Do you remember everything you learned in school?
I swear I had the best short term memory; I could cram tons of information in my head and pour it all out for my tests. But ask me today if I remember any of it? The capital of New Hampshire or the square root of pi? Not a chance.
Since the kids are going back to school this month, it’s a good opportunity for us older folks to brush up on some of those basics we learned a long time ago. And I’ve got three rules of good communication we all need to know.
There are a ton of reasons why good communication skills are still just as important as they were in the fourth grade. And good writing skills matter even more. As a professional, you’ll get nowhere if you confuse your clients, your colleagues and your boss with muddled, incoherent thinking. You’ve got many goals at stake here: selling more products, advancing professionally, and ultimately making more money.
So with a nod and a wink to all the teachers of our past, here we go.
Rule 1: Be Clear
This is known in writing as, “Show, don’t tell.”
If you’re describing the world’s second largest ball of string as being 1,200 feet long, tell your reader it’s the same as placing four football fields back to back. People can picture four football fields a lot easier than 1200 feet, and that picture will get people to nod their heads in understanding.
You also need to know precisely what you want to say.
Every time you make a point, ask yourself, “Which means…?” I guarantee, you’ll dig a little deeper and you’ll be more precise with that point you’re making.
Say you want to send a message to your email list announcing new store hours; you’re now open until 8pm on weeknights. Which means…? Your customers can come in after work or even after dinner. Which means…? They can slow down and relax – no need to rush. Which means…? You care about your customers and want to make their lives easier.
See how we’ve just dug down to a deeper, clearer and more memorable message?
Rule 2: Be Brief
Shorten things wherever you can. A great example is the word “that”; you can almost always delete “that” without changing the meaning of a sentence.
Long paragraphs are hard to read, so break them up into shorter ones.
And say things directly. For example, rather than, “We are going to be opening the store at 6am”, say “We will open the store at 6am.” That’s so much better.
I often play a little game with myself. When I finish writing something, I’ll check the word count and imagine I have to cut it by 30%. Try it – it’s amazing the words you don’t really need. In fact, because you’ll have scrutinized every word, the final product will be more tightly written and therefore better.
Rule 3: Be Bold
I hate wimpy writing. If you’re going to make a point, do it wholeheartedly!
Qualifiers like “very,” “pretty much,” or “a little bit” water down your writing. Take a stand. Don’t be “a little bit angry.” Be “furious!” And don’t be redundant. You’re either impressed or not impressed, but saying you’re “very impressed” is just silly.
Likewise, be wary of adjectives and adverbs. These are red flags that you are being repetitive (i.e., why bother saying “yellow daffodil”) or that you are using weak words (i.e., “The baby was crying loudly,” instead of the more vivid “The baby screamed.”)
Become good friends with your thesaurus. I use mine almost daily.
In the end, it’s really just a matter of thinking things through and remembering the 3 Bs. Be clear, be brief, and be bold…and you’ll be able to communicate anything, anywhere. Good luck!