On average, each of us is exposed to 34 gigabytes of content every day. We consume around 100,000 words a day. Much of this content is consumed unconsciously, and yet it affects our brain. As we are bombarded with an ever-growing amount of data and ideas, our brain spends less time on average on each piece of information. The chances of doing some deep thinking and processing of a specific piece of content are significantly reduced, and with it, the chances of remembering it and using it actively. While the sheer amount of content rewires our brain, the impact each piece of information has on us becomes statistically negligible.
And yet, I’m writing this post with the hope it will find its way into the 100,000 words you will consume today. If you find it compelling enough, it will take you five minutes or less to read it in full. You might even “Like” it and “Share” it on your favorite social platform, and this will help it reach more people, which is nice, of course.
But the more interesting question for me as the author of these 1500 words is: “And then what?”
If the content you create reaches millions of people, but it leaves no residue in their minds, your work was in vain. When you develop any type of professional content, from blog posts and podcasts to short videos, you do it to impact your audience — an impact which cannot be measured in “Likes” and “Shares.”
It’s All About Your Audience
The name Simon Sinek is practically a synonym to the phrase “Start with Why” — the title of the book he published in 2011. But I’m willing to bet that most people who make the association between his name and the phrase he coined do not do that because of his book. The unbreakable connection between the person and the idea was created in one of the most viewed TED talks ever. During this 17-minute talk, with the help of nothing but a flipchart and a bad microphone, Simon Sinek created an impact that only a few others manage to make.
Simon Sinek didn’t create this impact by promoting his consulting business or his book. In fact, his offering or what he does for a living is not even mentioned during the talk. He didn’t create this impact by articulating his “Why,” although you can guess it if you try after listening to him speak. Simon Sinek made an incredible impact because he gave his audience something to play with long after they finish watching the 17-minute video.
When I first watched this video years ago, it left me thinking. Sure, the message is simple and well-articulated. It is undoubtfully memorable and phrased like a catchy slogan. But there is more to it than that. After watching this talk (and ever since then), I found myself playing with the idea that Simon Sinek articulated. From time to time, when I read about various companies and organizations, or when I see a commercial for a new product, I ask myself: “do I understand the underlying ‘why’?” I try to apply (or challenge) Sinek’s idea repeatedly, not because I wish to refute them, but because, as simple as it is, I find it intriguing, and I wish to see if and how different organizations apply it.
This was enough to leave a long-lasting impression, but for me, it didn’t end there. Since I found Sinek’s idea intriguing, I try to apply it to my work and my interactions with people. Without reading his book or using his services I got something valuable from him. He gave millions of viewers like me this gift without asking, even implicitly, for any return. And this gift was burnt in my mind, and it has been affecting me at some level since.
Three attributes make Sinek’s TED talk so impactful:
- The content is totally focused on the idea — it completely ignores the presenter.
- The content was designed to give something to the audience without asking anything in return.
- It was designed for the audience to continue playing with it long after consuming the content.
During the entire talk, there is only one place where Sinek briefly turns the spotlight on himself when he says: “three years ago I discovered something….” Now, obviously, Simon Sinek is an excellent presenter, and ultimately he aims to sell us something and build his reputation. But he does that in the most subtle way in this talk. I can listen to this particular talk repeatedly without feeling like a potential client.
In fact, watching this video feels like someone is doing me a favor by sharing his idea with me. The way the idea is presented makes me listen, if only because I genuinely feel I can benefit from it, and I am not being asked to do anything in return. Even a simple reference to an upcoming book, let alone the services Sinek provides, might have ruined this impression. It does not feel like a sales pitch or a piece of marketing content.
But the most critical attribute affecting the impact is being able to do something with the idea conveyed in this talk after watching it. It is much more than merely an abstract idea. As interesting as an idea is, if I cannot continue to play with it, let alone apply it, it will not create a long-lasting impact. Sinek’s argument is easy to play with and exercise. The idea at the core of this talk stayed with me not just because it is appealing but because it became mine to play with.
We should aim to create an impact that continually renews itself. Each time the audience plays with the idea we designed, the effect of our content is being renewed. It is revived and often becomes more profound and more meaningful.
Design Your Impact
All three attributes share one theme: they place the audience at the center. This 17-minute TED Talk is masterfully designed for the audience. It is designed to make an impact on the audience — an effect much more profound and subtle than “read my book” or “pick up the phone and call me.”
Imagine an audience looking to learn something new, but instead, they find themselves in front of content designed purely for promoting your offering. Such an audience will quickly lose interest, and the likelihood of revisiting your content will reduce accordingly.
When the impact you aim to create is genuinely designed from the audience’s perspective, it is apparent. You give away meaningful ideas with a clear benefit for your audience. In return, you establish your professional reputation and gain the trust of your audience.
The key to making a meaningful impact that will establish a relationship with your audience is intentionally designing the impact before creating the content. To do that, you have to consider and define the following:
- What is the profile of your audience and what can they benefit from?
- What idea, action, or both do you wish them to play with after they have read, watched, or listened to your content?
- What is the most effective way to turn this idea into a renewable experience?
Each of these questions can open up an entire playground of opportunities (and challenges), and you will have to answer all three to define the impact of each content item you create. We shall continue to explore them in future posts, but let’s focus on the verb play for now.
Effective content will always make the audience want to continue exploring your ideas and experimenting with them. The longer this desire to keep playing with your ideas remains, the more significant the impact. And the greater the impact, the more engaged your audience becomes. In fact, when the impact lasts at least until your next piece of content is published, you gradually create a relationship with your audience. You create momentum that makes the audience come back for more of your content and, eventually, your offering.
Every sentence, every word, every slide and frame you produce must be evaluated against the impact you wish to create. If something does not promote this impact, it has no place in this piece of content. To do this evaluation you must have a vivid definition of the impact you aim to create first.
Each content item you create is likely to have a different impact definition. When considering the aggregated effect of your content, everything should be connected to a grander goal. From your audience’s perspective, however, each content item should be meaningful and provide value as a standalone piece.
Think of an article or any other professional content that impacted you. Revisit it and identify what helped to create this impact. Think of various aspects like structure, tone, examples, or the phrasing of the idea itself.
Pick a content item you are about to create, be it an article, a post, a video, or even an email to a colleague. Define explicitly for yourself what idea, action, or both you wish them to play with after reading, watching, or listening to your content. Don’t phrase the impact from your perspective. Aim for an impact that will benefit the person on the other side of your content.