[We are all bloggers now, so this guest post by Tim Gray might help with word wrangling. Creative Nottingham welcomes guest blog posts from local creatives about their work. If you would like to contribute, write to us (editor AT creativenottingham.com) or comment on this post. Now over to Tim:]
It’s a pain, isn’t it? Most of us just want to do that thing we do, but it has to be wrapped up in all those necessities for making a business or project go. Communication is part of that.
People aren’t under any obligation to read about what you do or be turned on by it. If you want to communicate, you have to take responsibility for going out and meeting them at least halfway. You can never take it for granted. Each thing you write has to make them want to read or view the next, building up to a whole message.
Like anything else, doing a good job means developing skills and giving it time and attention.
The nice thing is that if you get it right, some people will care about your stuff like you do – maybe even more! Then you’ll have fans (which can be a surprising realisation) who will spread your message for you. It starts by connecting with people.
What you say
What do you actually write in your blog, brochure, social media?
It helps if you’re clear about what message you want to convey, which means thinking about who you’re aiming at, the essentials of what you do, and what distinctive things you bring to it.
Authenticity is important. The real you makes your message far more powerful if you find the community that’s looking for it – and it also means you’ll be happy with what you’re doing and what you’re saying about yourself.
Probably the most vital skill of all is not just to splurge out what you want to say, but to put yourself in the perspective of the reader and write what they want to read, in a way that makes sense to them. What would you be looking for? For instance, on a web page promoting an event you’d want the date, time, venue and cost to be instantly visible. It’s surprising how often people miss things like that because they’re not thinking like a reader.
Folks who are programmed to do creative things all day sometimes find it difficult to do the detailed join-the-dots. If that’s you, it may be worth getting someone to check important stuff before it goes out.
How you say it
This is about language and style. What words do you use, and how do you put sentences together? There are lots of different ways to say a thing, and they have an effect on how the audience receives it.
First of all, you do need to write properly. If you get the technical basics of spelling and grammar wrong, it reflects badly on you and any organisation you may be representing. Readers will get the impression you don’t care about them or what you’re doing, or that you’re incompetent, or all the above. If you’ve developed other skills at the expense of these, be honest about it. Effective communication is more important than your ego. Work with someone who’s more used to word wrangling, and see if you can improve your own skills.
Then there’s style. Some people have picked up bad habits from previous environments, producing flowery, emotive words or convoluted sentences full of jargon. For communication work you want nice short sentences in plain English that get information across clearly and flow together to make a pleasant read.
Finally, voice. Can you do all the above and write in a way that’s distinctively you? It’s not about becoming a precise writing robot. The ideal is for your writing to feel like a pleasant conversation in which the reader learns things that help them.
How you present it
Your visual design and layout make the most immediate impression on a reader. Especially for websites, where visitors decide whether to stay or leave in the first few seconds: they’ll only have read your heading and a sentence or two, but they’ll have drawn conclusions from the look of the page.
Presentation matters for all information materials.
It tells the reader what the reading experience is going to be like. Small text, low contrast, unpleasant colours, messy layout, confusing structure? Too much like hard work; they’ll go elsewhere.
It conveys an impression, through your choice of colours and fonts and your use of space. Does that match what you say you’re about and strengthen your message, or is there a disconnection that makes the reader uncomfortable? If you’re offering relaxing massage and your website is all red, don’t expect many takers.
Whisper the M word
If you think it’s important for your stuff to be seen and get a response – because you want to make it successful, and you want to be part of a weave of human-scale innovation – then you need to pay attention to communication. There are a million people throwing any old thing up on the web and wondering why they don’t make an impact.
This is marketing: a word that produces an instinctive negative reaction in many people. But the old marketing that interrupts your day and gets in your face is becoming less and less effective. Today’s more human and social version uses words like “relationship”, “permission” and “content”, and talks about “personal branding”. It’s all about showing up as someone people want to connect with, and building a community.
Is “showing up skilfully” something you can get behind? See if you can take a fresh perspective on what you’re doing to connect with people. If you were them, would you care about your stuff? Plan in a couple of actions to make that better.
Tim Gray is a word wrangler and communication adviser who runs Words That Change The World ( http://wordsthatchangetheworld.com/). He can be contacted by email tim AT wordsthatchangetheworld.com or on Twitter @messagewords.