How to Stand Out When Everything is Competing for Attention with Steve Woodruff
Did you know that Netflix is also a gaming platform now? That Apple make TV shows? That Disney own a number of YouTube channels without the Disney branding? It’s because they know what Steve Woodruff knows.
If you’re a podcaster, you might think the competition is other podcasters. If you make movies, you might think the competition is another movie. You’d be wrong.
See, what Netflix, Apple, Disney, and Steve know, is that the competition is everything. People are assaulted every day by stimuli, and if you want to cut through all of the noise, you need to stand out by being an effective communication designer. And there’s no better person to tell us how to do that than the King of Clarity himself.
Plus, in the PRO show, we talk about using AI to write books, and Steve’s process for writing his latest book, The Point.
- The average American spends 7-10 hours per day in front of a screen. On top of that, we see 4,000-10,000 ads every day. In other words, there is a lot of stuff competing for our attention.
- You want to be pigeonholed! Instead of an “Elevator Pitch,” which sounds stuff and outdated, Steve prefers the term “Memory Dart.” What’s one sentence you can say to people so they know exactly what you do?
- If you’re not communicating clearly to an outsider, you’re not communicating clearly. You want to make sure your copy (website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter) makes sense to people who don’t know your work well.
- Steve Woodruff
- Steve in Linkedin
- Want to be a Better Speaker? Do THESE Things with Mike Pacchione
- Clarity Wins Book
- You’re Writing Your Business Book Wrong with Josh Bernoff
Steve Woodruff: I make this kind of simple, but radical point in the book, which is we are all communication designers. This is a title and a role we all possess. We never put it on our business card, but you’re a communication designer. So am I. We’re either good or bad at it.
So, a bad communication design is I’m just going to show up and throw up. I’m just going to spew stuff. I’m not going to put words together in any skillful way. I’m not going to seek to engage the human brain. I’m just going to dump stuff. Well, you can do it if you want. You’re not going to help anybody, but you can do it.
Joe Casabona: Did you know that Netflix is also a gaming platform now, that Apple makes TV shows, that Disney owns a number of YouTube channels without the Disney branding? It’s because they know what Steve Woodruff knows.
If you’re a podcaster, you might think the competition is other podcasters. If you make movies, you might think the competition is other movies. You’d be wrong in both cases. See, what Netflix, Apple, Disney, and Steve know is that the competition is everything.
People are assaulted every day by stimuli. And if you want to cut through all of the noise, you need to stand out by being an effective communication designer. And there’s no better person to tell us how to do that than the king of clarity himself, Steve Woodruff. Plus, in the pro show, we talk about using AI to write books and Steve’s process for writing his latest book, The Point.
I want you to look for these top takeaways. The average American spends seven to 10 hours per day in front of a screen. And we see way more ads than you think. I want you to listen for the number, I have Steve repeat it. In other words, there’s a lot of stuff competing for our attention.
The second top takeaway is you want to be pigeonholed. People fight having a niche, but they need a niche to survive. In fact, instead of having an elevator pitch, which sounds stuffy and outdated, Steve prefers the term memory dart. What’s one sentence you can say so people know exactly what you do? Steve gave me my own memory dart after the interview.
And finally, if you’re not communicating clearly to an outsider, you’re not communicating clearly. You want to make sure your copy, your website, LinkedIn profile, Twitter make sense to people who don’t know you well.
This was a fantastic interview. There’s a lot of stuff to take away from it. And like I said, in the pro show we get deep on using AI and book writing in general. So if you want to get that and you want to get this episode ad-free, head on over to howibuilt.it/join and sign up today.
But for now let’s get to the intro and then the interview.
Joe Casabona: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast that helps busy solopreneurs and creators grow their business without spending too much time on it. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Each week I bring you interviews and case studies on how to build a better business through smarter processes, time management, and effective content creation. It’s like getting free coaching calls from successful solopreneurs.
By the end of each episode, you’ll have one to three takeaways you can implement today to stop spending time in your business and more time on your business or with your friends, your family, reading, or however you choose to spend your free time.
Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Steve Woodruff. He is known as the king of clarity, and he has a new book coming out in October 2023, which if you’re listening to this as this comes out, that’s this month. It’s called The Point. I’m really excited to talk to Steve about that. Steve, how are you today?
Steve Woodruff: Joe, I am doing great. I’m really excited to get this book out into the world.
Joe Casabona: I totally understand that. As someone who has written multiple books, the writing process can feel like a slog. And then it’s very much like, “Okay, now we gotta wait for everything else to be put together.” So congratulations on the book launch and release. That’s always super exciting. And this wasn’t your first book, right? You’ve written a few before.
