I have lots of conversations with people at work about using plain English. It seems as though everyone thinks it’s a good idea, but people are less sure how to go about it, and even more importantly, how to get other people to use plain English instead of ‘government speak’. I work in a government organisation, so we see plenty of examples of long wordy documents filled with jargon and buzzwords.
It’s worthwhile thinking about why people don’t use plain English. Apart from people wanting to hide their true purpose, many people think that they need to write in a stuffy convoluted way in order to sound ‘professional’. This is far from true. Being professional is about being clear and writing clearly can be hard work.
As Woody Guthrie said… “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make something simple.”
So next time you start writing something, think about how you make yourself as clear as possible. If you’re writing an important document or email, get someone else to read it before you send it. Be open to feedback about how you can improve your writing and practice as much as you can.
Michael Martine from Remarkablogger runs a business aimed at helping people create and improve their business blogs. I like his attitude and his work. I was looking at his site recently and I noticed that he had created a presentation called ‘how to turn your about page into a secret freelance sales weapon’. You can take a look at it here. As you will see, it’s not a bad presentation, but it’s a fairly uninspiring, so I thought it would make a good case study.
Here are a few things to think about:
Your presentations are an important part of your overall brand.
It struck me that the presentation wasn’t really branded in any clear way. I would develop slides (or preferably a template) with a colour palette that matched or complemented the colours on my website. The standard issue PowerPoint template that’s been used is uninspiring and clearly indicates that it was a rush job.
Use your slides to promote and advertise your business.
They are as important as your e-books, your newsletter or any other assets and should be given the same amount of time and effort. They’ll often have a long shelf life so it’s worth making them look as good as you can.
Use illustrations whenever and wherever you can.
In the slide below, Michael talks about the importance of your ‘about’ page, and should be illustrating his points using his own site as an example.
Reduce the amount of text on your slides.
In the makeover below, I’ve tried to pick out the key points and reduce some of the clutter. I should mention that there is an audio track with the presentation, so the text on the slides only needs to contain the key points. Reducing the amount of text on the slides will reduce cognitive load and make it easier for your audience to absorb the information.
You’ll also notice that I’ve emphasised ‘about’ by changing the font and the font colour. It’s important to let your audience know straight away what the slide is about.
Here’s another version with the bullet points separated from the image. This may appeal to you more as its a little cleaner.
Provide examples from other sources.
Michael could have used his own page (which is kind of a mixed bag as it contains a fairly lengthy manifesto), or he could have used some of the really great examples on the web. Here’s just one…
In summary, you should endeavour to:
1. Brand your slides so that they are part of your overall package.
2. Use your presentations as a way to promote your business.
3. Use illustrations and examples as much as possible.
4. Reduce the amount of clutter and minimise the text.