Sometimes we forget others lack the same insight as us. This quick story shows the problem. This mistake runs rampant in business too.
She barged into my office in a fury. My wife interrupted her gardening to tell me something. It was the outside water spigot. It broke.
“No water is coming out. The thing broke over the winter.”
“Did you turn on the valve? It’s been off all winter,” I said
“Yes, I turned it on. I think it was the right valve. It was the only one there.”
I slipped out of my office and made my way towards the utility room. I located the valve. As I suspected, it was in the off position. I switched it on and out came the water. Problem solved.
I dashed back to my office to finish my writing.
An hour later it hit me.
What valve did she mess with?
It turns out she turned the “red valve” into the off position. The red valve indicates a gas valve, not water. She shut off the gas to the hot water heater and furnace. Lucky for us, nobody was showering.
Can You Really Be Too Smart?
In a perfect world, we label each valve to avoid confusion. The plumbing gods who design these things assume we should know red means gas. The curse of knowledge hinders their thinking. They cannot recreate that state of mind they had before they learned their craft.
Of course, we bear just as much guilt in the domains of our own expertise. We assume our audience knows more than what they know. Judge me as guilty too. I catch myself using obscure jargon, acronyms and references foreign to my audience. It comes down to one faulty assumption. We assume they know what we know.
When we overestimate their knowledge it creates confusion and frustration. We force them to figure it out or look it up. Most will give up. Why go through the effort in a world of abundant content?
Then we question what happened. Everything looks perfect to us. We create a great hook and a great story but nobody reads long enough to get to our call to action. It baffles us.
How do we fix this?
Dumb Down Your Writing To Fit Your Audience
The solution is simple. This two-step process makes sure you explain what needs explaining. It also ensures you take advantage of what your audience does know.
First, create a detailed picture of your ideal customer. The more you know about your customer or prospect the better you are at judging their knowledge. When in doubt, assume they lack the knowledge.
The second step is the editing process. Look for industry and company specific terms, references and acronyms. Look at your ideal customer and ask yourself if they are likely to know what this means.
If the answer is no, explain it. If you are unsure, explain it.
Using well-known jargon and references shows that you are in the know. It demonstrates you know your stuff. The key lies in knowing what your audience knows.