Write to engage and keep people’s attention – so many people do the opposite!
Think about how you write? Think about how you think about other people as you write – if you think about other people as you write?
It’s one of the easiest things to do – just quickly type or write what you ‘think’ needs to be said and give a ‘shoot from your fingertip’ response and assume that the other person/s will work it out. Well they may – and they may also get confused, upset, hurt or just ignore your message.
As successful professionals, everyday we’re writing – emails / promotional material / website updates / reports / executive summaries / slides / letters.
I’ve noticed something which really jumps out and it’s something you can easily take notice of as you write. People think that because they’re writing something it has to be written in a more formal, often ‘wooden’ style just because it’s in writing. Well it does – and it doesn’t.
Context is everything – most of the things we send out day-to-day can be written in a style closer to how you speak. Now you may speak in a “To Whom It May Concern” and “Notwithstanding the aforementioned” kind-of way. Well good luck if you do. I also understand that we still need to be respectful and make sure all the ‘meaty’ information is in there.
Most of the time, if you write letters, emails, website and marketing documents in this style then you’ve lost the reader at ‘Hello – or, if that’s your style, then you’ve lost them at “To Whom It May Concern”. You’d lose me, that’s for sure.
Something happens when someone starts to write, that often sends them in to using ‘you are’ instead of ‘you’re” and ‘we’re’ becomes ‘we are’ – it becomes more formal and less compelling because of it. Also, the crucial connecting words of you, your, our, suddenly turn into me, my, I, us and ‘we’. The readers feel excluded or talked-down-to or bored (or all three!)
I put it to you, if you can hold a conversation, if you can get your point across as you speak, chat – then you can write in the same way, there’s a style you have that’s yours and that’s how you can write. It is far more compelling to your reader than all the ‘stuffy’ stuff.
How can you do this easily? Here’s how:
The great investor Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway is renowned (apart from his billions of dollars) for putting together Annual Reports for his company investors which are easy to read and easy to understand.
There has to be formal layout in certain sections but in the parts where he tells the reader about developments, he writes as if he’s speaking to his sisters. He says they’re intelligent but are no experts in finance or accounting – “I don’t need to be Shakespeare; I must, though, have a sincere desire to inform.”
- Who can you use in your head to speak to as you write? A client you know well, a friend of yours who’s interested in what you do, your partner or sibling? Just write it out as if you were chatting to them so you get it out of your head, then you can tweak and adjust to make sure you’ve got your point across. The key is to get it out of your head in a conversational way first
- Think about what you’d want to read and the way you’d like to read it as if you were on the receiving end – what’s the difference?
- Watch out for too many I, me, my – notice how you can flip them and make them your, you, you’re, our. It’s far more engaging to read and it helps you get into that crucial groove of thinking about the other person and what it is they want. Less about you, more about them.
Notice how you’re drawn in to certain people’s writing or companies’ websites and the effects they have on you; writing more like you speak and less like a competitor for the Formal Writing Trials is a skill. A skill which will mean more people read and connect with what you write and, the crucial bit, respond to you and what you want. Write on.