I’m the oldest of three children, which means I’ve spent a lot of my life feeling responsible for my sisters.
I care immensely about their happiness and healthiness and success in life, which is natural. But as someone who’s older, someone who has experienced many of life’s joys and difficulties, I’m constantly in the position of knowing at least some of what’s coming their way. The first heartbreak, the first fall from a speeding bicycle, the first driving test.
So, naturally, I want to prepare them. Save them. Tell them exactly what to do and exactly how to do it. (Ahem.)
But that doesn’t work.
It took me a long time (and a lot of pushback from my sisters) to realize that I can’t have an experience for them. I can’t tell them what heartbreak feels like and spare them pain. I can’t show them what a false friend looks like and spare them pain. I can’t explain to them, and make them truly understand, how much that first fall from a bicycle will hurt and, you guessed it, spare them pain.
And I think it’s because going through those experiences is what teaches each of us about ourselves and allows us to relate to others around us.
So I’m sharing this truth with you up front: I can’t make any of what I’m going to say resonate for you, even if I’ve been where you are. I can’t make you find your voice and your core message. I can’t make you connect with people who need your help. I can’t make you do the work, follow the steps, have the realizations.
And now I know that I don’t want to. (Okay, okay, of course I do—in some ways—but truly, I know it’s not the right path.)
Instead, what I can do is share what I know. What I’ve learned. What I’ve seen work for me and for others. I can help you feel seen. And I can hope that what I share will lead you to have realizations, find answers, and keep moving forward in a way that makes sense for you.
I think you could apply this concept—the I-can’t-make-you concept—to any number of areas in your life. But let’s talk specifically about creating content and communicating your core message to the people who need to hear it—without trying to force them to do something. Here are some things to consider:
Believe in what you’re saying. Every single time. If you don’t, no one else will, either.
2. Be direct but honest.
You don’t need to dance around the message you’re trying to convey; that won’t do anyone any good, including you. Be direct about what you think someone else should do, think, or feel, but also be honest. You know that what you’re suggesting won’t work for everyone, so it’s ok—and maybe even preferable—to acknowledge that fact.
3. Give a why, not just a what.
Want someone to do, think, or feel something? Tell them why. Most of us don’t go around changing things just because—we need to hear a good, solid reason from a person we trust. This leads right into:
4. Don’t be pushy.
I know—you really believe in your message (see #1). And you should! But people need to trust you, and I can’t think of a single pushy person that I truly trust. Pushiness suggests an agenda, and while we all have one—if we’re sharing something online, there’s a reason—I believe that people will trust you more if you recognize them as capable of making (and having the right to make) their own decisions.
5. Make it real.
Share something—a story, an example, an analogy—that will (hopefully, of course) resonate with the person you're trying to reach. Take the idea from being conceptual to something they can relate to.
6. Take your time.
It’s hard to be persuasive when dashing off a first draft and immediately hitting “publish.” Take your time when creating and refining; do some writing, walk away, and then do some more.
This will take a little more time than the draft-and-publish method, but I bet you’ll also accomplish more with that polished, thoughtful piece of content than you would have with the amount of first drafts you could publish in the same amount of time.
7. Step outside of yourself for a moment.
Picture yourself randomly stumbling across your work on the Internet. Would it resonate? This can be a tricky test; often, it wouldn’t because you already know or believe what you’re trying to tell others.
So instead of thinking about the idea, think about the delivery. Does the flow of language make sense? Would you have any questions for the writer (you)? Are there any parts you would feel don’t belong? If you’re honest with yourself, you can use the answers to make changes to what you’ve written.
8. Do a gut check.
This is my final test. Does it feel right? If not, don’t publish until you can pinpoint the trouble. Walk away for a couple of hours (or even better, a couple of days) and then revisit what you’ve written. Either something will emerge or you’ll decide to scrap the whole thing, but either way, you’ll be doing what feels right. And hopefully, that means it will feel right to others as well.
Finally, be realistic. Even if you’ve done all of these things and more, you won’t convince everyone. And that’s ok. Focus on communicating with those you can help, not converting those you can't. (And, of course, if none of what I've just said works for you, forget it and move on!)