When I was studying my English and History degree, I felt like writing in a ‘plain’ way wasn’t the goal. I needed to use interesting, unusual words and embrace all the grammar conventions there were to portray my story.
Then I studied journalism, and ultimately found my career in communications. This is when I truly learnt the value of plain language (but I also still love the beauty of writing in other forums).
Get your message across
Plain language or plain English is a style of writing and communication that makes sure your readers can easily what is being said, the first time.
Plain language allows people to concentrate on the message instead of being distracted by complicated language. It is clear and direct. We saw a lot of this during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Did you know…
· The average reading age of New Zealander’s is at a level of around 12 years-old
· Only 16% of New Zealand adults are considered to have high literacy levels
· People may be unfamiliar with the subject matter and related jargon
· English might not be your reader's first language
Plain language helps people:
· Find what they need
· Understand what they find
· Use what they find to meet their needs.
If you use plain language you'll:
· Get your message across in the shortest time possible
· Communicate with more people because your message will be easy to understand
Content adapted and sourced from digital.govt.nz
For every news story you read, the journalist has taken what is known as an 'angle'. You'll often see this in the story's headline and the first few paragraphs. It's the interesting bit they've chosen to focus on, to hook you in to reading the story.
You might also see if referred to as 'click-bait' online. While it can appear as a bit of trickery, it's actually what drives people to read content and I'm sure you'll agree that is it very effective.
I'm passionate about helping people and businesses discover and deliver to their key audiences, a unique story angle. Everyone has one, if not dozens, of unique angles. As a former journalist, I'm trained to help you find your story's unique angle, tell it in an engaging way, and then deliver it your audience (potential customers) effectively.
Do you know the saying “it’s not what you say, but how you say it”? The tone of your customer communications is really important.
You might like to think about what tone you use in your writing or communications similar to how you’d think about decorating a room. Take a bedroom for example – you know that you’ll have a bed, some drawers, perhaps a bedside table and a lamp. How you choose to decorate the room around it will set the tone. The carpet, duvet and pillows, floor coverings, paint colour and the accessories you choose, will work together to give that room a particular look and feel. If you’re decorating a room for a teenage boy into skating, you’ll make different choices than if you’re decorating a bedroom for a 50-year married couple.
The same goes with choosing the tone for your communications. Who you’re writing for and how you want them to feel about your communication is hugely influenced by tone.
Tone is sum of the words we choose to use. It’s our sentence structures, the use of contractions or the use of jargon. Tone also includes whether we choose to use a passive voice (A scathing review was written by the critic) or an active voice (the critic wrote a scathing review), and who the communication is coming from (I, we, our, the organisation). The greetings we use play a part too. (Hello, Hi there, Hey guys...) as does the rhythm of our words, which is created by punctuation and sentence length.
While the tone used in your writing is a personal choice, be wary of using capitalised or bold words in a sentence. They may not be well received since they convey an authoritarian tone and appear to be ‘yelling’ at the reader. A single use of either these can disrupt and potentially negatively impact the message that you’re trying to share. To make the point, think of a room that you’ve been in where there’s a colour used or an item of furniture that stands out — but for all the wrong reasons.
What’s a wiifm?
A critical part of communicating is to make it clear to your audience what’s in it for them. It’s just as important to make sure this message is clear, as it is to explain the reason ‘why’ you’re doing something.
We’ve seen the importance of landing the ‘what’s in it for me?’ (or the ‘wiifm’) message increasingly during the Government’s Covid-19 vaccination drive. The ‘why’ is pretty clear — but what we’re hearing now are the wiifms. That is, by getting vaccinated the wiifm is being able to enjoy a kiwi summer, the end of harsh lockdowns, a way to protect our loved ones, and ultimately a return to some sort of normality.
As fortunate as I am to be based in Wellington and now fully vaccinated, a traditional kiwi summer with my Auckland-based family, who I know I'll be protecting, is a wiifm that speaks strongly to me.
Whether you’re selling a concept, a product or a service, nailing your audience’s wiifm is so important to help share your message
If you're deciding on content or writing in a silo then chances are you're not going to get the story, or the impact that you and your business is after.
A brainstorming session is a key to unlock endless content possibilities.
Even if you work as a writer and a communicator for a living like me, there is nothing more eye-opening then coming together with a group of people in a business and brainstorming. It creates the chance for everyone to think about what stories we could tell, would like to tell and really importantly, what stories do our customers what to know about?
A writer's skill is being able to interview well, build a connection with the interviewee, sniff out a great angle and craft content that enjoyable to read - and crucially, supports your business goals. Reaching that point shouldn't be done in a silo. Bringing together a group of people from across the business for even a short brainstorm has immense benefits.
The magic happens when a group of people get together in a room with a license to throw out ideas. People bounce of each other, naturally develop content ideas and identify any risks. The different personalities in the room ask the right questions (and the questions customers are likely to ask).
As a writer I get to harness that magic playing out, identify angles and talent for stories that I never would have alone.
American Journalist, Christopher Morley said, "There is only one rule for being good talker - learn to listen".
I like this quote.
I know my family will say "there's room for improvement on the home front, Claire". Yet, professionally I try to listen more than I talk. Over my career I've listened for different purposes, but here's three:
1. As a journalist and a writer, I listen to uncover the good story I know is waiting to be told.
2. As a change communicator I listen to better understand peoples' concerns, misconceptions, and what's important to them.
3. As a PR/communications' professional I listen intently to understand all aspects of the business or initiative I'm supporting, so that my advice truly meets their needs.
In the spirit of listening, please share in the comments section your experiences of a business or service where someone has really listened.
In the PR and communications' world, people-focused stories and 'story-telling' have been the buzz words for a long while. I don't think this mantra is going away - and nor should it.
Sharing a personal story whether it’s yours or a client’s holds a weight that not much else can compare to. We instinctively seek out shared experiences, or 'real life' stories to in effort to connect.
In recent times, it's why social media influencers are being held accountable for untruths or false representation. We’re after authenticity.
On a personal level, how much weight do you put on a restaurant, movie, or travel reviews? The answer in this digital age, is likely quite a lot.
As a business or an organisation, the vast digital landscape might feel uncontrollable. After all, anyone can have an opinion and publish something these days.
Where PR and communications can come in, is harnessing your clients' positive experience with your business, and sharing it in a way that is true to your brand or business - and it's honest.
We're in a world now where client goodwill, offered in the form of the agreement to provide a personal story, is hugely valuable. Audiences and future clients recognise and value this. I mean, it's easy to quickly give a five-star rating, it's slightly less easy to provide good written feedback. If a client goes out of the way at your request, to put their experience forward, be interviewed, photographed and their image and experience shared widely, to enhance your business or organisation, then you're winning.
If you don't ask, you don't get. PR and communications can do that person's faith in your business, justice - and you get the benefits from it that your work deserves.