I recently saw an article stating we haven't made many, if any, major gains in the battle against jargon over the past 25 years. There was proof from all the big players in many sectors. I agree we have a big challenge ahead, but I also feel we can win the fight with a strategic approach that proves the benefits of plain language.
Three ways to win the battle for plain language
1. Show and tell
Build a diary or archive of bad examples made great with plain language writing, editing and design. A picture of plain language results can clearly show someone how to effectively use clear language and readable designs to really connect with clients.
Work closely with your designers, for print, visual and online products, to ensure they understand the techniques of clear design. We too often focus on the written components and forget about the creative.
Back up your claims with benefits.
Create a diverse team of clear communication champions. Identify client, staff or organizational opportunities to improve your communications and decrease time spent fixing problems. Be very open-minded about the membership. Solutions can come from anyone, anywhere. Someone not in a communications role may have excellent ideas, be a great problem-solver, and have unique insights. Plain language is most successful when multiple disciplines have a commitment.
3. Be in it for the long term
Plain language is a bit like starting a new exercise program. It can hurt at first. But, once you make the commitment, you start to see the benefits. You have to make a long term commitment to see the biggest gains.
Show and tell, teamwork and a long term commitment together can help you put, keep and enhance plain language on your organization's agenda. You can expect to meet resistance. You can expect to have lots of chats explaining the process. And, you can win people over by selling the benefits.
Plain language professionals and marketers know the importance of connecting with audiences in messages they can relate to. But, how do you present those messages in the most meaningful way? You tell a story. The is the marketing focus of the future. It is here to stay. So, how do you adapt your style?
Why is storytelling important?
Echostories.com points to marketing leader Michael Brenner, Newscred, saying storytelling would be the future's number one way to connect with clients. Readers and writers are noting the need to speak directly to people, and connect with them about their interests. This is a cultural change away from delivering the "I want you to buy my goods now, because our stuff is great.' message. It has to be turned around to say: 'You love holidays. Where ever you go, good luggage can make the difference. Let us help you have a smooth, secure journey.' There isn't an 'I', 'my', 'our' in the second examples. Many may find this a hard habit to break. But, the checklist to successful story writing are straightforward.
Storytelling six-point checklist
The first rule is to let your clients lead the way: it's there story, not yours. That's a tough one. But, once you've done it a few times, and had their responses, you'll see its strengths. The second rule is that it that the focus should be on benefits —60% of what you write! Most importantly your story needs:
1. context—reader relevant angle
2. curiosity factor—gets their attention
3. characters—readers relate to
4. conversational style—talk with them, not at them
5. conflict and resolution—problem-solution; question-answer; before-after
6. conclusion that calls for action—set a challenge.
Plain language storytelling
Plain language is all about connecting with your audience. Writing in words they understand. In Business2Community blog on storytelling, 'crisp' is identified as a key writing trait. Is your writing crisp? clear? concise? These are all important factors in plain language ad connecting with readers. And, that's what this story is all about.
TED Talks on storytelling - great stories about storytelling
PlainLanguageAcademy.com - online courses
Excerpt from Successfully Integrating Plain Language — How Literacy, Essential Skills, Communications and Training Professionals Use Plain Language Panel
Presented at PLAIN2013 Conference, Vancouver, BC
See full presentation and others from PLAIN2013 at SlideShare.net/plain2013conf
By Kate Harrison Whiteside, Key Advice
Panel Chair and Presenter
I can confidently say we have 'come a long way' in the field of plain language over the last 20 years. But, we need to take plain language to the next level. It is at a pivotal point and with the global energy from this Conference, I hope to see it gain even more power through integration.
Plain language is gaining strength as it builds partnerships:
· across sectors,
· across government levels,
· across the globe.
Plain language often gets hidden in the complex function that is communications – especially in today's
· changing and
· challenging technological environment.
We have made great strides – it is recognized, organizations are asking how do I do it (not what is it).
· How do we keep this exciting momentum going?
· How do we make sure plain language is built into all agendas?
· How do we promote the power of plain language – and get heard?
The answer is simple – integration.
Amanda Lang - The Power of Why: Simple Questions that Lead to Success.
I was quite inspired by Canadian CBC business correspondent Amanda Lang's book: The Power of Why: Simple Questions that Lead to Success.
Lang says innovation is all about making small, but important, changes that improve existing things – it's not about being an inventor.
Lang also goes on to say innovation is really about common sense.
I'm seeing plain language here.
Richard Branson, Virgin
My entrepreneurial hero, Virgin's, Richard Brandson, has broken down many business barriers, and achieved huge success.
In a recent column he wrote in Canadian Business Magazine on the dire state of today's organinizational mission statements, Richard pleads with writers to create a simple, say it once, 'motto' – instead of a mantra.
He challenges his readers to try the Twitter 140 character rule when writing a mission statement!
Only plain language can help you achieve such greatness!
Plain language advocates are embracing social media to connect and share ideas and success stories – and discuss best practices in the best way possible – online.
Cheryl's LinkedIn Plain Language Advocates members and PLAIN's Forum members are busy sharing and questioning. Hash tag 'plain language' in Twitter. This is not idle chitchat. These are professionals sharing ideas, moving plain langauge forward, sharing best practice, integrating it with social media platforms for global impact.
Three Keys to Success
Over the last two decades I have worked on variety of plain language projects.
· a pan-European educational website
· a newspaper advert explaining property taxes
· a provincial driver's handbook
· a municipality strategic plan.
These projects all had plain language practices in common. And, as I grew with plain language, three keys to success kept re-surfacing:
The three keys are:
1. always work with a cross-organizational team – strength in numbers
2. include a training component – share the wealth
3. encourage investment in user testing – user feedback speaks volumes.
Combine these three strategies – and you will find integration – and your project – are more successful.
Panel speakers: Cindy Messaros, AWES; Terri Peters, tlp consulting; Diana Twiss, Decoda Literacy Solutions. Read what people had to say on the PLAIN2013 blog.
Participation is the key trend theme for 2013 according to trendwatching.com. People - clients, consumers, colleagues - are now pro-active in social media, technology and want to be leaders, not followers. Businesses of all sizes need to integrate inclusion into their marketing strategies. Here are some things to consider.
People are taking control. Trendwatching calls them 'custowners' and 'presumers'. This growing segment wants to be at the front of the pack. Do you have a place for them?
If you are in the global marketplace, watch out. The children of the emerging markets are growing up - and catering to their own needs (good, services). Is this a boost or a backlash to your bottom line?
The mobile market is going myopic. 'Mobilists' want to use their phones for everything. And they want it now. But data protection issues will continue to make headlines. How do you meet both scenarios?
Branding together - producers and consumers - will go on a new, strengthened journey of sustainability. And transparency is going to be the top corporate goal. Find out what your public want.
Participation is expanding, exploding and exploring new avenues. Find out which trends will be most important for you to research, adapt to and show leadership in. Trendwatching.com's Top 10 Trends for 2013.
Kate Harrison Whiteside has over 25 years experience in plain language, writing and editing, training and consulting.