Looking forward to some time off this summer? While you’re relaxing at the beach or enjoying an early start to the weekend with Summer Fridays, make time to sharpen your skills. Each of these books listed below will help you become a more effective communicator and leader.
Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, Jennifer Brown
This book could not be more timely. Every successful business must ensure that all employees experience a welcoming work environment where they can perform at their best and are challenged to grow. Jennifer shares best practices and business cases that inclusion is an opportunity to make your business better. Share the book with peers at your business and start a conversation.
Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to your Biggest Challenges, Amy Cuddy
You may know Amy from her viral TED Talk where she contends that adopting a power pose, like Wonder Woman, can actually make feel more confident. Her book expands on this premise with practical tips for anyone who has to pitch themselves or their ideas. If you think of a witty retort after the moment passes, this book is for you.
Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Great Presentations, Nancy Duarte
Raise your hand if you’ve sat through presentations that include 50+ slides. For years I wrapped this book up as a holiday gift to clients, hoping they would read it and realize you don’t have to put paragraphs on slides. Nancy Duarte has carved out a unique niche as a presentation expert. If that doesn’t seem very exciting, consider that within corporations, presentations are the most used channel for delivering information. This book will help you strategize the story, content, and flow to impact and influence your audience.
Sell with a Story, Paul Smith
We can all agree that storytelling is a powerful communications tool. But it takes practice to create stories that instruct, inspire and ignite action. Smith provides fascinating examples on you can take even the most technical, data-driven content and fashion a memorable story.
The first week after the holidays is always painful. So here’s something to lift your spirits. Our first bit of advice for 2018 is from the master essayist Emerson who has deeply influenced leaders, thinkers and communicators for more than 100 years. Tuck this away for when you need some inspiration.
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.”
Successful leaders know that effective communications are a competitive advantage. As you begin 2017, make a resolution to evaluate the health of your employee communications. Are business goals and actions aligned? Do employees understand priorities and do they have a way to participate and share ideas?
Everyone talks about the importance of communications, but it’s just lip service without an actionable plan. Here are four ways to commit to better communications in 2017.
1) Map out your communications calendar right now—Begin with a “Welcome to 2017” message. Schedule dates for the entire year now to ensure it remains a priority. Keep the content fresh with a mix of performance results, customer and employee stories, and encouragement. We all need more of that.
2) Articulate the vision— If a customer asks an employee what your business was about, what would they say? Everyone on your team should use the same headline. When people can connect their work to big goals, they are more engaged. Leaders who communicate the vision and values, then put those values into action, see performance climb.
3) Use stories to make an impact—Think back to the most recent story that struck a chord with you. Was it complicated or overstuffed with facts? Simple stories make an emotional connection with the audience and hold their attention. Use your own experiences to make a point. I recently heard the president of a large hospitality group say that he makes time for fitness daily because “We only get one set of parts and I want mine to last.” That’s memorable and tells me something interesting about him. Leaders who share a little of themselves in communications are viewed as credible and human.
4) Get visual—Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text. If you rely on email as your primary form of communication, know that there is a better way. In 2016, there were 4.6 billion cell phone users in the world and most phones have video or photo capability. Your team members are viewing or creating visual media every day. Use photos and video as frequently as you use memos. Video is an excellent way to improve message retention, connect with remote workers, and engage senior leadership with teams. The best part is you don’t have to have a large budget or be an on-camera pro. If you’re sincere, it will be memorable.
That will get you started. Need some help in communications planning for 2017? Get in touch.
Before you craft your next message, take a look at these and enjoy.
“When you are telling stories, have a point. It makes it much more interesting for the listener.” Planes, Trains and Automobiles, 1987
“Don’t use seven words when four will do.” Oceans Eleven, 2001
“Learning to listen, that takes a lot of discipline.” Forever Strong, 2008
“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking.” Wizard of Oz, 1939
“Avoid using the word very because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he’s exhausted. He’s not very sad, he’s morose. Language was invented for one reason, to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will never do.” Dead Poet’s Society, 1997
“The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark. It’s written in ink.” The Social Network, 2010
“Whoever tells the best story, wins.” Amistad, 1997
“You must write your first draft with your heart. You rewrite with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.” Finding Forester, 2000
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” To Kill a Mockingbird, 1962
Everybody has to sell a little. You’re selling them this idea of you, you know, you’re sort of saying trust me, I’m, um, credible.” Broadcast News, 1987
There’s also the story about how Faulkner walked into the writing class he was supposed to be teaching at the University of Mississippi and asked everyone who wanted to learn to write to raise their hands. He said, “Go home and write,” then turned around and walked out the door.
Maybe that attitude works for geniuses like Faulkner, but for the rest of us, generating leads through content marketing or explaining a new incentive or benefit plan to employees, some guidelines for keeping writing simple, clear and effective would be helpful.
The good news: there’s a lot of information out there about how to write well. The bad news: see the previous sentence. So whom do you trust for writing advice? People who know. For the brief list of “rules” below, I’ve combined overlapping advice from Hemingway, Orwell, and Strunk and White from their The Elements of Style (remember that from college English?)
It seems to me that the basics of good writing are as applicable to an employee benefits brochure as they are to a novel or short story. Great writers connect with their audiences and convey their meaning as simply as possible.
So here goes:
1) Use the simplest language possible:
Leave out unnecessary words.
When common, ordinary words will do the job, don’t use fancy ones. (That includes jargon.)
When possible, keep sentences and paragraphs short.
2) Write vigorously:
Use active instead of passive voice when possible.
Choose powerful verbs over weak ones like forms of “to be.”
Let nouns and verbs carry your meaning. Avoid decorating your prose with adverbs and adjectives unless they add depth and weight to your message.
3) Be positive, not negative: say what something is, not what it is not. For example, say, “The procedure will be relatively comfortable,” instead of “pain-free.” Your audience will unconsciously focus on the most potent word in the sentence, which is “pain” and the rest will lose power.
4) Have a design for what you’re going to say. Most of the time for business communications, that’s an outline or a communications plan. Know your audience, your purpose, and the value of what you have to say for that audience before outlining your key points.
5) Revise, revise, revise.
Fortunately, most of us aren’t required to write even one page of masterpiece, but the writing we do is no less important. Effective writing can impact employee morale and the company’s bottom line. At Insight Strategic Communications, we offer deep experience in internal communications and can help you with everything from your communications planning to execution. Call us and let’s talk about how we can help you. Contact Maureen at firstname.lastname@example.org Ben at email@example.com.