Wrapping up 2012

If you’ve had one of those years…


…when living in the fast lane has had its drawbacks


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…

Switch off for a real break

These days, most of us are ‘switched on’ most of the time, and that’s not great… for our health or our productivity. So let’s take a well-earned break this festive season – from all the addictive technology that makes our jobs easier, but can rule our lives 24/7/365. Here’s the challenge:

  • Resist the urge to religiously check your emails. It’s a good idea to set up an auto-responder so people will know they’re not going to hear from you straight away. If you really must check emails, schedule a time once a weekday and only respond to the urgent ones.
  • Take a sunset to sunset break from your mobile phone. Pick the easiest day when you’re least likely to have urgent calls coming in (although, with my kids, everything is urgent!) and turn your mobile phone off. Really off. Not even on silent or vibrate.
  • Give yourself permission to get some headspace, with entire days of work-free thoughts.
  • Wrestle the FOMO beast to the ground and have designated social media blackout days – that’s FOMO for ‘fear of missing out’. You won’t, because you’ll be too busy having a life.
  • Avoid the vegetative state in front of the television. It’s all re-runs or death, doom and disaster anyway.
  • Focus on getting out and getting active. If you can’t get away, explore your city or town like a tourist. Try something you’ve never tried before. After all, life begins at the edge of your comfort zone…

Are the excuses bubbling up in your head? I’m too busy, I have too much on, I want to use this time to catch up on everything, my kids might need me urgently, I can’t…

The truth is, when we die, our inbox will still be full. Isn’t it time to take these few days to switch off and really live?

If this challenge makes you break out in a cold sweat, start small and build up to it, just like you would if you were learning to run. Apparently it takes two weeks to form a habit. So practice switching off this silly season, and you may just be taking some great habits into 2012…

Multi-tasking – are you becoming a human tornado?


Give up multi-tasking. and get back your focus...

Sometimes I feel a bit like a human tornado – and I’m sure you do too. These days, we seem to equate busy-ness with being a success (if you’re busy, you must successful, right?). And we are busy – taking multi-tasking to a whole new level.  

Some researchers think women are better at multi-tasking than men. Perhaps. One thing is clear from the research – women are better at planning and strategy. Men tend to jump straight in. ABC Science talks about this and we tell you how you can join the experiment later.

But one thing at a time… The truth is, we all really, really suck at multi-tasking – we just don’t realise it. It might feel like we’re getting so much done, but I’ll bet you have a sneaking suspicion you could be more productive.

That email notification that just flicked up in the corner of your screen… it’s going to take you about 30 seconds to re-focus. The twitter feeder? Forget it. You’re just not concentrating on the task at hand – and you’re going to get stressed because you’ll miss your deadline. The phone calls and drop-ins at the office? Yes, they’re important but they’re also stealing your focus.

Fine, but what do we do about it? The first thing is to recognise that you’re multi-tasking. Then you need to start to exercise your ‘focus’ muscles (see our 50-minute focus post). You can block out times to do project work and have a goal. For example, to finish reviewing and commenting on that report, then send it back to the author. Tick!

You’ll be surprised how much you get done when you do one thing at a time.

You could also try being ‘disconnected’ for a set period each day (or at least for one day a weekend). If turning off email, twitter, facebook, your mobile or other social media makes you shudder like a junkie turning up to rehab, you really do need to do it.

When you do, you’ll be surprised how it clears your mind and eases your stress (once you make it through withdrawal). Maybe it’s time for a little retro-connecting – for private lives and catching up over coffee.

Before you go, find out what ABC Science says about our ability to multi-task – or not. And while you’re there, why not test yourself and join the experiment. University of Queensland scientists want to know what makes a good multi-tasker – plus you’ll find out how good you are at multi-tasking.

Take the test …but disconnect from those nagging bells and beeps first. Just for 30 minutes. 

Going forward… and other mumbo jumbo

Guess the occupation of the person who said this: “It set the platform going forward for the remainder of the…”

No, it wasn’t our PM, any other politician, or some corporate bod. It was a footy player, covered in mud and sweat and gasping for air.  

Clearly mumbo-jumbo is catching. What’s wrong with saying: “It set us up for the rest of the game”? You’ve got to worry when weasel words hit the footy field.

So leave platforms for bus and train stations, or for standing on to clean the windows of multi-storey buildings (among other things). Use remainders when you’re talking about left over stuff you’re selling off cheaply (or other valid uses).

