Try to imagine any logical scenario that could have led to this sign.
And while you’re at it, here’s my best guess:
Marketer 1: Team, congratulations. Our new marketing firm is finally becoming a reality. Now we just need to get the word out to find some clients. Any ideas?
Marketer 2: How about radio ads?
Marketer 3: We could advertise online. And maybe hire a public relations firm?
Marketer 1: All good ideas, but no. I was thinking we’d find a dirty patch of road, write our message on a small piece of cardboard, and jam it into the ground.
Marketer 3: I like it. But we’ll want to make sure the sign is surrounded by garbage, right?
Marketer 2: Of course.
Marketer 1: Goes without saying.
Imagine going to all the trouble and expense to start a company — a marketing company, no less — and then trying to find new business by typing your phone number onto a thick piece of paper, taping it to a wooden stick, and pounding that stick into the dirt on a busy street.
And yet we’ve all been guilty, to some degree, of this sort of substance-presentation mismatch. No, not in such spectacularly idiotic fashion as the “advertising” sign above, which — among many other failings — is posted so close to the ground that only an Oompa Loompa would see it.
But how many times have you read an email from a colleague that was serious, intelligent and thoughtful — but written without any capitalization or punctuation?
How many times have you tried to read a work-related email, but couldn’t — because it was on a colored background that made the text almost invisible?
How many times have you seen a PowerPoint presentation that made strong points and was well-organized — but used different fonts, colors and text layouts on every slide?
How many memos or reports have you read at work that were clearly thought out, well-argued and even interesting to read — but overloaded with a distracting array of fonts and colors and underlines and italics? Or, worse, with no text enhancement at all — no bolding for the title, no bullets or numbers to clarify lists?
And how many times have you gotten an email request from a colleague to complete a task immediately — a task requiring real time and effort — just before the end of your workday?
In cases like these, wouldn’t you have appreciated the author spending a little more time on how, where and when they presented their message?
Focusing on presentation isn’t superficial – it’s thoughtful.
I’m not suggesting you devote your energy to making your documents beautiful. My advice is just the opposite. You’ve already done the hard work of crafting your message, telling and perfecting your story. Don’t undermine all of that work now with a shoddy or misplaced (or badly timed) presentation. Spend time on your documents’ presentation so that the presentation itself disappears into the background, and your reader can focus instead on the substance.
Example: If you’re writing a report, put the title at the top of the first page, centered, bold, large type. Give each new section a subhead, a little larger than the body text, maybe underlined. This sort of visual enhancement doesn’t call attention to itself, doesn’t distract your readers, but simply helps them visually grasp the document’s flow.
Another example: If you want to enlist a colleague to help you on a project, give him plenty of warning — maybe send the request a week in advance if you think it’ll take him a couple of hours. He might not even consciously realize you thought enough about his time to give him many days’ notice. But he’s more likely to be able and willing to help you than if you send the same request three hours before you need the task completed — and simply riddle your message with, “So sorry. So, So sorry. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your help!”
Yes, presentation always plays an important role in communicating your ideas — even if that role is only to be invisible.