your explanation of how most readers need to understand the author. Golly -- how did you know?"

I'm not sure how to make my get-yourself-out-of-the-way theory work for those contrarian readers who start at the back. I suppose I could put my Introduction upside down at the end of the book so the book would have only one way in. But I might get some pushback on that from my publisher.

What counts is, in all important communication, whether we're giving a keynote to people who don't know us well, writing a book, or meeting a prospective client for the first time, the faster we can communicate who we really are and what we stand for, the faster we both can decide whether we want to work together, or think together, or spend more time with each other. Then our listener or reader won't need to be distracted by wondering, "Who is the person who is telling me this?" as we explain our ideas or product or services. We will have become transparent to our listener, in the best sense of the word. They will be able to see the value of our offering without any distractions. When we can achieve that transparency, I consider that the ideal state of communication. We disappear, and our value-offering is liberated.