Steve Woodruff: This is my second book. The first one in 2018 was called Clarity Wins. That was focused on creating a strong brand message and how to do effective networking and making referrals happen. This book, The Point, is kind of like the rest of the clarity story because clear communication is really for everything. It’s not just brand or marketing, it’s everything. And I had been wrestling for years with trying to come up with a universal formula that anybody could apply for clear communications. And that’s what this book contains.
Joe Casabona: That’s amazing. So this is like, what’s the point? Not like a summit maybe. Or maybe it works both ways.
Steve Woodruff: I actually do use the imagery of a summit.
Joe Casabona: Love it.
Steve Woodruff: I have four rules in the book and one of them is, what’s the point? You know, what’s the point, get to the point, get the point across, get everybody on the same page. That’s the sequence of events that anyone can use to design an effective communication? Because, as you know, a lot of people struggle to get to the point.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I mean, I think anybody who’s had to sit through a friend who is bad at telling stories understands that people struggling to get to the point.
So we started off our conversation, I’d love to get into this first, talking about noise—rising above the noise. I just said that and I thought of ‘avoid the noise’? What do you mean by ‘the noise’?
Steve Woodruff: Well, the noise is basically my label for the big competition that we all have. The big competition is everything. All the news streams, the chirping phone, the calendar, screens everywhere, messages everywhere. Most people are seeing anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day. We get 75 to 100 emails, sometimes 200 emails a day. A lot of us experience anywhere from 10 to 20 interruptions per hour. So there’s this constant flow of stuff.
When people think about their competition, they often think about this company or this product, or this person. That’s not the competition. The competition is everything else that’s dragging everybody’s attention away. We all are competing with the noise.
Joe Casabona: I love that. And this is why, you know, for example, Netflix is into games, right? They got into gaming because they know that it’s not just streaming movies or streaming TV shows that are their competition. It’s everyone’s attention. And if they can introduce games, maybe they can hold people’s attention for longer.
Steve Woodruff: Yeah. Netflix is after eyeballs. And they’re after eyeballs over time, which means attention. That’s the goal is we’ve got to win attention.
Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. I want you to repeat that stat about the number of ads because I’m worried I misheard you, and I’m simultaneously worried that I didn’t mishear you.
Steve Woodruff: If you do a search, a Google search on how many ads we see per day, ad impressions, you know, audio, whatever, it ranges from 4,000 to 10,000 per day. It is frightening. If you don’t think about how we’re surrounded by so much visual and auditory stimulation, that almost sounds crazy.
But then if you actually really start tracking what is going on and how much is flowing into our brains. And every single one of those ads is trying to grab that attention, trying to get our earballs, eyeballs. I don’t think there’s such a thing as earballs. But everything’s grabbing at us.
If I’m trying to share information or if I’m trying to sell something, or if I’m presenting something, I’m competing with that all the time. So I better be pretty darn interesting.
Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. And if you think about it, I mean, you dear listener—I know I have—you probably went to a website today that had a banner ad and a bottom-of-the-page ad and then a pop-up, and then as you’re scrolling another pop-up ad in between, and then you have those really gross story-like ads at the bottom. So like right there, you’ve probably seen 10, 15 ads on 1,000-word news story, maybe?
Steve Woodruff: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: You’re gonna hear three in this episode. Unless you’re a pro member, you can make that 9,996 for today if you head over to casabona.org/join. Of course that was just an ad so…
Steve Woodruff: Nice promo. I like that. You slid that in beautifully.
Joe Casabona: Thank you very much. But this makes perfect sense. I posted on Threads, Meta’s Threads recently that my therapist told me it seems like I’m overstimulated. I have three small kids. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I am currently surrounded by, if we count my phone and my camera monitor, six screens,
Steve Woodruff: Well, you’re on the high end of the scale. But the average American is spending anywhere from 7 to 10 hours a day in front of a screen of some sort, whether it’s a computer or handheld TV. That’s a big chunk of time. And that’s a very compelling piece of competition.
Screens are, you know, they’re pretty interesting. So you’re surrounded by all this stuff. We all are. And you go now to any situation and what you’re fighting against is everybody staring at their phone screen. So the screen is really our biggest competitor.
Joe Casabona: It’s our competitor. It’s not always bad, right? My daughter uses her screen to watch Netflix and YouTube. She’s six. You know, she loves ABC Mouse. And so she’s doing some learning activities. She loves her drawing app, she loves art, so she’s doing some digital art. We give her about a half hour or so at a time. And she probably switches between like four or five different things in that half hour. You know, she watches a YouTube video and she starts watching Despicable Me or whatever, then she does some ABC Mouse. It’s just really interesting that already at this point in her life, she’s already kind of cycling through these activities that feel so seamless to us.
