19 November 2020
I was at a conference a while back – it was an in-person event, which dates this story terribly – and the speaker was explaining how to be a good client-facing professional.
He had two flip charts, and on one he wrote ‘friends’ and the other he wrote ‘professionals’, and had us call out attributes for each. After five minutes the ‘professional’ list included words such as ‘expert’, ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘diligent’, whereas the ‘friends’ list contained words such as ‘fun’, ‘likeable’ and ‘genuine’. Which was great, until he asked us which of the two lists would be the person we each would prefer to spend time with, and we realised that the professionals we had described sounded, well, quite dull. They would be the type you’d choose to avoid if you could. Personality is what matters in a people business, and it’s best if you have one.
The same is true for your communications. Yes, I know the topics in the world of corporate benefits can be technical, detailed and weighty, but that’s no excuse for letting that be the tone of your communications. The truth is that the more engaging a communication, the more likely people are to give it more of their attention, to read it to the end, to remember it, and to read the next communication on that topic. Those are goals worth shooting for.
But how do you achieve that? Well, hire a professional. Or alternatively…
- Establish a tone of voice
You want your communications to be more human, but which human? It’s up to you to decide. Write down the attributes of the personality you think will work for your audience and you’re half way to making sure the content you draft will hit the mark. If this is a little esoteric as a concept, compare two retail brands – some are confident and strong almost to the point of aggressiveness (motorbike, sport or car brands) whereas others are cheeky and fun (most confectionary, drinks or perfumes). Or consider the Government’s public information campaign on the pandemic – they chose actor Mark Strong to be the voice. Why? And who would be the voice of your benefits campaign?
- Mind your language
Written communication is one of the most amazing things that humans have invented, and the English language is one of the very, very best, so play with it like it’s a new toy. Vary the length of your sentences. Why not throw in a rhetorical question? Or you can list things in threes. The words that we use to communicate are tools we use every day and we tend to use the same ones. Spend some time thinking about how to construct the communication so it sings and stirs, rather than weeps and moans. Tell stories, use anecdotes and add quotations.
- The media can help the message
Today there are many more ways to get your message across than we’ve ever had. If you’ve decided on the tone of your communications, give some thought to the media that works best. Generally, using many sorts of media will be more effective no matter the tone. However if you want to be more human, then use a media which allows this to come through more strongly – and that will be different for every organisation, so give some thought to what works best. But here’s a clue – it’s generally not email.
- Readers prefer pictures
So many communications are just the words on a different medium. Need to tell people something? Put some words on an intranet article. Send a letter. Or better yet, put a selection of the words on some PowerPoint and use that in presentations. Or perhaps not. Include a picture, a diagram, a photo of someone relevant – even if it’s just the author.
- Use people in your communications
Every communication you’ll be sending will have an impact on people – otherwise, why are you sending it? You can use this to help bring your communications to life by including the people in the story. Hearing that Tracey in accounts really enjoyed using the new wellness app is much more powerful than listing what the app does.
A last point - having a personality doesn’t mean your communications will become flippant or dumbed-down. And even tough messages can be given using the same voice that you’ve devised for your more positive stories. Think about the characteristics that are important to your audience and create communications which reflect those.