Are you getting your message out there or in there?

What’s your approach to communication? 

If your communication plan is focused on getting your message ‘out there’, you’re not alone. It’s easy to gather ‘hit’ stats these days, so we’re starting to believe a hit equals being heard.

We even measure media campaign success rates by the number of centimetres a story got in the newspaper, divided by something to do with ad $$$, times the… What’s that about?

It’s time to take the road less travelled when it comes to communication… and think about how to get our messages ‘in there’. Because (to really mix metaphors) using communication tools as a battering ram isn’t a good look.

And keeping ‘at it’ won’t make an impact, especially if what we’re doing is telling people what we want them to know.

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Photo: freeimages.co.uk

Why isn’t anyone listening?
T
he trouble with communication is that people aren’t computers. We can’t put data in and expect a certain result. The way people behave, what they need, and why they ‘buy’ are more complex than the connections on our motherboards.

So if we want to do more than just get our messages out there, we have to take a good look at the market, who our clients and customers are, what they’re buying, and why.

Who are you talking to?
Think about Richard Branson’s fresh approach to promoting and running his airline. He succeeded where other ‘budget’ airlines had failed. Why? Because he knew exactly who he was talking to. And it wasn’t business class fliers.

Virgin was all about getting more average income earners in the air. And it started with a client-focused approach to communication.

What’s in it for me?
What will your product or service do for your client? Think benefits. Compare a Virgin ad to one for 
another airline’s business class. Different audiences… very different benefits.

Client benefits are about feelings and needs. Looking good (to peers, shareholders, clients, friends), working smarter not harder, being seen as ethical and (these days) green, being more profitable, saving time, being instrumental in getting the job done (…and therefore looking good), and more.

What is it that will make our existing or potential clients/customers listen and act on our messages?

A new way of talking
It takes a lot more thought and it’s not an easy process. Most of us are locked into just getting our messages out because that’s where our bosses or clients see value for $$$ – and it’s a hard habit to break.

It’s like learning another language. We have to take small steps, do the groundwork, and practice, practice, practice. And it helps if we can get others understanding and using the same language. 

Changing our language might help change the way we approach communication.

Because the companies that know how to get their messages ‘in there’ are the companies that succeed.

 

Adapted: Article first published in the Dragonfly Ink’s e-newsletter, The Buzz, in July 2008.

 

Are you a random ‘capitalist’?

alphabet People contributing to technical reports and other documents usually have highly specialised skills – like engineering, architecture, science, accountancy and IT.

So they don’t have time to think about pesky grammar rules – which means things can go a little pear-shaped.

Not that we’re complaining. It keeps editors like us out of trouble and means we don’t have to sell body parts to make a living…

Many of the reports we work on suffer from ‘random capitalisation’. Capitals for emphasis. Capitals to show someone’s role is important. Capitals because a word looks like it should have one.

Using capitals can be tricky, so here are some quick tips and examples to keep those capitalist tendencies under control…

Wrapping the caps

  • The first word in a sentence is capitalised
  • The pronoun ‘I’ is always capitalised, e.g. I think I can
  • Use capitals for proper nouns – names, nationalities, places, brands
  • Never use capitals for emphasis, e.g. This is correct, but This is Not Correct
  • Don’t use capitals for roles unless it’s part of the name, e.g. Mayor Bird and Mr Bird, mayor of Birdsville are both correct capitalisation of ‘mayor’
  • Unless they’re part of a title, words like ‘project team’, ‘feasibility study’ and ‘environmental impact assessment’ shouldn’t be capitalised.

Something I prepared earlier

Copyright: Dragonfly Ink Using capitals for document titles and headlines can also be a style thing, so check your organisation’s style guide to find out their preferences.

We hope this helps you eliminate those capitalist tendencies – in you or others. Meanwhile, we’d better get back to saving the world… one capital letter at a time.