Steve Woodruff: Yeah. It’s going to be harder and harder to reach the kids growing up with this generation, because they are so used to the quick dopamine hit of whatever’s coming on the screen and the short attention span thereby, that this challenge of gaining attention and having people listen to us or engage with us is just going to get worse. It can’t get any better. It’s gonna get worse because we have an exponential amount of more stuff flooding into our brains every single day.
Joe Casabona: I mean, as we record this, we’re a few months away from presumably the release of Apple’s Vision Pro, which is fully immersive, giant screen that allows you to see and replicate other screens. So it’s just very interesting the path we’re going on.
As a parent, I tend to look at it through the lens of parenting. We made a rule that if my kids ever had a temper tantrum about not having enough screen time, then they would lose those privileges. We do not want them to be addicted to screens. My parents live three hours away from us. In the car, they usually have a little bit too much screen time because Daddy likes quiet when he drives. And the day after, we don’t let them have screen time until noon.
That’s a really important boundary. I hope more parents are doing that. Because I think that as a millennial, an elder millennial, we kind of grew up at the dawn of portable screens. And now I think people are kind of getting savvy too. That’s my hope. That’s my hope, at least.
Steve Woodruff: A lot of this comes down to… and I go into some detail, practical detail in the book about how the human brain works, because the key to breaking through this is how do you secure attention and engagement with the human brain. So we have one competitor—that’s the noise. But we all also have one primary customer. And that’s the human brain. And the human brain works in a certain way. It has an operating system and it wants what it wants the way it wants it.
Now you thought the numbers I was talking about earlier were frightening. Here’s a really frightening number for you. Your brain and mind and every one of our listeners, our brains are processing 11 million bits of information per second from all five senses. That’s what’s flooding into our brains. 11 million bits.
We’re not even conscious of it. It just happens. There’s a magic in there called the reticular activating system that’s filtering it. But focus, if you and I are talking face to face, and we’re focusing on one another as we are now, that’s a 60-bit information flow. We can focus only on 60 bits. You know what happens when you have three people talking at you at the same time, right? It’s absolutely confounding. You cannot process that. Well, that’s only 180 bits.
But what we have to do to communicate is we’ve got to win the 60-bit battle. And we’re up against 11 million bits. How in the world do we win that? Because the reticular activating system, the RAS in the brain is what is the master filter? It’s the thing that’s determining what’s most important that we’re going to focus on. So one of the biggest insights in this book is, what does the reticular activating system want? If we know what the RAS wants, we can communicate effectively and break through? If we don’t, we just become part of the noise.
Joe Casabona: Gotcha. So the reticular activating system, is this the sort of thing that, you know, our nose is always in our line of sight but we don’t see it because our brain filters it out, right?
Steve Woodruff: Mm-hmm.
Joe Casabona: You walk into a room and there’s the strong scent of something, and then you stop smelling it after a while. Smell still there, but your brain is filtering it out.
Steve Woodruff: Yeah. The RAS is basically a kind of a simple version of it. It’s a pattern-matching system. So if we walk into a room and everything’s the same, then we don’t notice anything because it doesn’t matter. It’s a survival mechanism. It doesn’t matter.
If I walk into a room and there’s a guy standing there with a gun pointed at me, I’m going to have a different focus all of a sudden because he doesn’t belong there. And that gun, you know, it has some pretty intense meaning to it.
So the thing with the reticular activating system is it’s looking for relevance. That’s the word. The RAS wants what is immediately relevant. Which means if I’m going to communicate with you, I’ve got to start with something that spurs your interest, engages your attention, and is important to you.
So if we did this interview, and you started speaking Spanish to me and I started answering in Russian, we might be saying wonderfully important things but our listeners would go, “I have no idea what’s going on. This is not relevant. I’m confused. I’m out of here.”
Well, in the same way, if we’re over technical, if we’re off target on, you know, irrelevant nonsense, people just shut us out. And that’s where bad communication happens. It’s not front-loaded with relevance.
Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. The competition is everything. I think if we go down to a micro level, let’s pick whatever social media platform you choose to be using now, right? There are these… I’ve heard Khe Hy call them thread bois—people who are just trying to oversimplify something complicated so that they stand out.
One example I’ll give is Dickie Bush tweeted, “Here’s how you make a million dollars.” That’s something that spurs a lot of people’s interest. That’s relevant. And so that gets people. And then he proceeds to be like, “Just build a product people want.” And I’m like, well, that’s BS. I like to keep the clean rating on this podcast.
That’s BS because he knows as well as anybody, like, you can’t just build a product that people want, you need to make it relevant and make it interesting to people. So on top of the noise macro level on each individual thing that has your attention, there are a lot of competitors for your attention.
