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Speaking and Writing to Be Understood

It has often been said
there’s so much to be read,
you never can cram
all those words in your head.

So the writer who breeds
more words than he needs
is making a chore
for the reader who reads.

That’s why my belief is
the briefer the brief is,
the greater the sigh
of the reader’s relief is.

And that’s why your books
have such power and strength.
You publish with shorth!
(Shorth is better than length.)

Dr. Seuss

 

Some of my clients, super-intelligent financial experts, scientists and business leaders believe that they must talk in the highly sophisticated language of their field to be respected as experts.

Many also feel that they must give longer, more complicated answers so that people have a deeper understanding of their ideas and, again, recognize that they are indeed experts. They say they don’t want to “dumb it down” by talking more simply.

None of these ideas is true. Today people are so overwhelmed with information and activity that being clear and simple in your talking and writing will give you greater influence and respect.

Whether your communication goal is influencing, informing, educating or entertaining people, you’ll be more successful if you seek to be understood.

And this doesn’t just apply to experts in their field. It applies to all of us. People are not paying attention anymore. We get an estimated 5,000 marketing messages a day, not including your email, texts, news, Facebook and other social media.

That’s why all of us need to:

Use clear, direct language

Speaking and writing in clear language is more understandable, authentic and approachable. People are put off by jargon they don’t understand. It stops us cold.

When their attention diverts, people don’t hear what you say or write anymore. If they are present at all, they are just hearing you say, “blah, blah, blah.”

Use fewer words, not more

I have clients who complain that no one reads anymore. Emails, reports, white papers that took a ton of time to create often go unread.

That’s because, with our short attention spans, people are intimidated by long reports and even emails. Give them a summary, so at least you’ll have them engaged with your basic ideas.

If you hook them in the beginning, you might find that they go deeper or ask you questions. You have to engage them. As I wrote in July, today less is more.

Use short, simple sentences

The average newspaper in the U.S. is written for a sixth-grade reading level comprehension; blockbuster novels are written for seventh-grade reading level; while the Wall Street Journal is closer to the ninth-grade level.

I learned to write more crisply and directly in high school and in college journalism. The reason you find short, crisp sentences and paragraphs in news writing is to capture and keep people’s attention.

Studies show that our attention and comprehension decline after 30 words in a paragraph. That’s about the length of the previous paragraph. ;-)

Be conversational

Some of the feedback I get from readers is that they feel as if I’m talking directly to them. I think this is a great compliment because my mission is to help people communicate more effectively. That won’t happen if you don’t understand what I’m writing.

My goal is to have a conversation with you about topics that matter and give advice you can take action on right away. Part of the reason this might sound conversational is that I dictate much of my writing into Microsoft Word, as I am doing right now.

Test your communication

You can ask people if you’re communicating clearly, or you can run experiments. Start sending short emails on just one topic. Stay higher level when you talk about a complicated topic. See if people are more engaged, as a result.

You can test the readability of your writing here. Just click the “Try it Now” button, which gives you free access to the tool anytime. You simply paste in your text, and it will be thoroughly analyzed for being readable and conversational.

For instance, the article you are reading gets an “A” for readability; it reads at a 7.1-grade level; 68.4 reading ease (100 is best); 13.6 words per sentence. The tool gives a complete statistic breakdown on every aspect of your writing. This is my first time using this tool, and I’m very impressed. Check it out!

The primary basis of this tool is called the Flesch-Kincaid grading system, originally commissioned by the U.S. Military to write more clear and useful manuals. Dr. Rudolf Flesch’s most famous book, published in 1955, is called Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It. That book inspired Dr. Seuss to write The Cat in the Hat in 1957.

Although it may seem easier to write in simple sentences and paragraphs, it’s not. You have to put in more effort and be willing to revise until it’s ready to go. As Mark Twain famously said, “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

If you want to engage people, your best bet is to use clear, simple, direct and authentic communication.

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Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash