AB Thinks  →  20th May 2016

It doesn’t take a genius

“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself,” said Albert Einstein.

While it doesn’t take a quantum physicist to see the benefits of simple, concise communication, when it comes to explaining important, and often complex, business messages, the basics can often be overlooked.

A client recently told me how they’d briefed a freelance journalist to write an article explaining a difficult concept in 700 words for an external audience.

“They hit the brief,” they said. “But by the time it was signed off by the risk team and other stakeholders it was 3,500 words long – and finally published six months later.”

Lots of internal communicators will, I’m sure, find this scenario all too familiar. For, however we might like to express something, the version that’s approved for publication can often be vastly different.

Often this is because of multiple stakeholder sign-offs, audience sensitivities (real or perceived) or opposing views on the purpose of a story.

And yet, despite these difficulties, everyone involved usually wants the same thing – clear communication.

So what does that entail? Novelist George Orwell, known for his lucid prose and a champion of concise and effective writing, asked himself the following questions when writing:

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What words will express it?
  • What idiom or image will make it clearer?
  • Is that image fresh enough to have an effect?
  • Can I make it shorter?
  • Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

To help our clients learn about or renew their passion for the craft of writing, we’ve hosted a series of plain speaking workshops over the past few weeks.

In these sessions, we’ve explored with them the journalistic skills that give authority, clarity, personality and feeling to our words.

We’ve had them thinking about their audience, writing attention grabbing headlines and shorter sentences, focusing on factual content, concise language and putting quotes from their people at the heart of their stories.

We might not have turned them into Orwells or communication Einsteins, but they’ve all left with a spring in their step and a determination to put these fundamental skills into practice.

In the world of internal communications, the simplicity really is where the genius lies.

To find out how a plain speaking workshop can benefit your team, email amy.hegarty@abcomm.co.uk.