I guess my point in this story is that people try to copy what Dickie Bush does or what Justin Welsh does or what all these other people who have a master up following doing what worked for some algorithm six months ago. And I don’t think copying is effective communication because you don’t really… You know, my son says bad words because I say bad. He’s three. He’ll say a bad word if I say a bad word, and he doesn’t really know what he’s saying. So I feel-
Steve Woodruff: Here’s the thing with those threads, though. It’s half right. So if you start with something short, specific, and compelling like ‘how to make a million dollars,’ okay, you’ve got my attention, because that matters. So that’s good. That’s right. That’s rising above the noise.
The problem, which you’ve identified, is then it becomes a bunch of BS instead of it really actually giving you something workable. Now, I’m just hooking you in lying to you. Okay?
Joe Casabona: Right.
Steve Woodruff: Now, the principle though of starting with something specific and relevant, and interesting is correct. So we can learn from that and say, okay, they are actually mastering the art of breaking into the RAS. That’s good. Now, let’s actually join it to truth instead of just manipulating people.
Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. I think this leads really well into a question that I think I’ve been asking myself a lot, but I’m sure other people want to know, which is, can’t I write whatever I’m thinking? And we will answer that question when we get back from our sponsor break.
Joe Casabona: And we are back. So I’m really tired of thread bois on social media and trying to figure out what the best thing to go viral is. Can’t I just write whatever I’m thinking?
Steve Woodruff: Of course you can. It’s just nobody’s gonna read it. Here’s the thing. I make this kind of simple but radical point in the book, which is, we are all communication designers. This is a title and a role we all possess, okay? We’d never put it on our business card. But you’re a communication designer, so am I. We’re either good or bad at it.
A bad communication design is I’m just going to show up and throw up. I’m just going to spew stuff. I’m not going to put words together in any skillful way. I’m not going to seek to engage the human brain. I’m just going to dump stuff. Well, you can do it if you want. You’re not gonna help anybody, but you can do it.
The purpose of this book is how do you become a skillful communication designer? What are the shortcuts? What is the brain looking for? And then how can you use the tools? And you and I talked about one before we went live, which is analogies. Analogies, symbolic language, that is one of the best ways to short-cut right into the brain and turn the light on.
So if somebody says, ‘Hey, that Joe, he’s the Mercedes of podcast,’ well, what are we saying with one word? The Mercedes picture in our minds is high quality, exclusive, expensive, top of the line. And what I’ve done is I’ve used an existing memory hook, and I’ve used visual language to drive my point immediately through, not giving you a six-page explanation of why Joe is the best podcast because you’re not going to listen to that. Or not just blabbing my way freeform and just spewing out words. Now, you got to sign it skillfully so that it gets right through and turns that light on.
Joe Casabona: That’s so key. It touches on something that my friend Mike Pacchione mentioned on Episode 302 of this podcast where he said, When you tell stories, if you’re describing someone you need to do, Steve, exactly what you just said—one line that communicates to the people something about who you’re talking about.
My dad would always tell people, “Joe, would argue with Jesus Christ if He came off the cross.” What that tells people is I’m very argumentative. I would say opinionated. You know, that’s neither here nor there.
Steve Woodruff: Those two often go together. Well, you’ve actually touched on something really important. My first book, Clarity Wins, is all about this principle. That you’re going to occupy a pigeonhole in people’s minds, they’re going to think of you, but they’re going to think of you probably for one thing. Either they’re going to pick that randomly or you’re going to plant that in their minds.
So our job, if we want to gain referrals, if we want people to think of us at the right time is to put ourselves in an accurate, compact pigeonhole. That’s why I go by the title ‘King of Clarity’. So many years ago on my Facebook timeline, my buddy, Chris Brogan, who’s a fellow blogger, he said, “Happy birthday to the king of clarity.” I thought, “Ooh, that’s really good. I mean, that’s branding, man.”
I struggled with it for a while because it sounds pretentious, and it sounds, you know, like… but the fact is, if I’m going to be remembered for something, I want somebody to think Steve Woodruff king of clarity. And if I get that, if I get that pixel in your mind, I win.
All the other stuff that could flood your mind, I’m only gonna get a little tiny space. So I want it to be powerful, and what I call, in the book Clarity Wins, a memory dart. So I don’t advocate for elevator pitch. I don’t like elevator pitch for two reasons. Nobody wants to talk to an elevator and nobody wants to eat pitch.
So we need to come up with a memory dart—something that’s more visual, something that’s more emotional, something that’s more vivid. So I’m probably not going to forget the idea that you would argue with the Savior coming off the cross because that’s a very graphic image. I’ve never heard it before. And yes, I want to slap you upside the head but I get it. I get that that’s the pigeonhole.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. I like the picture you just painted here. Because elevator pitch has always felt a little bit stuffy to me. Like, what’s your elevator pitch? Now I feel like I’m in and out… like stuffy in an elevator. Whereas like memory dart, like open air, dart flying through the air. It can be a lot clearer.
I got kind of slapped in the face with this by my friend Jay Clouse. We were talking and he’s like, “I don’t know the one thing I would refer people to you for?” And I’m like, “Dang, that hurts!”
Steve Woodruff: Well, that’s a problem.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, huge problem. And I fixed that. I think people are kind of scared to pigeonhole themselves because it feels like they’re turning away potential work.
Steve Woodruff: That’s correct. And that’s the point. And I make that argument vociferously in my first book Clarity Wins. You want to be pigeonholed because I only want you to refer the work I want. I want you to know who I serve, what I do, and what makes me differentiated. I don’t want extraneous work that’s out of my sweet spot. I don’t want generic referrals. I want it specific.
But that’s the bridge. You’ve identified the bridge that a lot of people have to cross when you come down to branding is you’ve got to be willing to say yes to something narrow and no to something broad. And that’s a hard bridge to cross until you’ve actually figured out the narrow piece and you said, “Oh, that’s the work. I really want. Yeah, okay, I can say no to all the other things. I don’t need to be a jack of all trades.”
Joe Casabona: I like that. Imagine, you know, trying to steer a speedboat versus trying to steer whatever the latest Carnival cruise ship is, right?
Steve Woodruff: Mm-hmm.
Joe Casabona: You can be a lot more nimble in that speedboat. I like that. So we’ve touched on a little bit of your framework already on how to be an effective communication designer. Analogies… I love them a lot. I use them a lot. Helps in the classroom when I teach people new concepts, especially because my previous profession, I guess, was software engineering. I would teach programming and things like that.
Tell me a little bit more about how… instead of writing whatever I’m thinking, what is it I need to do? How do I structure my communication?
Steve Woodruff: So, if you think about it this way, and I’m going to use this analogy because you like analogies-
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Steve Woodruff: My job and your job is not to give everybody another haystack. It’s to give them the needle. I’m not there to make more work for you, to just dump a bunch of unstructured information, say, Well, Joe, find out what you’re looking for and let me know later. No. I’ve got 11 million bits of stuff going on every second. I don’t need that. I don’t need a dump truck full of unstructured information.
So one of the tactics I talked about in the new book, in The Point, is a very simple thing called stratification. And here we’ll do another verbal… a word picture. Think of a pyramid with three levels. The very top of the pyramid, the very peak is the relevant point. This is the thing that I’m aiming at. This is the result I’m aiming at. This is the purpose of this communication. This is the action I’m looking for. This is the point. Lead with that.
If you can put it in one sentence, then you know where you’re going and your audience knows where you’re going, that buys you the attention of the RAS, because you have said, Okay, here’s where we’re going, this is relevant.
Now, second level of the pyramid, you’ve just earned the right to give a little more background, a little more context, a couple of maybe an outline or some stories to back it up. The base of the pyramid is the details. You know, here’s an attachment, this email, I’ll give you a real short email. Here’s the point, here’s a couple bullet points. Here’s the attachment if you want everything.
Well, the fact is we can use that pyramid, three-level stratified pyramid structure for everything. In fact, books do it. The top of the pyramid is the title and the subtitle. So my book is The Point: How to Win With Clarity Fueled Communications. That’s how I’m in trying to intrigue you, I’m trying to draw you in. And it’s relevant because you want to win, and you need to communicate. And there’s something about clarity that sounds like it needs to be done.
Then you go to the table of contents. That’s the outline, summary, the overview. “Oh, look at that. Oh, four rules. Oh, eight tool.” Oh, okay. Okay.” Then there’s the rest of the book.
Clinical papers are structured in the three-level way for doctors. Consultants often use a three-level discussion, same type of thing, for their results when they’ve got done a consulting gig with a client. Here’s the main thing. Here’s how we structured it. Here’s all the details, the graphs, the data.
Well, that’s how we want to communicate in our emails, in our presentations, in our books, in our networking, everything. Stratify it. But you always got to start with the point.
Joe Casabona: I like that a lot. And it’s funny that we’re having this conversation now because I just got finished working with an email marketing coach who basically told me the same thing. He’s like, You keep selling the thing? You need to sell the outcome?
Steve Woodruff: Yes, exactly.
Joe Casabona: “You need to tell people, Hey, you’re gonna save 12 hours every week producing your podcast.”
Steve Woodruff: Correct. But even more than that, you have time to spend with your family, or you have time to do your hobbies.
Steve Woodruff: That’s right.
Joe Casabona: That’s the outcome.
Steve Woodruff: That’s the personal relevance. That’s what I want. I don’t want the thing. I want what the things going to do for me. So one of the shorthands I use for that relevance and that top of the pyramid, and the RAS is the very well-known acronym WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) And the RAS is tuned. Everybody’s brain is tuned to one frequency, WIIFM. So we’ve got to be sure we quickly get to the point of relevance for you if we want engagement. And if we don’t, we lose.
