Strategic marketing communications executive Leticia Mooney, of Brutal Pixie, answers a question she commonly receives from the professionals she works with.
One question I was asked recently by an executive was: How could she could help her technically competent team to write engagingly for their internal, stakeholder audience?
On the surface, it sounds like a training question: How can we train our people to exhibit this skill. Yes, you do need to train skills, but what you don’t need to train is writing skills. The answer to the question is more about human behaviour and sales skills.
It’s a more difficult question to answer. Happily, the solution is very simple. It is: Learn about them. In order for your team members to write content that inspires action, they need to reverse-engineer the idea. It’s not a question about production, but reception. It isn’t, ‘how can they engage the audience’, but actually ‘what is it that the audience finds engaging’?
For an internal team like this, the fastest way to gain that understanding is to go and have coffee with them. Spend time talking to them, to find out what they are trying to achieve. What problems are they trying to solve? How can your team help them? When you understand your audience’s needs, goals and desires, you can then write material that talks to those attributes.
To solve this problem, you don’t need any special skills. You (and they) already have them. They are: Empathy, listening skills, and curiosity. You may know yourself that when time is short, deadlines are tight, and you have requirements to meet, this kind of research feels like unimportant fluff.
And yet, when our key communicators don’t get this interactive time, they end up writing for themselves and for their superiors. This means that they are thinking about themselves, their own goals, and their own immediate outcomes. When they write, they are not thinking about benefits to the audience, but about themselves. Shifting this view is critical if they are going to engage others.
First, let your team go and have coffee with your stakeholders. Get them to find out what your stakeholders are trying to achieve. What problems do they have? How can your team help?
Second, ask your team to keep good records. Get them to keep data about what these stakeholders love, hate, or need, and what would make their lives easier. Keep the records in a shared, central location, and make sure everyone contributes regularly about what they learn. This way you will be better able to spot patterns in audience attributes (and, eventually, what was or was not engaging for them).
Third, make the activities of observation, recording, and analysis part of your team’s conversation. When you bring the practice of observation into your weekly meetings or huddles, by asking for them to report on what they’ve learned this week, they will listen well and remember well. Your leadership drives your team’s behaviour.
With these three actions, you will create a self-supporting, self-learning, research-capable team. These are the building blocks of a high-performing writing team. The communications they issue will be more engaging, more understandable, and more useful to their audience. The outcome will be higher engagement and more action.