If I told a group of corporate attorneys that the wording in their NDA needed more storytelling, or a team in finance that their announcement of the quarter’s financial results had third-act problems, I’d be laughed out of the room.
That’s because they have advanced degrees and we have faith in their expertise. Their work conforms to recognized standards, and they know the risks if they diverge from it. They’re the gatekeepers, and from the perspective of their profession, they look out for the company’s best interests.
When I say that the field of communications has expertise as well, you rationally understand me. But part of you isn’t feeling it.
That’s because everyone communicates. With the clothes you choose for a meeting to your body language once you’re there, everyone communicates. From the emails you write to the things you choose to say – or not to say – everyone communicates.
Which may be why the Department of Communications sounds to outsiders like the Department of Breathing.
It’s true that everyone breathes (until they don’t).
But what a yogi or scuba instructor can do with the act of breathing
is far beyond what most of us will ever know.
So let me put this plainly. Communicators have studied linguistics, cognitive psychology, rhetoric, and languages. We’ve gauged audience reactions to the spoken and written word, and we know what to look for in the moment of delivery so that we don’t miss out on evaluating the impact.
For decades we paid attention to what sold magazines, what piqued the interest of reporters and their readers, which parts led to follow-up questions. We know what kind of speeches command attention and what kind induce sleep. In the digital era, we’ve taken measurement to another level. We’ve examined heat maps, learned to interpret click behavior, likes, shares and comments. We’ve taken on SEO, studied what kinds of photos and graphics get results, we’ve learned what catches eyes and where the points of emphasis should be for both close readers and skimmers. We’ve studied the kind of content that inspires action, and what kind people bounce away from.
When it comes to your presentation or announcement or web page or (cough) newsletter, know that our qualifying questions aren’t for our amusement and that our recommendations aren’t just trendy choices that suit our taste. We’re looking to deliver the results you’ve asked for. We’re looking out for your audience and the best interests of the company.
So when it’s getting down to the details of phrasing and what the lead is, it would be a big help if you would focus more on the outcome you want to achieve and less about the wording you want to have.