Joe Casabona: All right, so you heard it here. If you want to get people’s attention, you need to be the best DJ on WIIFM.
Steve Woodruff: That’s correct. That’s it.
Joe Casabona: I love that.
Steve Woodruff: And you know what? That applies to anybody in any role at whatsoever. WIIFM is often used for salespeople. Okay, you’ve got to get to the benefit for them. But in fact, it’s not just for salespeople. Teachers, preachers, secretaries, podcasters, anyone doing anything. Even parents. You’ve got to explain to your children why it matters, get to the point, and then go deeper.
So that’s why I wrote the book to be a sort of a universal formula because this is a universal problem. We have noise which is universal, a customer, the brain, which is universal, and an operating system, which says, Tell me what’s in it for me. Let’s do that.
Joe Casabona: This is great. Because I mean, as you’re talking, I’m thinking like I’ve been told by, you know, toddler experts the same thing. Like, ‘Because I said so’ it’s not effective communication for children, right?
Steve Woodruff: No, it’s not.
Joe Casabona: They want to know why, they want to know what’s happening next. If you just provide them that little bit of information, they’ll likely be more cooperative. And like yeah, I mean, they don’t regulate emotions. We’ll neither do adults most of the time. But if you just give them this information, what’s in it for them, the peak, if you give that to them, then they’re more likely to cooperate.
Steve Woodruff: Learning to speak simply. And I brought up five boys, so I had to simplify quite a bit.
Joe Casabona: I’m the oldest of four. I have three and I think I’m tapped out.
Steve Woodruff: Well, I was one of four boys. My dad was one of three boys. I had five boys.
Joe Casabona: Oh my god.
Steve Woodruff: So you know, you learn with kids. You learn how to simplify. You learn how to speak vividly. You learn word picture. It’s actually some of the best training there is. Because the fact is, when you go into the professional world, our tendency is to just elevate way up on the technical side and on the jargon side. And what happens is we then stop communicating, we’re fogging everything up. And we’ve got to break through that fog by being simple and clear and specific.
Joe Casabona: The ironic part is you try to elevate to sound smart. But like you said, you’re turning people off. Once people stop understanding what you’re saying, they’re gone.
Steve Woodruff: My best case study for that. I have one absolutely lovely case study. I’ve referred to it in both of my books and I’ll still refer to it right now with your audience. It’s a website called Bluespoonconsulting.com. Now, this is somebody that’s actually serious. This is not a spoof. I wish I had written this website. I really do because it’s the most jargon-loaded, bunch of fog ever.
Here’s a sample of how this thing is explained. “Atomizing customer segments, an unrelenting flood of product promotion and fragmented service options, infinite media channels, hyper-commoditization, new government regulations, and the exponential rate of growth of technological change have made market strategy more complex to define, more costly to implement, and less effective for all industries. The traditional calculus is obsolete. That comfortable mental furniture used as the centerpiece of brand management — the principles of branding, awareness, positioning, message, share of voice, and customer loyalty — is now coming apart at the seams, unable to accommodate the seismic instability in your strategic landscape.” Huh? What are we talking about?
Joe Casabona: No idea what they do.
Steve Woodruff: The whole site is full of this. It’s wonderful. The best jargon ever. And I see this all the time. A lot of the companies I’ve dealt with, all my clients are pharma and biotech and medical device companies, healthcare companies. And you’ve dealt with technology people and software people. So everybody has their tribal lingo, their language, their jargon.
And what happens is we start speaking in this kind of… well, I won’t say that word, because we want to keep the family. But we start using words that are fog words instead of clear words, that are generic instead of specific, that have 15 meanings. And the vagueness is what kills it. Because the RAS is saying what’s in it for me? And if you come into me with a bunch of vague fog… bye
Joe Casabona: I love that. I saw something recently. This was a huge problem in the software space, especially in the WordPress space where I hung out mostly where marketing pages would list what language the software was written in before they told you what it did.
Steve Woodruff: Yes, exactly.
Joe Casabona: I’m like, I’m gone. Like, who cares?
Steve Woodruff: Well, it’s the same problem on resumes in LinkedIn profiles. So people will throw a bunch of technology stuff, a bunch of the jargon because they think that a search engine is going to hire them. Well, an algorithm and a search engine are not going to hire you by using a bunch of jargon keywords. You need to speak English. Well, sorry, speak clear language if you don’t speak English.
There’s a place for the technology stuff and the jargon stuff. But people are skimming LinkedIn profiles, skimming resumes, skimming emails. And if we’re not, in a compressed way, getting right to the point, we lose the opportunity.
