Too often, our message gets cluttered. We bury the most important information or fail to convey the proper message to our target audience. Perhaps it makes sense in our own heads what we want to say but, by the time we put pen to paper or begin to speak, it just isn’t adding up.
Another way that we clutter is through laziness or vagueness in our messaging. Things can get jargony when we’re in the professional world. We become comfortable within our niche and rely on the words and phrases so often used in our circles. Sometimes, we want to say something super profound — but fall flat on our faces. PR people are notorious for using buzzy language that says a whole lot of very little. We’ll “ping” the reporter, “circle back” with our client or “touch base” tomorrow. Buzziness isn’t a sin when it’s used in informal conversation with peers or talking about scheduling matters. But, things can get dicey when buzzwords become a cruch in our core messaging.
Here’s one that comes to mind: “Company X is revolutionizing [insert industry].” (Full disclosure: if you went back to press releases I’ve contributed to, I’m sure you’d find at least a few “revolutionary” endeavors). But, come on. Let’s be serious: A revolution is monumental. Unless your company is rewriting history or ending injustices, the term revolutionary may be, you know, a bit of an overreach. At the very least, save revolutionary for a pioneering product. The first iPhone = pretty revolutionary. A new deep-dish pizza place opening in Chicago? Could be delicious, but not really revolutionary.
Whether we clutter by burying our most important point toward the end of our message or clutter through low-impact terminology, the consequences can be real. We risk wading in a pool of mediocrity or, worse, not being taken seriously by the very audiences we’re trying to persuade.
Look, I’m no saint when it comes to this. Defining a message takes a whole lot of time and energy. It takes effort coupled with the experience of knowing when something isn’t going to work. And, it takes an attention to detail and an eye toward perfection. Trial and error play a part in it. Humbling oneself is important as well. Be open to advice and don’t be afraid to hear what others have to say.
Here are some basic tips to begin decluttering your communications. This is by no means meant to be a catch-all; it is simply a place to start.
Once you’ve prepared your statements or written what you’re going to say, re-read the entire thing. Out loud. Does it make sense to you?
Next, put yourself in the shoes of your target audience. Perhaps you’ve created personas of customers if you’re writing copy as a business. Or, perhaps you are literally writing an email to a colleague. In that case, think of her reading this content. Does that target persona or the person you’re actually writing to understand this? Really step outside of yourself on this one. It’s imperative.
Now, onto cleansing your writing of buzzwords. Perhaps you want to create a list of buzzwords you tend to cling to too often. Take, as an example, this list LinkedIn put together of words to avoid on your resume. Words on this list include: Expert, strategic, creative, passionate, specialized. I’m sure we have all used these words before. But, continuing in this example, instead of labeling yourself a “passionate creative with expertise in marketing” perhaps you’re a “15-year B2B marketing leader one-step ahead of the next social channel.”
You’ve read it out aloud, put yourself in someone else’s shoes to read your writing and deleted dead words from your article. Now, read it once more. And think of someone you really look up to, who has a clear voice and always has a grasp of what they want to say. If you shared it with them, would they be impressed? If the answer is no, think about what you can add, subtract or revise to make it an event better piece. If the answer is yes, then you’ve made it to the clutter-less zone.
The clutter-less zone isn’t void of clutter. I mean, we’re not all Ernest Hemingway. But, the clutter-less zone has a lot less clutter in it. It is in this zone where you deliver written and oral work that you can be proud of and that can move the needle for your organization.
It is in this zone where IhavesomethingIwanttotalkabout becomes I have something I want to talk about. And people listen.