1. Become a storyteller
In the 1990s, Volvo found itself with excess inventory of green cars. People just didn’t want them. So the Sales and Marketing departments came up with all sorts of great deals just for green Volvos—and they started selling. Finally.
Problem is, no one in Sales or Marketing told the rest of the organization what they were up to. So when the Manufacturing and Planning teams saw green Volvos suddenly flying out the door, they took it as a sign of the color’s new popularity. And they ramped up production of green cars!
Now, consider how much more likely you are to remember that story than you’d remember if I simply wrote, "Increase communication across departments to improve organizational effectiveness."
Stories engage our emotions. They motivate us. They make us laugh. They make us remember. They even make us want to tell others.
The best way to communicate an important point or insight is to put it into story form. If you want your written documents and presentations to compel your staff, colleagues or other constituents to take action, become a great storyteller.
2. Triple-check your work
Here’s an unintentionally funny slogan from a company that sold data about computer chips: "If you find a component in our database, it probably doesn’t exist."
There are two things missing here:
- A properly placed "don’t" or "can’t."
When you’re finished writing, put your document away for a while—at least a day, if possible—and then review it slowly. Better yet, have someone else proof it for you.
Spend more time than you think is necessary to review any written work before sending it out to the world. It’s always better to overdo your proofreading.
3. Single-task your writing
A friend recently told me a near-horror story about an email he almost sent to an administrator at the City University of New York. As he was wrapping up his email draft, his phone rang. So while on the call, my friend typed his subject line, "Attn: CUNY admin."
At least, that’s what he meant to type.
He was ready to hit "Send" when his call ended, and my friend luckily had a chance to give his draft a quick review. Turns out, he missed the Y key in CUNY and instead typed another letter.
Writing is a single-task activity. Study after study has shown that multi-tasking is a myth. Our brains can be devoted to only so many mental tasks at once. Try singing a song while adding a couple of two-digit numbers in your head. Or better yet, notice how someone turns down the car stereo when looking for an address.
When you’re multi-tasking, you’re likely doing many things badly at the same time. Because writing in particular requires so much brainpower, it’s safe to say that almost any distraction while you’re writing can derail the whole process. So when it’s time to write, write.
Oh, and don’t ever hit "Send" on an email while you’re on the phone.