In case you haven’t met Ted, he’s an American football coach from Kansas who ends up coaching a football (soccer) team in England, despite knowing nothing about the game.
That, of course, lends itself for some quirky humor.
Ted is as American as you can get. He references American pop culture and uses slang in every other sentence, to the dismay of his British listeners.
“Now don’t you fret, Boba Fett.”
“Think of me as his own personal Mr. Miyagi. Except without all that extra yard work.”
“What’s the word, Larry Bird,” “Yes sir, Steve Kerr.“
"You beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it.”
Worst yet, he doesn’t seem to try too hard to understand the language of his audience.
He avoids talking about football. And when his players mention some game specifics, he says something like this:
“One more person says something to me and Beard don’t understand, I’m gonna have one of my son’s classic temper tantrums. It’s basically just him calling me a bunch of silly names, you know, like, I don’t know, “dummy head” or “poo-poo face” “pee-pee fingers.”
That’s great for comedy, but not for thought leadership.
Writing like a thought leader requires you to speak the language of your audience.
I call it accessing the Audience Mainframe: Putting yourself in your reader’s mind (not shoes).
- What is my audience’s level of understanding and previous knowledge about this topic?
- Is there something obvious to me that might not be obvious to them?
- What is their cultural and social background?
- How do they see the world and how does it differ from my worldview?
Even if you want to persuade them or challenge their beliefs, you must understand where they are coming from.
Meet them where they are before taking them where they should be.
I realized how tricky this can be when I started writing children’s fiction. My target readers were middle grade kids, so every word choice had to be at their level.
Not only that, but I was writing in first person from the point of view of my main characters: a 12 year-old boy and his 10 year-old sister.
So, when writing a scene, I had to think:
How would a 10-year old girl feel, act, and express herself in this particular situation?
I’m a guy in my 40s, so I had to do some research.
Well, my wife runs an e-school (an alternative education K-12 online school) and I got to teach creative writing to kids that age.
"Come on, Diego, I already know my audience inside and out,” you might say. “I’m an expert in my field.”
Make sure you are not affected by the curse of knowledge: assuming your audience understands what you are saying just because you do.
Let’s get practical here.
One of the best writers of the 20th century was Ernest Hemingway. He was famous (and criticized) for using simple language that most people understood.
There’s even a tool called the Hemingway Editor
, to help you write like him (not really, but to be clear in your writing).
Grab a few pieces of writing you are proud of and test them in the app. Rewrite if you must.
Let me know the results.
What do you want to be known for? Verbose prose or sharp copy?
Let clarity be your superpower. Lead with simplicity, not confusion.