And for the love of … language (and sanity), forget any phrase involving going forward. For a start, it’s superfluous because it’s clear you’re not talking about going backward. It’s also perfectly fine to talk about the future. Even if the Mayan Calendar runs out next year, most of us are confident we have a ‘future’, so it’s okay to mention the f-word. Or am I just an eternal optimist?

Ditto for forward planning, unless you usually backward plan and you need to make the difference clear.

Let’s all relax – mean what we say, say what we mean, and lose the mumbo-jumbo. Because simple language doesn’t mean you are simple. It means you’re quite clever actually.

It also means people’s eyes won’t glaze over before they work out whether you’re talking about the footy game or fiscal policy.

Dropping the Oxford comma

According to this GalleyCat blog post, the Oxford comma has been officially dropped by Oxford University. I’ve used it for years, argued its case with unbelievers, and now it’s been read its last rites.

But what is this comma so many people have never heard of, and certainly won’t mourn? It’s the comma that takes the confusion out of lists within a sentence.

GalleyCat quotes the Oxford PR style guide to explain:  “‘As a general rule, …write ‘a, b and c’ not ‘a, b, and c’. But when a comma would assist in the meaning of the sentence or helps to resolve ambiguity, it can be used – especially where one of the items in the list is already joined by ‘and’ [for example]:  They had a choice between croissants, bacon and eggs, and muesli.’”

Personally, I like the Oxford comma. But its loss is part of our evolving language, and it does eliminate the need to explain that part of my editing process. So it can’t be all bad…can it?

The Upside of Failure

There's an upside to failureMost of us learned our lessons well as children. Failure = bad, useless, stupid. The clear pathway to success was NOT to fail.

We learned to fear failure, to avoid failure at all costs – and even to deny that we’d failed, by blaming someone or something outside of ourselves.

But some of the world’s greatest success stories were built on failure.

Stephen King threw his Carrie manuscript away because he was tired of being rejected. Luckily his wife fished it out of the garbage bin.

Henry Ford, who crashed out many times before tasting success, said: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, only this time more intelligently”.

Richard Branson is no stranger to failure either. He believes being unafraid of failure is one of the most important qualities of a champion – in any field.

So you’ve challenged yourself, and fallen short? Here’s the upside of failure:

  • You had the guts to try
  • You’ll know that burying your head in the sand just gets your butt kicked (well, it’s a clear target, isn’t it?)
  • You won’t wait around for a miracle
  • You’ll recognise your mistakes and find ways to recover from them
  • You’ll hire good help, and collaborate with people you trust
  • You’ll be more determined to succeed next time – in fact, next time you’ll plan to succeed 
  • You’ll begin to lose your fear of failure – because you WILL survive, no matter how bad it feels at the time
  • You’ll find out that you’re stronger than you ever imagined
  • And you’ll keep aiming higher, because you’ll get a taste for rising to challenges.

A Newsweek photo series caption puts it best: “If at first you don’t succeed… you’re in good company.” 

Finally, from my most favourite speech by Theodore Roosevelt in 1910: If you fail, at least you will fail “while daring greatly. So that your place will never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory, nor defeat”.

So if you haven’t challenged yourself lately, be inspired. Dare to fail.


Stop press! New dragonfly website takes off

Brisbane copywriting, editing and communicationI’m very excited to (at last) be launching our new-look dragonfly website. I’d love you to visit and let me know what you think. http://dragonflyink.com.au.

It’s an interesting exercise to completely change the look and feel of a website you’re happy with. I made the choice because I wanted content management capability, and there were also technical issues messing with my SEO (search engine optimisation).

But I’ve had it parked for a whole year while I’ve been flat out with work – and, I’ll admit, procrastinating (just a bit). I’ve finally put it out there and I feel so much better – and not just because it was one more thing ticked off my to-do list.

It’s a bit like buying a new car. You loved the old one, but the new one just goes better.

So I’m well aware of how daunting it is to create a brand new website or update an old one – no matter what size organisation you are. It’s something that ends up in the too-hard basket. It sits on our to-do list, sticking its tongue out at us, daring us to ‘just do it’.

My advice to you is if you need help, get it. With the words, the structure, the SEO, getting the URL, the right service provider. Most importantly, decide who your audience is and why they’re coming to your website – and give them what they want.

Not only will you feel better about getting it done – but you’ll reap the benefits of an effective business tool. Trust me, you’ll wonder why you kept putting it off…