During college, I always knew the school year was winding down thanks to the gaggle of seniors lined up outside my dorm room door. A dazzling resume was the first step to them landing choice jobs after graduation and rumor had it I could help.
One after another, they’d shuffle in and ask me to improve the drafts they’d printed on linen paper. All of them echoed the same refrain: “I’m horrible at this!”
Truth was, some of them truly were horrible at it, but it took years to dawn on me that communicating well is a vital life skill — one that I should have taught to my collegiate colleagues instead of letting them lounge in my bean bag chair while I worked.
Decades later, I still hear, “I’m horrible at this!” Twice just this morning, in fact. The reality is, being a poor communicator was less of a problem in 2001 than it is today. On top of resumes, we build social media profiles and compose posts, send dozens of emails, text at all hours, and coordinate our professional lives through Slack. Competent communication has morphed from nice-but-not-necessary into an expected part of daily life.
So, in the spirit of graduation season and better communication, here’s what I should have told those college seniors all those years ago:
Start with the Musts
Before you begin fleshing out full sentences or dream up a catchy line, type the details you can’t afford to leave out. A date, a time, the location, a project description, an attachment — this is the required information you’ll look silly for forgetting, so get it down first. Basic and simple will do here.
Get to the Point
Story arcs that build toward a climax and descend into a happy resolution work well in books and on the big screen; however, professionals can simply state their point and follow it with vital details as needed. Giving your readers what they’re skimming for as quickly as possible increases your communication’s effectiveness.
Your client doesn’t need to know every type of card stock on the market or the minutiae of your rigorous seven-point testing process; they just need to know about the two most relevant to their project. Don’t make your reader wade through an abundance of details to find the most relevant information. You’ll do it for them when you only include what’s most pertinent.
We know it’s tempting to skip a reread; however, a second pass is always worth it. While scouring for obvious errors, also be attuned to missing words. In the digital age, we’re master skim readers to the point that our minds automatically fill in blanks.
Hunt for phrases or sentences that clutter up your writing and cut them. “Here are the proofs you requested” is cleaner than “Per our discussion on Thursday afternoon, I’m sending along the proofs you asked me to update for you.” Cutting back can become a fun and addicting game. (Yes, really.) For an even better challenge, add contrast to your writing.
Tread Lightly on Humor
Levity is always welcome. However, without eye contact and body language to play off of, be cautious about using humor in written communications. That said, do let your personality shine through. Just make sure it’s appropriate to your audience.
Communicating well is worth the effort. You’ll rarely post or email a masterpiece, but you can always be clear, concise, and easily understood.
Need help with your communication? Contact the expert team at Matt Jensen Marketing!