When I’m writing a presentation or blog post, I often start here:
It’s a photo of me in my office in Dallas, Texas in 2004. When I look at that picture, I remember everything like it was yesterday. I can talk at length about everything on the bookshelf, on my desk, in my drawers (the desk drawers, that is).
I can tell you what technology problems I was struggling with, plus what problems my manager was concerned about. I remember what I knew, and what I didn’t know yet. I can recite the web sites I frequented.
Next, I can turn the mental camera around and see exactly what’s outside my office door: my developers and my support team. I can tell you what they rocked at and what they wanted training on. I can remember how we decorated their cubes for their birthdays – covering Julian’s stuff in aluminum foil, building a princess’ castle for Hima.
The funniest thing, though, is that I didn’t remember any of this until I rediscovered this photo several years ago. All of a sudden, everything was clear to me.
And I realized who I was writing for.
Now, it’s really easy for me to scope my presentations and blog posts because I’m writing for 2004 Brent. 2004 Brent hadn’t studied databases and tried to turn them inside out – he just needed to store data and get it back out quickly. He wasn’t on a first name basis with book authors and MVPs – he didn’t even know what an MVP was.
You need to take this picture today.
Set up your camera with a self-timer or get a colleague to shoot a few pictures of yourself sitting in your work environment. Get pictures of the books on your shelf, the stuff on your desk, and maybe take a screenshot of your task list. Write yourself a one-page note covering:
- The stuff you’re comfortable with
- The stuff you’re uncomfortable with
- The things you want to learn this year
- The things you learned recently that surprised you
Stash these pictures and words away in a time capsule folder somewhere. A few years from now, when you’re writing a presentation covering something you’ve learned, get these back out. Think about what you knew and didn’t know, and that’s your target audience. Before you use a term or acronym, think back and ask, “Did 2013 Me know that? If not, lemme introduce the topic.”
When you’re writing, remember that you’re never writing for your current self. You’re writing for the past version of you. Having these pictures and words will help you define your audience.