I never read introductions to top 10 lists, do you? Let’s just dive straight in. Here are my top tips for sharp, successful communication.
1. Own your own story
Do not let anyone else have your voice, tell your story or represent you or your brand. If there is an elephant in the room, saddle it up and take it for a ride. Tell the truth or someone else will tell it for you. Nuff said.
2. Every word should fight to be there
In fact, delete every word and make each and every word audition to get back in. Attention spans are on the decline as people adapt to very small packs of information thanks to social media. So ditch all superfluous words and use the space you gain for images and pull quotes which is all anyone reads anyway.
3. Don’t “we” all over your copy
You might think it’s all about you but I am here to break it to you that successful communication never is. The copy you write or the story you speak should focus on your customers, your donors, your stakeholders. It should focus on their needs and their experience rather than on your company, your product or your cause.
In the charity sector it should never be “we deliver these programs” it should be, “you can be part of life-changing work”. In product marketing it should never be “this product is ace because” but rather “your life will rock because…”
4. Acronyms are the death of meaning
Unless you can come up with a snappy acronym that makes a word that actually means something, never fall into the lazy trap of using acronyms for your organisation or products. If you have a ridiculously long name to deal with I would suggest you picked the wrong name. Government departments are the worst suckers of all!
5. Drop jargon once and for all
Ditch institutional language from your vocabulary. It is boring and it will not achieve good results. The not-for-profit sector is famous for this. Charities and governments use institutional language like “program delivery” when what they actually do is teach school kids or give health care. Use generous conversational words like “give” instead of report writing words like “provide”. I met a woman in a bar in San Diego recently and when I asked her what her story was, she gave me the biggest vomit of jargon I have ever heard. I said, “So essentially you take crap charities and help them be less crap?”
“Er, yeah, that’s pretty much what we do,” she said. Drop the jargon and speak like a human for much better results.
6. Don’t overuse punctation
Author Elmore Leonard once said, you only get two or three exclamation marks every 100,000 words, so use them wisely. I’ve always said to my team that every time you use an exclamation mark, a puppy dies. Exclamations should only be used for hysteria, never humour. Leonard’s exclamation mark advice is part of a cracking top 10 tips article he published in the New York Times.
When writing short form copy for things like posters there should be almost no punctuation. I call it fly poo. Get rid of all unnecessary fly poo.
7. Be authentic
Especially on social media platforms, content should remain conversational. If it starts to sound like writing, rewrite. Sentence length should reflect conversational sentence length. The second your copy does not sound like words you would actually say, your audience zones out or moves on. Consumers have very well honed sales schmooze detectors. If your communication starts sounding like a brochure (even if it is a brochure) you have wasted the opportunity to hold the attention of your audience. Start again.
8. Be bold
This story by Juliette Saly published on Women’s Agenda referencing Jane Caro inspired me to create one of the most successful Facebook posts I had authored to date. The general gist of the article was that people try so hard to be politically correct that they end losing all punch to their communication. To be edgy and bold is a risk but a risk that really pays off when you hit the mark. Nothing ruins bold thinking like a committee of party poopers. If you can scoot around the fun police and run with bold concepts and ideas you will be much more successful with your communication. Easier said than done.
9. Be different
If you are in the not-for-profit sector, don’t do what all not-for-profits do. I was the CEO of a vagina charity for three years. We funded the treatment of women who had catastrophic childbirth injuries. No one expected us to be funny. So we were funny and irreverent and we paid out on our 91 year old founder and ourselves. We had a light hearted brand personality which was refreshing, unexpected and very very successful. Be different, no matter what sector you are in.
10. Have fun
It has to be fun or you and your team will die of boredom. The process of developing ideas should be fun and inclusive. The creating of communication and the consuming of it by your market should never be a chore.
I love the Who Gives a Crap gang for so many reasons. If I were giving out awards for great communication, I would give a big fat gong to the Who Gives a Crap team. As a consumer I have fun just reading the packaging on their loo paper.
That’s it from me. I’m off to have fun.