A way with words

As a student at Boston University, there was a robust communications program where I could immerse myself. One of the more intriguing classes was Journalism 101. It may sound simple, but some of the basic lessons were challenging…and, as it turns out, quite lasting.

Say it, fast and foremost

An early exercise in that BU Journalism class was the most significant. We had to whittle down details of a (not real) news item - reporting on a house fire. There was a lot of info given, some possibilities of how it started, quotes from the owners and neighbors, a fireman’s interview and more. Also, we had to lead with the pertinent info, so the headline and first paragraph were all one had to read to get the story. It wasn’t easy to glean the most important facts and leave the rest behind. But, we did it! Whew.

Say it better

Then! The professor said to cut the story in half, while keeping the details in tact. Whoa. This was actually tough (but doable). Lesson learned: you can say it without being long-winded, without losing meaning and, importantly, without losing your audience. This was years ago, before websites and social media came into the fold. The theory still remains true and may be even more insightful today: keep it simple, lead with the core message and be really clear.

Is it like mud or fine crystal?

So many times I’ve experienced a website or promotional piece and, even after reading a few times, I’m still not sure what the business offers. What do they do exactly? Who runs it? Tell me again!? I recently came across a site for a financial advisor who, unfortunately, did not put their best foot forward. It was not so much the lackluster design, it really was more that it just didn’t explain exactly what was being offered. There were semi-expensive packages to choose from, with little to no explanation as to what you were buying. What exactly will be reviewed and provided? Most critical was no information on the owner. A photo and bio goes a very long way to setting the stage and being transparent on who you are - especially in a field of such importance. To make things even muddier, there was an odd “shop” on the site where some very quirky collectibles were being sold. But with no description as to what these were or why they were on a professional financial advisor site, it was just too puzzling.

Be a poet (or at least be creative)!

Now that you’re ready to clearly communicate your business and who you are, how are you going to say it? You don’t have to actually be a poet or use overly flowery language, but adding a little oomph to your text makes it that much more interesting and relatable. Wordsmith matters. Say it succinctly and with care - and like the earlier college “news” story, yes, less is more. Side note, it’s always a good idea to state where you’re located on your website or in any promo materials. If you don’t want to share your address, no problem. Saying something like “based in Cambridge and serving the Greater Boston area” at least orients folks as to where you are. Otherwise, it just feels dodgy.

Remember, your communications are for your prospects (not you!)

It’s a delicate balance and a time to look objectively at your efforts. Speak to your audience, not to yourself. Too many websites, for example, jump right in and assume we know what it’s all about. You don’t want to over simplify your messaging, but you do need to introduce viewers to your business or organization as if it’s the first time they’re visiting (again, see above example). If they already know you, then they’ll tour around your site for more details or go directly to the page they need. And your well-written, well-crafted and well-designed website (or material) is exactly where you’d like them to be.

(published 2022)