Have you ever been in a situation where you needed an urgent technical explanation? It happened to three blondes.
They were taking a walk in the country when they came upon a line of tracks. The first blonde said, "Those must be deer tracks!" The second blonde said, "No, silly, anyone can tell those are rabbit tracks!" The third blonde said, "No my friends, those are horse tracks!" They were still arguing ten minutes later when a train hit them.
Being blonde myself, I think I can get away with such a joke. But the truth is, people today need education to survive. As our world becomes more complex, they need more and more education. It should be easy to get. In the twenty-first century, information abounds. But still I see that people don't get it.
Could it be that information alone is not enough? In many ways, it is too much. People can't absorb it all. I certainly can't. I know I much prefer content where someone has already synthesized the information--has done much of the thinking for me. But I know from experience, to write clearly is hard work.
Money in, books out
I've been called to be a writer since I was eight years old. But when high school aptitude tests revealed that I'd be a great technical writer, I rolled my eyes. Who wants to write books that nobody reads?
In the whirlwind of the personal computer revolution, I learned otherwise. A good percentage of people do read manuals before they paint themselves into a technical corner. They buy technology to improve their productivity, and they want that improvement as fast as possible. When you help them achieve that goal with clear educational materials, they appreciate it. They become loyal. They buy from you again.
But as I pitched for money to get the books out, too often I encountered that eye-rolling attitude among technology executives. Who wants to pay to develop books that nobody reads?
I quickly learned to identify executives who understood that to serve their customers meant helping them reach their productivity goals. These executives know the power of one-to-many communications, and that the leverage point is the quality of the content. They don't resent paying for it.
But still, no matter where I talk about information design, I encounter mostly eye-rollers. Only sporadically do I encounter someone who knows and uses the secret power of clear content.
Clear content is not on a page
Tons of books in warehouses, light years of film in vaults, billions of pages on web servers around the globe--but where do you find clear content?
In the mind of your audience.
Without human perception and understanding, content simply doesn't exist. It's all just so much paper, celluloid and bits.
Yes, you have content in your head, but how do you recreate it in the minds of others? One on one you've been doing it since you were born. But now you're facing others--a mass of faceless strangers--and you need to get the information of a lifetime across.
What is clear content?
It's what you understand instantly--what engages you, resonates with you, and becomes part of you so quickly that you can't remember not knowing it.
Clear is the lubricant that lets content slip effortlessly into your mind. It removes all resistance. It makes learning a pleasure.
Clear is undervalued because it's invisible. When it's working, you focus on the content. When it's not working, you can't focus at all.
The Cause for Clear
Why be clear?
Clear saves time. It might not seem to save time--you'll spend many hours doing the hard thinking that clarity requires. But those who leave the hard thinking to their audience quickly find themselves without an audience! Clear saves them time, and they demand it.
Clear saves money. Clear conveys more meaning in less media, reduces the need for repetition, translates less expensively to other languages, and quite simply is effective and efficient.
Clear earns loyalty. Customers, clients, readers and listeners all respond to a learning experience they resonate with and enjoy. When you give them what they want, you can bet they'll be back for more.
Clear connects minds. When your content resonates in the minds of others and begins changing their lives for the better, you'll gain a new perspective on your role in the world's evolution.
Clear gives ideas wings. As your ideas spread like oil on water and exert more influence than you ever imagined, you'll wonder where their power came from and where they will take you.
Clear creates growth. The connections you make with clear content expand in a viral way, bringing you more contacts, prospects, clients and maybe even fans than you could ever collect one on one. Your community begins to grow, and with it your business, your career, and your spirit.
Clear The Way
As writers and speakers, we share a goal of clear communication, but how often do we recognize clarity as a virtue? Can you think of any celebrities who are famous for being clear? The next time you listen to a speaker, take note of the ways he or she could present ideas more clearly. The next time you hear from your reviewers, take note of how your effectiveness is in direct proportion to your clarity. And if you discover a new secret of clear communication, let me know so I can share it with others. Because like a crystal, to be clear is to approach perfection, and we can all take at least one more step in that direction.