Keeping it simple…again

After a few years of being (almost) buried in technical writing and editing projects, I’ve decided there is no better time than right now for my dragonfly blog to take flight again. So arm doors and cross-check… we’re off!

I’ve always been a KISSing fan – that’s keeping it simple for success. So I often smile (and occasionally grit my teeth) at the things I read, virtual red pen at the ready.

Things like: “If in the situation where damage may be caused to the machinery during the towing of the machine…”

How much easier just to say: If machinery could be damaged during towing…”?

Unfortunately, most of us learnt to write ‘long’ at school and later during our tertiary education adventures. After all, we had 1,500 word essays to write – so getting to the point wasn’t exactly, well, the point.

But think about people in work situations, particularly on work sites like construction and mining. They have to get the job done, may have finished school in Year 10, and often have English as a second language.

Look back at that first sentence about damage during towing. If you’re like most people, you probably missed the second word (‘in’) so the sentence didn’t make sense until you read it again.

The worst part – it’s only the opening phrase and already your brain is switching off.

And when it comes to people’s roles and safety on a job site, switching off is not what we’re aiming for.

Here’s what we do want:

  • clear, simple language
  • tailored to your audience
  • with information they need and can trust
  • in a format that’s easy to follow.

So say what you mean and keep it simple for success. That’s smart.

Revealing layers of history: Ken Fletcher Park

Copyright: Louise RalphFor our first site visit to the former Tennyson Power Station site on the Brisbane River, we dragonflies were offered a long wooden stick each.

To beat a path through the long grass, we asked. No, to warn off the brown snakes, the site manager said.

It was the beginning of an interpretive journey which, while challenging, didn’t involve slithery encounters.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

river people, river connections…

Touched by floods, shaped by civilisation

It’s hard to believe that a relatively small tract of land not far from Brisbane’s CBD could have such intricate layers of history.

Like the river itself, the connections run deep – from Traditional Custodians and lost explorers, to mills and mansions, and from a power station to centre-stage tennis and an elite residential development.

A project like this requires the successful collaboration between the client, landscape designers, graphic designers, researchers and copywriters, and all the trades that go into its execution. But its success goes beyond that.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Ken Fletcher (1940-2006) was arguably the best tennis player to come out of Brisbane.

It’s the people who share their stories and knowledge that make the difference.

To reveal the layers of history that have shaped this place, we talked with an Aboriginal Elder, community groups and individuals, a former power station employee, demolition contractors, the Queensland Energy Museum curator, historians and more.

Seeing a project like the Ken Fletcher Park come to life and being part of the process is always exciting.

Now, wandering (incognito) through the park, it’s fantastic to see kids at play and so many people enjoying the parklands – and stopping to discover the stories of this place.

Not just glancing at each panel and moving on, but actually reading and pointing things out to each other.

Now that’s what I call success…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

While civilisation shapes the landscape, floods remind us that nature has the ultimate power. Ironically, as I take this photo on 28 January 2013, the river really is rising in the background, and Brisbane prepares for another flood…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Brisbane’s aquatic hotspot: Sharks could often be seen in the river here, basking in the warm exhaust water discharged from the power station.

Wrapping up 2012

If you’ve had one of those years…

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…when living in the fast lane has had its drawbacks

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but you’ve managed to face every challenge with dignity, grace and, most of the time, a smile…

we wish you a fabulous silly season – and time to celebrate your achievements as you wrap up 2012

We hope you’ll hang out with us dragonflies in 2013!

 
Disclaimer: We’d like to acknowledge the ‘stuck animal’ images, but they came via email, from somewhere in the world. So thanks, whoever took them and whoever passed them on. They always make us smile…

Do clicks really count?

In our social media driven culture, its easy to get caught up in living for ‘like’ and counting clicks.

I’m not just talking your average social media junkie here. Businesses have been caught up in it too.

It’s tempting to evaluate the success of your social media campaign by the click rates, and to believe that going viral is the holy grail.

