Table for Two:

One Simple Step for Engaging Your Reader

I dread parties. 

Admittedly, this wasn’t always the case. When I was younger, I felt the pull toward social gatherings the way a lone creature feels drawn to a herd. Being included was important, essential for survival. But now, in my 40s, my identity is not nearly as tethered to the herd as it once was. 

The truth is that I am an introvert on the far end of the spectrum. Having to navigate simultaneous conversations and jockeying for attention is exhausting. I dread large unstructured gatherings – family reunions, work functions, holiday parties – well in advance, cringing as soon as they land on the schedule. 

It has nothing to do with the people who will be there. I might care deeply about them or not even know them … it doesn’t make a difference. It is the fatigue from the high levels of engagement that I will feel at the end.

I can only compare it to being a non-runner (which I am) faced with a required marathon. I’ll survive, probably. Maybe. Resuscitation may be required midway through. And again at the end.

As most introverts do, I would so much rather meet one person for lunch or a cup of coffee and get into the good stuff. I want to have real conversation, a certain level of true interpersonal connectedness. I want to be able to listen intently, and for both of us to be able to finish our thoughts uninterrupted. I want to be able to respond to words, facial expressions, and gestures in a genuine way.

I see this as a perfect metaphor for writing with your audience in mind … or not.

When we have an idea for a book, an essay, a blog, we tend to think first about the details of the story, the plotline. We think about the structure, and we fret about our own motivation and discipline to get it done. 

We don’t always identify our intended audience. 

Sure, we might have a vague idea of whom we wish would read it – someone like us, someone with similar experiences or of a certain age. We may even get a little more narrow, say moms or Mormons or women who want to travel solo. We may think of our audience in terms of where we hope to have this story published. Readers of this magazine or that genre.

But what if we pictured an actual person sitting across from us, listening as we told this story? 

This person might be a real human that you know, or someone you create from your imagination. 

What would happen if, as you wrote your story, you kept that person in your mind? 

This is the person you most wish could hear what you are trying to say. This is the person whom you think would benefit the most from your story. This is the person that most deserves your story. 

You don’t have to tell anyone who this person is. Keep it to yourself. But here’s what will happen. 

Instead of walking into a crowded party, not knowing who to talk to first, who to avoid, what to say, when to laugh, when to nod in sympathy, which details of your own life to share and which to keep close to your vest . . .

You will sit down at a table with one person who is ready to engage with you. You will share your story, gauging their reactions as you go and adjusting the details as needed to help them understand what you are trying to say. 

In the end, you will end up with a tightly focused project that has a clear message for a clear audience. And that will allow readers to feel the true, personal engagement you were trying to make … whether or not they were the person across the table from you as you wrote it.

No resuscitation necessary.

Photo by murat soyluoglu from Pexels
 

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