Always Have Someone “Outside” Read Your Copy

Posted on by in Business, Communication, Design, Leadership, Writing

No matter who’s speaking, we all suffer from the same problem. Once we know something, it’s incredibly difficult to imagine what it’s like to not know that thing. So, when we say something, we often say things that make complete sense to us, but don’t to the people we’re attempting to communicate with.

For example, last evening I was setting up a new DVD player for our downstairs TV (the old one had broken) when I noticed the following words on the back of the DVD remote. If you can’t read the words clearly in the picture, they say, “Caution: Replace with fresh batteries of the same kind, observing polarity.”

Now, think about that for a moment. You’ve probably replaced a few batteries in a few different remotes over the course of your lifetime. Is it really that difficult to figure out which end of a battery goes in which direction? Furthermore, even if you are having a bad day and you can’t remember which end goes in which direction, the good news is that virtually every manufacturer gives you a little picture (in the device) of a battery which clearly shows which end goes in which direction.

So, let me ask the most obvious question that someone should have asked (and caught). “If someone can’t figure out how to follow a picture in the device of which direction a battery should be placed . . . do we really think that person would have a clue what the word ‘Polarity,’ is?

“Ah yes, I was stumped by the diagram of the battery in the remote. But now that they told me to observe the polarity, I’ve figured it out!” I laughed so hard when I saw this.

But lest we get too hard on Panasonic, we all do the same thing. I don’t know any business that hasn’t sent out a message without having a Panasonic remote moment. We think customers want one thing (what we’re offering), but what they really want is another thing (a specific result). Or we’ll use language that we think “everyone knows.” But they don’t.

So, how can you avoid this Panasonic Remote moment? By asking someone outside of your area (or department or company) to read your copy (website, letter, direct mail piece, white paper, blog post, company email, manual, etc.) to give you some feedback. Frequently, they’ll find mistakes you didn’t see. They’ll tighten up your prose (i.e. make your argument more succinct and compelling). And they’ll ask questions you didn’t think of because what seemed so obvious to you, didn’t to them.

So, who do you know whom you can ask to read your copy . . . and trust that they’ll give you honest feedback? As soon as you think of a name, contact them ASAP. You need them more than you can imagine!

To your accelerated success!

P.S. Don’t just look for people who will affirm you and say, “Good job! Run with it!” You want people who will give you real feedback–that is, people who will challenge you, your thinking, and your writing–and who won’t be afraid to say to you, “That’s stupid!” Don’t you wish Panasonic had someone like that?

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2 Responses to “Always Have Someone “Outside” Read Your Copy”

  1. Ben 14 September 2010 at 9:07 pm #

    This is a classic!!

    How have you been Bruce?

    Coffee soon?


  2. Bruce 14 September 2010 at 9:32 pm #


    I’m doing well. Just got back from Orlando speaking to 1300 people at a tech conference. Very cool! And yes, I’d love to do coffee soon. Call me or shoot me an email!


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