As an author or entrepreneur, how are you at connecting with your audience? Do you ever feel like your business writing is overly formal? Stilted? Drab? Do you fall into patterns, using the same words you’ve always used and that everyone else is using too? You’re not alone.
So many people struggle to make their writing relatable and engaging. Thankfully, there’s at least one way to shake things up and create something fresh and new: Ask yourself, “How would I say this or explain it to a child?”
Here are three places I recommend using this trick to transform content into something people actually want to read:
How-to and instructional materials.
Instructions can be so drab sometimes, right? But they don’t have to be! I was working with a tech writer recently on how to explain that search box that appears on the page for people using her company’s software. I was modeling how to explain something to a kid. Out of my mouth came these words:
“There’s this REALLY special box and if you type in it then the computer goes and searches like the whole world and it’s like MAGIC and then it gives you back exactly what you want!”
Refreshing isn’t it? And, depending on your brand, maybe you can use language like that for real. How about something like this:
Yet technical writers often default to phrases like, “The search box is found in the upper right corner of your screen. When a search term is entered into the box, the site will be searched.”
Are you asleep yet? What about something more like this:
“Looking for something on our site? Just enter what you want in the search box in the upper right corner of your screen. Presto! Your search results appear!”
That second option is much more kid-friendly, isn’t it? Of course, depending on your company’s brand, you might choose to use words like “Presto” – or not.
If you’re very observant, you’ll notice that the tech writer’s sentences are written in passive voice (for a tutorial on passive vs. active voice, see Grammar Girl’s article on the topic). Passive voice is, almost always, BOOOOOOOOring!!
Take a cue from the way we talk to kids. We don’t tell them, “These toys need to be picked up by you.” No. We say, “Pick up your toys!!”
So use active voice as much as humanly possible when you’re writing, unless you are writing an intentionally long and academic thesis. If you choose passive voice, just don’t expect many people to want to read it.
Your LinkedIn profile.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or an author, your LinkedIn profile should be a key part of your marketing presence and branding. I’m sure you don’t want it to be dull!
In presentations like How to Put Your Personality into Your LinkedIn Profile, I suggest the exercise of explaining what you do to a 5-year-old. That way, instead of using big words that few people understand, you will be forced to present what you do in a simplified, engaging way. Something might come out that is fresh and refreshing! Here’s how one LinkedIn user, Jess Hornyak, describes herself:
It’s safe to say I don’t fit into a traditional bubble. I’m an art director, but I’m really so much more. I’m a strategist. A writer. An artist. A competitor. It’s why I’m looking for people who could use a little more non-traditional in their everyday lives.
Plus, it means I’m never bored. And definitely not boring.
Do you see the childlike energy in what she wrote? She definitely keeps me reading!
You can also be childlike in your responses to LinkedIn invitations. I got one that said the following:
“I just finished reading your eBook. Thank you, thank you! Tonight I’m going to read it to the kids. Never too early to start building your network!”
Believe me, I liked this guy right away.
I challenge you to put wonder and excitement into your own LinkedIn profile and communications, even in subtle ways. Your readers will appreciate it. They might even pick you first for the kickball team.
Video scripts and videos.
Do you use videos in your marketing? If so, do your clips sound stilted or are they filled with excitement?
In one workshop I delivered, I asked a video presenter to read her script aloud. She asked if I wanted her to use her “video voice.” “Sure!” I said. It turned out that her video voice sounded like she was reading and presenting, rather than like she was talking to me.
I asked her to read the script as if she were reading to a child. She started to see that the script contained so much lingo that it was actually impossible to read it that way. A conversation ensued about how to create less terminology-dense content for the company’s users.
Shortly thereafter, I encountered a perfect example of kid-friendly content. Take a couple of minutes to listen to the audio for this Social Media Examiner article on How to Use Showcase Pages for Business. You’ll notice the excitement, even giddiness in her voice. You can hear her smiling. That’s the voice we use to talk to little ones.
You may also notice a nice amount of variety in sentence structure in the Social Media Examiner article. There are shorter sentences, longer sentences and questions mixed in throughout. That’s how we talk to kids too.
Not all of your content will be read aloud in an audio or video. But reading content aloud to yourself or another person, even if it’s being sent in an email or posted on a site, will give you a great sense of how it sounds to the reader. After all, most readers read things with an internal voice that we want to sound conversational and not bore us to death.
If you’re having trouble breaking out of adult speak, try talking to an actual child about any of the above three items. Or, do this exercise: Write a script where you invite a child in your life to go on a trip to Disney World. How would you talk? What questions would you ask? How would they respond? Writing this way will jostle your brain and wake up some creativity cells.
Let’s face it: We’re kids at heart. And, with everything we’re juggling on a daily basis, we can have the attention span of a 5-year-old. So let’s keep our communications simple and wondrous. Tap into your inner kid and have fun!