But do clicks actually covert to ‘sales’ or increase brand awareness?

This tongue-in-cheek take of the click obsession is food for thought: The BUYRAL Video – Professional Clicking.

The Internet Advertising Bureau’s Social Media and B2B Marketing White Paper, released earlier this year, is a useful guide to all things social media. It also includes information on tracking and measuring your social media efforts.

As for me, I’m clicking off for now. A bientot!

Writing a report? What clients want…

You’re pulling together a report and, as always, you’re completely overstretched. But you have to get all the sections in and collate the report by close of business this Friday.

At that thought, vaguely hysterical laughter bubbles to the surface.

To get it ticked off, you’re using what’s been done before as a guide. There’s no time for succinct information and clear conclusions.

Repetition and inconsistency have crept in, and there seems to be a generous smattering of motherhood statements and weasel words.  

It might be time to take a breath, and work out what your clients want. But let’s start with what they really (really) don’t want.

A report that doesn’t meet their expectations

They’re expecting a financial/business approval style report, and you’ve given them an engineering report. Make sure you confirm the outcomes your client wants – and meet them.

A fragmented report

Many reports have multiple authors and can end up a mish-mash of writing styles and terminology.

To avoid a fragmented report, you’ll need to have consistent language, ‘voice’, acronym and abbreviation use, and structure.

That’s where a good technical editor is worth their weight in gold. And yes, it comes at a dollar cost, but getting that ‘one author’ feel and fresh eyes means you’ll deliver a report you can build a reputation on.

Motherhood statements and more…

There’s nothing clients hate more than motherhood statements left dangling…

Safety is our number one priority. Our people are our most important asset. We have a shared passion for delivering results. Our culture of innovation drives our success.

Google a few of these key words and you’ll find hundreds of examples.

These all sound great, but only if you back them up. For example, if safety is your number one priority, then don’t bury it somewhere at the back of your report or it will look like an after-thought. Build your taglines into the body of your report.

And those ‘clear options’ you’ve given your clients? Make sure they have all the facts readily available so they can make decisions or argue a case.  

PhD required…

You may be a subject expert, but don’t expect your reader to have the knowledge to fill in the gaps, especially in study reports which involve various disciplines.

An accountant or investor, for example, might not understand a design engineer or an environmental scientist.

You might feel like you’re dumbing down the information, but you’re really respecting your audience. Making information clear to all your readers means you’ve done your job – and done it well.

Some quick tips for giving clients what they want…

  • Understand client expectations and meet them – create a report they can use
  • Be reader-focused – have short summaries upfront in every chapter or section. It will also be easy to grab those section summaries to develop your executive summary.
  • Aim for one voice – having a single clear voice in your report requires a consistent style, language, terminology and sentence structure, and your clients will love it.
  • Create a clear, logical structure – eliminate the brain dump, focus on easy-to-follow thought sequences, and avoid repetition.
  • Explain everything – don’t assume people know your subject like you do.
  • Be consistent – as tech editors, we do a final ‘sweep’ of the entire document to pick up inconsistent use of numbers, terms and abbreviations. Even something as simple as a project or client name can have several versions or be misspelt, so it pays to check (and check again).
  • Go easy on the acronyms – overloading sentences with acronyms really pulls your reader up. Who wants to have to work out that the WTFs and GPFs will be constructed with LTI and TRFIRs. Unless you’re using the term more than five or six times in the document, it’s better to spell it out.
  • Break up long, complex sentences – short really is sweet. If someone has to read a sentence a few times to work out what you’re saying, you’ve lost them.
  • Go for short pars – be mindful of the final layout for your report. What looks like a reasonable length paragraph in a Word document can transform into a huge block of text in a column.

Simple isn’t stupid. A smart person delivers their message clearly and simply. A person who respects their reader (and their reader’s time) makes an effort to create a report that’s both informative and easy to read.

And that’s what clients want…