Thursday, June 18, 2009

Walk a while in my shoes.

Anyone who knows me knows that shoes are a big part of my life. I have an abundance of shoes. I love them. They are jewelry for the feet. The perfect conclusion to a great outfit. Or just the thing needed to jazz up something boring. Sometimes they are sensible, and sometimes they are outlandish. Sometimes shoes seem impossible to walk in, and sometimes they seem impossible to fill.

In my work, I find that the most important thing to do every day is to walk awhile in someone's shoes. Understand their perspective. This means asking how this piece of writing will be received? Who is the audience? What will they think? Who is the audience that should receive this? What if they don't? What are the ramifications if the audience is misinformed? What are the ramifications if the audience is informed, but not impressed?

These questions are never easy, and what's more, the art of communication is just that, an art. The problem is that because most people are capable of creating audible sounds that resemble our language, it doesn't mean they can communicate, or understand the art of communicating. Afterall, I can count, but that doesn't make me an accountant. And therein lies the problem. As a communicator with a journalistic soul (or is that sole), and a penchant for poetry and prose, we have a quest for truthfulness, honesty and respectfulness in the written and spoken word. These are worthy attributes, and they require one to be brave, creative and concise.

For the accomplished writer, this is easy. After all, a good writer can make Kraft dinner sound interesting. But the writer does not own the message. The message really belongs to the communicator. That could be a CEO, a board member or a community spokes person. And despite our brilliance, sometimes, however, the writer's best and well intended works, no matter how artfully krafted, are rejected and left on the cutting room floor.

When we prepare to communicate, we often think of the external or internal audience -the media, the shareholder, the staff, suppliers, partners . . . but do we think of our boss? The one who ultimately is the gate keeper of the message. To avoid the cutting room floor, one needs to consider the decision maker as part of the audience.

That takes time. It takes understanding. It means making mistakes and writing, and rewriting, and rewriting. It means being objective, and listening to what it is that the gate keeper is looking for? What are his or her concerns? What is his or her communication style? What can we do to get the message across and still satisfy even the most skid dish of all gate keepers.

To be a great and worthy writer and communicator, the concept of voice must be mastered. Voice is the identity of a piece. And the writer is never the voice. The writer is merely the conduit through which the message must flow to its audience. A temporary vessel of ideas and thoughts, that once released, take on the voice of the intended persona.

So, it all comes back to shoes. Who's shoes are we trying to fill? If the message where to come from a person(a), who is the person. What is his or her position on the matter. Who is he or she talking to? What is the style of the speaker? How can this message be best communicated by this persona.

When it's all said and done, writing is a both a passion and a thankless profession for those of us to choose to do this. It requires commitment on the part of the writer and the ability to let go of the creation so that others can learn from it, enjoy it, and hang it on the refrigerator. It must stand alone, if only for a fleeting moment or a life time.

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