We live in an age of information overload where every day we are inundated with emails, social media feeds, text messages and web content.
The challenge for businesses is how to cut through this flood of information when you have something important to communicate to your clients or employees.
Follow these seven steps to make sure your communication is clear, concise and gets results.
1. What is the purpose?
What are you trying to achieve? Are you simply providing information or do you want the recipient to action something?
Try to put your purpose in one sentence so that you are clear about what you are trying to communicate. For example, your one sentence overview could be: “To advise our clients of our 50% introductory offer, this month, on our XYZ service.”
You won’t necessarily use that sentence in the communication however it will help you to focus on why you are communicating.
2. Who are you targetting?
Once you identify who you are writing for, ask the following questions:
- Why is this important to this group of people? In the above example, the advantage to your clients is that if they want to try your new service they can do so at half price.
- What is the appropriate language for the audience? How would you normally address this group of people? For example, you may use more casual language with your employees than your clients.
3. Use plain English
No matter who you are communicating with, keep the language simple and easy to read.
You may think that using big words will make you sound intelligent and authoritative. However, your reader will not be impressed if they need to wade through information that is difficult to comprehend. No-one wants to keep referring to a dictionary when reading through any correspondence.
Likewise do not use acronyms or industry jargon unless your readers are familiar with the terminology. If in doubt, don’t use them.
4. Inverted pyramid writing style
The inverted pyramid style is used in newspapers and refers to the way information is structured. The most important messages are at the beginning and the remaining information is in order of diminishing importance.
The idea is that people won’t necessarily read it word-for-word so if the important information is at the top they will know whether they want to read further or, if they do stop reading, they will have received the key information.
5. The five Ws and one H
The other journalistic tool that is helpful when using the inverted pyramid is to consider the Who, What, Why, When, Where and How questions.
Using the example of a new service being offered at an introductory rate, the first sentence could be:
“We are pleased to announce the introduction of our XYZ service which we are offering to our existing Australian clients at a half-price introductory rate until 31 August.”
This sentence answers four of the six questions – who (clients), what (new service), when (until 31 August) and where (Australia).
You don’t need to answer all six in the first paragraph as this could result in a long and confusing first sentence. However, try to answer the remaining questions as early on in the piece as practical.
In the example above you could include the answer to the why and how questions in subsequent paragraphs.
There may not be an answer to some of these questions. For example, if location isn’t important then the ‘where’ question will be irrelevant. The important thing is to ask these questions to make sure you have included all the key information.
6. Formatting is important
We know that not everyone will read the content word for word so the layout is important.
The use of subheadings will give those readers who are skimming the copy some signposts they need to understand the content of the overall message and to hone in on areas of particular interest.
Putting text into a bulleted list is another way to order information into a logical and easy-to-read format. Some of the advantages include:
- improving readability
- grouping information into a format that is easier to digest
- breaking up a large chunk of copy.
7. Tone of voice
The tone of voice you use in your written communications will depend on your audience. For example, you may have a more conversational and informal style when communicating with staff, and a more formal approach when writing to clients.
Even if you take a more formal approach when writing to clients, it’s important that your writing is engaging.
A dry, impersonal piece of writing is boring for the reader and therefore more likely to go into the ‘trash’ folder.
Consider how you speak and ask would you speak the way you have written. If unsure, read it out and consider rewording sentences or phrases that sound unnatural when spoken.
Next time you’re faced with a blank screen puzzling over how to communicate an important message, work through these seven steps. No-one expects you to be the Shakespeare of the business world – they simply want to understand what you have to say.