The first time someone described my writing as “adding value,” I almost burst out laughing. It seemed so odd to equate creativity with money. But consider the source—he was a Wall Street executive. Telling me my work made the speech more valuable was just about the highest compliment he knew how to give.
Since then, I’ve gotten much more comfortable with the phrase. I no longer hear it as mercenary. In fact, I even use it myself, most recently in a podcast interview I did for an audience of nonprofit executives. I wonder if they heard it as mercenary?
When I say your writing should add value, I mean that you need to give your audience (or readers) something that goes beyond words. For instance, nonprofit executives always have people to thank. Often they do this by reeling off a list of names. Instead—and I wrote about this issue in a recent post about lists—use the opportunity to thank your donors by getting specific about what their gift enabled you to do. Not just what services it allowed you to offer, but how those services affect the people you help. That’s “adding value” because it doesn’t just offer facts. It opens up a window into your organization and allows your audience to experience what you do. Bonus points if you can get them to feel something, too.
Adding value the right way
People have different ideas of what constitutes value. A friend told me about how her childhood neighbor gussied up his house before putting it on the market—to add (literal) value, he put up wallpaper. One bedroom featured drawings of golf balls on tees against a grassy-colored, flocked velvet background. The powder room got hot pink satin walls. Much to his surprise, it took a very long time for his house to find a buyer. What added value for him looked like an enormous redecorating bill to everyone else.
In communicating, as in house-selling, adding value is not about what you think is important. It’s about what your audience finds important.
You may be a Type A person who believe facts tell the only story worth hearing. But facts don’t move people; we need stories for that. Now you may think of stories as extraneous filler—the green velvet flocking on that wallpaper. But you’re not writing for yourself here. That’s called journaling; it’s a fine practice, but best restricted to your bedroom. If you’re writing for an audience (and I include readers in that), you have to think about what the audience wants from you.
Full disclosure: I’m a Type A person myself. But I also recognize the value of stories. Carefully selected, intentionally told stories. You don’t need to give the speech equivalent of pink satin wallpaper—unless that fits both your brand and your audience’s expectations. But if you want your audience to appreciate you—if you want your audience to remember you—you do have to add value.