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When you make every word count, you make it work

Author: Ron Kellow

Aside from meetings, my days are spent writing – mostly promotional pieces targeted to healthcare professionals. It’s a good kind of “selling” as I’m informing physicians about something that may help their patients. So, making every word count is critically important.

1. Less says more

When was the last time you read an advertisement and thought, “That’s it? I really wish there was a lot more!”? Probably never. That’s because when you’re sent any type of promotional communication – especially in written form like a letter, email, or direct mail – it’s asking two things from you: your time and attention. And those are two things you closely guard during your busy day.

Sadly, most emails and other communications today are about three times the length they truly need to be. They’re packed with unnecessary information designed to make the author sound knowledgeable and esteemed. But instead of impressing, most come off sounding lofty and unfriendly. Pieces that are too wordy ask too much from their readers. This leads to one of two things: confusion – or people simply giving up and not reading anything beyond the first paragraph (maybe). Both are fails.

By eliminating extraneous information, writing in an active voice that’s open and friendly, and using bold subheads (like I’m doing here), your reader will be able to simply “glance and get it.” This way, you’ll quickly and easily communicate your main message. While making every word count and staying focused on the main message isn’t easy, if you discipline yourself as go your piece will be much more effective.

2. Keep your voice consistent

Imagine if your company attorney writes a letter to a customer. Or a person from Compliance sends an email to a new client. Or an R&D professional drafts an article for an internal newsletter. The problem? One sounds too superior. The other, far too complex. And the third has too much technical jargon. And this happens all the time. While it’s important to be informative, it’s also critical to be consistent and clear in the voice you use across channels – especially with your most important audience: your customers. After all, they are the ones who may be visiting your booth at trade shows, reading news about your product online, or calling your customer support number when they have a question or concern.

No matter how large and globally expansive it becomes, your company is still a brand. One brand that requires one voice. From servicing support calls to monthly e-newsletters, your brand must promise a consistent experience. Maintaining this experience takes understanding and skill.

3. Make it sound real

Years ago, I worked in the mortgage marketing department for a large global bank and one of our top executives came to visit us from our headquarters in Manhattan. At the time, he oversaw the entire mortgage banking universe within our company. And it was a very, very big universe. For an hour, he shared detailed updates on our business, foreseeable trends, and his optimistic outlook for home equity loans. But what really amazed me wasn’t only his content, it was that everyone in the 100-person auditorium completely understood everything he said. Every word. He resisted using terms such as “matrix organizations” and “economies of scale” – complex jargon that others use to make what they’re saying sound more important. Nor was he “dumbing anything down” for the masses. By simply being clear and concise, he accomplished an even bigger goal: effectively communicating to everyone. He impressed me with his disciplined use of everyday words. He impressed me with his clarity.

To be a great communicator means being a great translator. It involves taking complex information, completely understanding it, and choosing words that communicate it to your audience – one that you should know very well. When this doesn’t happen, people will walk away confused – or they will simply walk away.

Writing isn’t difficult. Everyone does it. Taking an extra minute or so to refine and focus will make all the difference when you want to motivate, educate, or persuade your entire audience.

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