Joe Casabona: And the thing about algorithms and search engines too, if you write for them, they change so often, right? If you’re trying to get hired by them, you’ll get fired as quickly as Billy Martin got fired by George Steinbrenner.
Steve Woodruff: As quickly and as often.
Joe Casabona: Yes, exactly. Well, this is great. Before we get into the action items, how solopreneurs can apply your framework to clearly communicate, I do want to mention that in the pro show, which you can get ad-free if you sign up over at Casabona.org/join, we’re gonna get a little behind the scenes on Steve’s book because Steve’s editor was former guest, Josh Bernoff. So I’m going to ask him about his fat outline.
And we’re also going to talk about using AI to write books because I’ve heard it, he’s heard it. We both think it’s malarkey, I’ll say. But you can get our deeper thoughts over at Casabona.org/join.
All right. Steve, this has been a great conversation. I think we have a lot of really good takeaways here, including ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the main question you need to ask. Let’s say I’ve realized that my homepage, my landing page, my website is full of jargon, like Blue Spoon Consulting, what do I need to do to fix that?
Steve Woodruff: Most of the time, you actually need an outside person that does not have a dog in this fight and also that’s not immersed in your world. Because you want somebody to come at your website, come at your marketing materials fresh. And someone that basically is like a sixth grader, or your mother-in-law or something like that. Not literally.
But if you’re not communicating clearly to an outsider, you’re not communicating clearly. Branding people, good branding people will be able to look at this stuff and say, “Well, I know what you’re trying to say here, but that doesn’t land at all with a regular person.” Or you’re getting too deep here too technical here, that doesn’t make any sense. Here’s a better way to say it.”
It’s one of the favorite things I do. You know, a lot of my work is workshops and teaching and helping people become better communicators. But on the consulting side, I love working with marketing materials and websites and saying, “Okay, let’s turn this into human, some human communication that works.”
Because people can leave websites even faster than they can leave a presentation or a sit-down meeting. Because, you know, people jump off of websites and seconds and milliseconds if they’re not seeing what they want to see. So it’s crucial to be able, especially on a homepage, to make a very vivid, instant, focused impression. That’s the hardest thing for people to do for themselves.
So I’m going through right now a rebranding. My stuff has gotten a little bit diffuse. And within a few weeks, I’ll have a very focused, different new website, that narrows my message down to one thing. I do more than one thing but I really want one thing to be in people’s minds. You want to hire Steve as a speaker and to train your people. That’s it. I do more than that but that’s the impression I want. So the photography and the text, everything is going in that direction.
So we have a hard time. I use the expression a lot, ‘You can’t read the label of the jar you’re in’. We are the worst ones trying to come up with our own brand stuff. We need outside eyes to help us to see clearly what we are, what we’re saying, and how to say it.
Joe Casabona: I know it’s probably not what some people want to hear. They want to do it themselves. They don’t necessarily want to maybe pay someone to do it for them. But I’ll tell you, I have a product called the Podcast Growth Audit. And I redesign that page a million times. And then I had my email marketing coach, one of the things he does is review landing pages, because ultimately we want to send people from the emails to the landing pages.
So he just tore down two of my landing pages. And he’s like, “I don’t know why this is here.” He’s like, “You tell me what I get before you tell me what the outcome of this is. I don’t care that it’s a growth audit. I care that I’m going to get more downloads or whatever.”
Steve Woodruff: Yeah. Now we’re too immersed in it. We’re too close to our own work. I’ve written two books on clarity, and I went to an outside firm to redo my website. Because I know I-
Joe Casabona: Because you know it.
Steve Woodruff: I get myself confused and tied up in knots. And sure enough, we sat down and they were kind of, you know… it hurts to have your arm cut off a little bit, or you know, for someone to slice and dice your baby. But I needed somebody to strip the thing down and say, “Look, this is really the point.” And I’m the guy that’s writing the book about getting to the point. But I wasn’t getting to the point. And I needed someone else to say, “This is actually how you want to do it.” “Oh, yeah, shoot, you’re right. Of course it is.”
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Two stories of mine that really reinforced that is I went on Pat Flynn’s podcast, AskPat 2.0, the coaching sort of thing. I told him that I was struggling with growing my own audience. And he said, “Well, you need to go on other people’s podcasts.” And I felt like a total idiot because this is what I would tell my clients. And I was like, “Wow, I can’t believe that was such an obvious oversight.”
Steve Woodruff: Happens all the time.
Joe Casabona: Similarly, you know, when I was teaching in the classroom, I was teaching my students about WordPress. And I was like, “Everybody should have their own website, personal branding. Go to wordpress.com.”
And I was explaining to them the difference between two things inside WordPress: pages and posts. And what I could have said was, posts are articles, pages have standard and static information on them. But I was like, “Well, posts are in reverse chronological order.”
