Pitch (im)perfect revisited

I wrote the blog post below four years ago, after a particularly harrowing experience doing a pitch in a workshop. I didn’t realise how this affected me until this week, when I did some public speaking for the first time since then.

I wasn’t particularly nervous about getting up, just wanted to avoid putting myself out there at all costs. But it was for a close friend and colleague, so up I got and it was actually fun! Most importantly, the next day I realised I was free again. So don’t let yourself be bumped off your path. Or if you are, get back onto it, then put your hands in the air, Rocky-style, and say… I’m back!

What happens when you put yourself – and your ‘baby’ (non-fiction book idea, fiction manuscript, idea for a tv series or screenplay, whatever it is) – out there, and not only does your pitch fail, but you get the distinct impression you should really crawl back in your hole and stay there? It happened to me this week – and, not surprisingly for a sensitive creative type (read neurotic!), it really knocked me around.

All the crappy things in your head come up – things about self-worth, past failures (somehow your successes diminish at a rapid rate) and whether you should give up now, because rejection really hurts (ouch!).

So, after a quiet meltdown, I realised some ‘deconstruction’ was needed! I’d written a blog recently: The Upside of Failure, so I decided to take my own advice. And I know my writerly readers out there will relate to this, because we have to risk exposure and rejection in order to reach for that elusive publication dream. Here’s the lessons I took out of my failure:

  1. Hold things lightly. Don’t wrap up your entire self worth with the outcome. Because it may just be that you don’t appeal to that person’s area of interest or taste.
  2. Take risks – but take the risks that involve reaching for your dream, not the risks that are about things you don’t care enough about, don’t really want to do, and aren’t worth wasting your precious energy on (like thinking you need to go for a particular job to be seen as successful, even if you know you’d absolutely hate it!)
  3. Before you give up – work out whether you’re just going through a dip (so it’s worth sticking at it) or whether you’re actually on the wrong track and headed for a dead end (Seth Godin’s The Dip is a must read…)
  4. Work on the things you can change, but hang onto the things that are essential to who you are (aka authentically you). Don’t changeyou to fit anyone’s mould or idea of success.
  5. Take lessons from failures, then let them go (the failures, not the lessons)
  6. Last but not least: stop doing what what you do (paint, write, create) just to get a result (like publication or money). Create from the heart. Do it because you love to do it and it’s vital to your wellbeing. Love the process, and you are already a success… the money and recognition will be a (nice) bonus.

And remember, some people are just plain rude. Their ignorance is a reflection on them, not you. If all else fails, crank up Alanis Morrissette’s I see right through you and sing your heart out. You’re not the first one to feel these things, and you won’t be the last. It’s what you do with how you feel that matters.

So power up your dreams and go for it… I know I am.

This was originally posted on the art of moi in October 2011

 

 

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.

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…

What’s not to like? Our evolving language

We dragonflies are busy tech-editing  engineering reports at the moment. We often come across words that have been made up, but are completely entrenched in engineering-speak. 

Then there are those made-up or misused words that make us smile – like incentivizing something, or disabling as in ‘disabling the operator from opening it’ (which sounds a lot like a safety moment to me!).

So where do we draw the line when it comes to inventing words?

Think about YouTube, Facebook, and other social networking tools. These have evolved from nouns into verbs, as in:

  • why don’t I youtube it
  • let’s google her
  • I’ll skype you
  • you can facebook me

Then there are phrases like ‘make it a priority’ that has become prioritize, or ‘taking action’ that, with a prefix slipped in, has become proactive and means anticipating and taking charge of expected situations.

Of course, there are those who take the linguistic high ground, and say ‘it’s just not cricket’. But where did language come from?

If we’d stuck hard and fast to the past, we’d still be grunting on about the latest antelope kill, or waxing lyrical in the flowery prose of our English ancestors.

Language evolves. For example, new words and acronyms are constantly being added to the Oxford English Dictionary — like this year’s selection, which includes hashtag, unfriend, carbon offsetting, TTYL (talk to you later) and LBD (little black dress), among others. Meanwhile, old words take on new meaning, like tweet – or cougar.

So where do we draw the line in creating language? When the words defeat their purpose – communication. 

If you don’t want to be understood, speak ‘in fine print’ – that is, laced with a good dose of jargon and deliberately designed to obscure meaning.

Language, after all, is about being understood. Using the language your audience is familiar with will create connections and understanding.

All I can say is… what’s not to like? TTYL.

What does your communication style say about you?

I was working with a new client the other day, and I have to say, it was a delight. This client had a very strong sense of who he was and what his business was about. And he wanted his written communication to reflect that.

He had the vital ingredient when it comes to communication style: authenticity.

So instead of creating a hazy document, muddied with corporate-speak, we were able to put together a clear, simple document that said what he wanted to say and in a way he would say it himself.

He was willing to take a risk, be a little different – be real. I call it a WYSIWYG approach. What You See Is What You Get.

The term is used to describe computing systems that display the text as it will appear in the final output, rather than in code (e.g. HTML).

I use it to describe a piece of writing that clearly conveys the ‘personality’ or ‘voice’ of the person or organisation it is about – no secret codes, no BS. You know what you’re getting.

That’s authentic – and it’s good for business. Your clients and customers can feel comfortable knowing that you mean what you say – and the language and style you use is consistent with who you are. It inspires confidence.

Does the style or ‘voice’ of your content – in websites, reports, and marketing material – reflect who you and your organisation really are? Is your communication authentic?

This is the second in our series of posts about branding. You might also like to read: Is the ‘face’ of your business sending the right message?

All that jazz…outsourcing writing jobs with confidence

buzz-saxSome time ago, I was asked to jazz up an existing short profile for a client’s upcoming television appearance.

Imagine my surprise when a pile of clippings, notes and pages as thick as a best seller arrived in the post. What my client wanted wasn’t editing, it was content creation.

Yes, I delivered the va-voom, but it highlights how important it is that we are all, um, reading from the same page (did I really say that?). So what’s the difference?

Proofreading is really a quality control exercise. We make sure all amendments have been included, the document is complete (lines or words haven’t ‘dropped off’ the page, etc), links work, there are no spelling or punctuation errors, the document conforms with the client’s style guide, the index is correct, and page, line and word breaks are suitable.

Copy editing focuses on style and consistency. We make sure the meaning is clear and correct grammar, punctuation and spelling are used. We check for consistency, such as capitalisation and numbering.

For online work, we check links, pop-ups, and metadata, and make sure files download or open properly, with ‘user-friendly’ speed.

Full editing, referred to as substantative editing, involves all of the above, with the added task of reviewing structure, language, style and clarity or usability. A full edit focuses on making a document easy to read and consistent.

Content creation is a term our Dragonfly team uses to describe developing content from information we’ve gathered or our client has supplied.

Content creation can involve all or a mixture of writing styles including storytelling (narrative), information or explanation (expository), and influencing behaviour or opinion (persuasive).

Content creation involves, in varying degrees, the following process:

  • Briefing, including establishing audience, message, and method of delivery
  • Gathering and reviewing information, often including conducting interviews
  • Brainstorming ideas and developing concepts or themes
  • Developing text through various draft/approval phases
  • Delivering final edited content, often including design suggestions

So next time you’re thinking about outsourcing your writing or editing work, you can relax because you’ll know what you’re asking for – and what to expect. I could say something here about us all singing from the same… but, no. I think it’s home-time.

cheers

the dragonfly