Effective content

Inside everyone is a seven-year-old who needs to make sense of the world. We can use children’s thirst for knowledge and clear thinking to create effective content.

In the run-up to the VE Day celebrations earlier this month, the most junior Houltby was given a number of school assignments focused on finding out about World War II. As we watched old news clips, she asked me how the war started.

I began to answer but realised my rambling take on the socio-economic and political factors that led to the outbreak of war really wasn’t going to help. Instead, I told my seven-year-old a story about an angry ex-soldier who rebuilt Germany and took his revenge on the countries and people he didn’t like.

This made me think about creating effective content for audiences. For me, it’s about making sure you’re not assuming audience knowledge. Call it dumbing down if you wish, but I believe it’s a skill. I’m not alone, as Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Creating effective content

I’ve written about many complex subjects. While pockets of my audiences have had high levels of technical expertise, you can’t assume everyone shares that level of understanding. When creating effective content for employee channels, for instance, you have to work on the basis that anyone from the intern to the CEO could be reading it.

It’s easy to dress anything up in fancy prose and layers of jargon, but the real indicator of understanding is the ability to create clear, effective content that the vast majority of your audience can grasp. Here’s where we can learn a lot from children, who ask questions to build their understanding of the world around them. They’re often resolute in demanding answers until they’re satisfied – we’ve all heard of or experienced the small child who asks “but why?” repeatedly.

Here are my three top tips on how to use your inner child to gather and understand information to create effective content:

1. Effective questioning = effective content

The people I’ve interviewed have built up their expertise over years of education, training and practical application. As an interviewer, it’s not my job to ‘know everything’ – I’m there to ask questions and use the information I’ve gained from that person to shape clear, effective content. Sometimes it can take a few goes to understand that information but that’s not a failing. The trick is to be honest about your level of knowledge right from the start of the conversation so that your interviewee can frame their responses accordingly. The ‘pretend-I’m-a-child-and-explain-it-to-me’ interview technique tends to work well, as it makes people simplify the information they want to get across to that imaginary seven-year-old. And if you don’t get it the first time, don’t be afraid to ask again until it makes sense and you have enough information to make your content effective.

2. Keep your energy up

Junior Houltbys can sniff out boredom and uncertainty at 100 paces, and if they detect it, I know I’ve lost my audience. So I show them that I want to learn too, and I maintain that interest level. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll be enthusiastic about finding it together – we’ll rummage along our book shelves, or rip up bits of paper together to work out how many times eight goes into 72.

The same goes for writing and interviewing. People respond well to those who show interest in them and their area of expertise, so keep the energy and interest levels high. Curiosity may kill the cat, but it sure makes for effective content.

3. Do your research

It never hurts to be prepared when creating effective content. We often don’t know what school assignments our children will be working on until that day, so we try to have a quick five minutes of looking over everything when it arrives so that we’re prepared.

In a professional capacity, it’s far more likely that I know what I’ll be writing about in advance and therefore have time to research. However, being sent copious amounts of information in advance can sometimes set the expectation that your knowledge is all-but complete. I find it’s best to ask the interviewee to give a brief overview of the subject in their own words. It’s a great starting point for working through difficult terms that could prevent effective content.

If you’d like to find out more about creating effective content, just get in touch.