The secrets of how to catch and keep people’s attention were revealed in the August issue of The Afro News. Now, as the season pulls us all into memories of back-to-school days, let’s look at what’s happened since you and I were taught to present or rehearse our messages in writing.
Yesteryear’s wisdom was to be more formal for academic or ‘official’ writing, including business. As an instructor of business writing and conversation today, I both promote and personally rely on writing. Technology, however, has both changed and sped up our channels of communication and the way we write. Instant publishing of our ideas, be it in letter form with home printers, email, blogs, website or other communication vehicles has also made us all instant ‘content’ writers.
The responsibility to respond quickly and on many levels – locally, internationally, formally and casually has blurred the lines – and the rules.
New Take on Style
In addition to the opportunity of being our own writers and publishers, our wide, new reach across regions and cultures now also requires us to be style editors! Each piece we write needs to be assessed by us on two key points:
- Does it get to the point quickly, making it clear what your message is about?
- Does it speak to the reader in their language showing that you understand their needs, wants and goals, before you presume to even meet them?
The solution to some of this is what many have called ‘plain talk’:
– eliminate jargon
– use only necessary technical language
– use simple and clear language
– monitor humour or locally used phrases
Accepting plain talk does not mean eliminating tact or sensitivity. Do let your human voice and personality shine through but be ruthless with dropping ‘extra’ phrases that might be misunderstood, if at all, or of including more information than the reader needs.
Want to be heard? Then speak up.
Yes! Use writing as a fast and reliable route to see and sort your ideas. Rewrite your draft to refine your message. Then – read your work aloud.
If you can’t finish a sentence in one breath, then it is too long. If you bore or confuse even yourself or a friendly listener, clarify your message. Criteria for today’s communication culture calls on your ability to get to the point sooner and faster. For your message to get heard, read and admitted into the consciousness of your readers it must also use their language and fall nicely on their ears.
The famous elevator or introductory speech you write to win friends, dates or deals – may quickly (and unexpectedly) move from paper to out loud and live application. Be ready. Make it work on paper first and then on the ears too.
VIP Your very important point is to think of writing as a conversation with your intended reader. This will help you be more in tune with the personal and more relaxed style of today’s punctuation, language use and even international communication.
Next time we’ll look at how good writers and speakers are also good readers and what to read towards effective communication success.
Helena is a communication consultant specializing in business writing and conversation with elegance and speed. Get great tips on language use and communication strategy – free – at the sign up box for Express Lane Tipster at: www.helenakaufman.com
Tips on Getting Started Writing:
Practice loosens up your skills at assembling language and messages. Writers would call this a draft to be read, refined and rewritten till you feel (reasonable) satisfaction with your work. Try these writing opportunities out and see what magic you develop over time:
A short piece – something self contained like a scene, a character study, a chapter introduction, a statement of purpose, a summary, or a 1-page description of your project.
A private blog or journal entry – only available to your chosen friends, family, coach and open to response if you want to encourage feedback. See what happens when you write by hand for a change.
A segment of your website – consider a bio page as it relates to your purpose, a welcome paragraph, a mission statement, and outlines for future content for the site.
A draft of a book proposal you have in mind.
BONUS TIP: Feeling overwhelmed with how to pull together so many ideas in your head on any one task? Try this tip to crystallize your concepts. It will help with direction also: create a title, subtitles, and a tagline. Forcing yourself to think in terms of one line descriptions, helps you capture the main message. It can simplify your style, language and format choices – fast.
If you’re starting out – just write anything for now. If you’re already writing – stretch your scope.