And one of my students raised her hand. I will never forget her face. And the way she said this, it changed the way I teach. She said, “I have no idea what you just said.” And I was like, I’ve been teaching WordPress for 10 years at that point.
Steve Woodruff: Yeah, I know. And you just get caught. I got caught recently in a workshop with a pharmaceutical company that I was working with. It’s really embarrassing for me because I’m the king of clarity. So I’m standing up and I say, “Look, when I first got into this industry, it like every other industry, has a bunch of acronyms.
So I was sitting in this client meeting with my coworkers, and somebody said something about a POA meeting. And I was new to the industry. I didn’t know what a POA meeting was. And they just keep talking about these POA meetings. And I’m sitting there confused. Really confused.
And I thought, “Man, can you define the terms? Well, they assumed. It’s called the curse of knowledge. You assume that people know everything you know. And so you just start throwing stuff out without defining it, without illustrating.
So later on I found out okay, POA means plan of action meeting. It’s like a sales meeting, a quarterly meeting. Plan of action (POA). Okay, fine. But while I was talking about it in this thing, I didn’t explain it. I just threw it out there because of course everybody in that room knew what a POA was. And somebody raised her hand, says, “What’s a POA meeting?” Oh geez. The very point I was trying to make and I was assuming too much.
Joe Casabona: And that’s when you say, Exactly. I would always say computer scientists, programmers have this problem the worst because they simultaneously think they are smarter than everybody and everybody should already know what they know. And I’m like, you can’t have it both ways.
Steve Woodruff: Well, same with engineers. Engineers are the same way.
Joe Casabona: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. Amazing. So I want to boil this final segment down to something that you said earlier before we get into some really good stories. Which is you said that the website, your website should say ‘you want to hire Steve to’ and then you said like, one, maybe one thing with a comma.
I want you to confirm this for me. I would love this to be the takeaway from this segment. When a solopreneur is trying to figure out what their clarity, the point of everything they do, should they be able to finish the sentence you want to hire me to do… and then-
Steve Woodruff: This.
Joe Casabona: …This. Right?
Steve Woodruff: Yes.
Joe Casabona: Not this and that and that.
Steve Woodruff: Okay, here’s the way I’ve done this with many people because I work with a lot of consultants and a lot of solos and I do it myself. So I say, “Look, you might be doing three things. You’ve got to have a lead horse. You’ve got to have the one thing that’s the most important, most impactful, the most profitable, whatever it is. You’ve got to have a lead horse.
You can have in your back pocket one or two other things. But nobody can remember you for four things. Give them one thing, pigeonhole. Later, once you’ve really kind of been able to talk and you’ve got it embedded in their mind, then you can go, “Oh, and by the way, you know, I know you’ve hired me to speak because that’s what I’m gonna lead with. I know you’ve hired me to speak and train and whatever. But if you need consulting on, you know, branding or whatever, yeah, I do that too.
But as soon as you elevate two or three things up, you’ve become a commodity, you’ve become forgettable. You’re no longer occupying a unique pigeonhole. And that is the huge temptation for solopreneurs and small businesses is to try to say too many things, and now you’re no longer memorable.
Joe Casabona: I love that. I think we should leave it at that. Steve, this has been such a great conversation. If people want to know more, where can they find you?
Steve Woodruff: So I do a lot of my work as far as writing and updating on LinkedIn. So if you look for Steve Woodruff (King of Clarity), you’ll find the little nickname there on LinkedIn. That’s where I do a lot of my posting, that’s where I have a weekly newsletter. That’s where I share a lot of information. And I believe very much in networking and in referrals, and so I do a lot with LinkedIn.
I do have an email newsletter. I do have a Facebook page, King of Clarity. I show up on Twitter periodically. But LinkedIn. And then my main website, the one that’s being redone as we speak, is Stevewoodruff.com. And that is the one that will feature my very focused message once it’s launched at the end of September here. And that’s the other place where people can find me.
Joe Casabona: Awesome. And I will link to all of that and everything we talked about over at howibuilt.it/334 for episode 334. That’s howibuilt.it/334. You can find all of Steve’s resources, a link to his book, or the preorder page, whichever is out first when I make this page.
And then you can also become a member over there to hear the rest of our conversation about kind of behind the scenes on how Steve wrote his book, and how we really feel about using AI to write books.
Steve, thanks so much for joining us today. I really appreciate it.
Steve Woodruff: Joe, it’s a real pleasure. I appreciate you putting me in front of your audience to talk about some pretty important stuff.
Joe Casabona: My pleasure. I think we can all benefit from it. And thank you, dear listener, for tuning in and staying with us all this time. I really appreciate you. Thanks to our sponsors. And until next time, get out there and build something.