5 Tips to Communicate Better in 2015

5 Tips to Communicate Better

Want to get your message across better in 2015? Here are my top 5 tips for more effective communication.

  1. Know the result you want. "Begin with the end in mind," Stephen Covey advises in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many of us start projects without thinking them through, so here's a way to discover the result you want. Find a quiet spot with your laptop or a pad and pen. Write, "The main thing I want to get across is ..." or "The result I want is ...". Set a timer, then write for 10 minutes without stopping, editing or censoring yourself. Set your work aside for 30 minutes to 24 hours. Then read through and highlight what stands out. If necessary, list the highlighted phrases and ideas and select just one as your most important message. Voila -- clarity that makes your communication more effective.
  2. Really know your audience. If you work in marketing, you know what personas are. If you don't, ask yourself: Who is my typical client? (You might have more than one, so be prepared to imagine up to 3 or 4.) Draw a cartoon of your typical client(s). Write down the issues each one faces, such as "lots on her plate," "doesn't have time to read long handouts," or "uncomfortable with medical terms." Ask yourself what information each client wants most. Not sure? 2015 is a good year to start listening to your clients and taking notes or even doing small focus groups.
  3. Communicate multiple ways. My clients sometimes agonize over whether to use print or electronic media. When I taught writing, I gave students information at least three ways: I announced it in class, I wrote it on the board and I gave them a printed handout. If I were teaching today, I'd put it on the class website and email the students, but I'd still use the first 3 methods too. Think of Coca-Cola: they use billboards, TV ads, print ads, contests, brand colors and more.
  4. Tell a story. A friend of mine was reluctant to take medicine her doctor prescribed for chest congestion. I encouraged her to visualize the drug "booting those little infection people right out of your body." Original? Not if you've seen a Mucinex commercial. But she got the message, laughed and took the medicine. Moral: we remember what entertains us. Chapter 6 of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath, has a great discussion of using stories effectively.
  5. Aim for understanding -- nothing else. I know you want to sound as smart as you are. We all do, especially when we put years of studying and late nights into developing our expertise. But remember, your audience respects you already, or they'd be with someone else. Plus, whether they're highly educated or new to speaking English, they're dealing with modern life: phones dinging, bosses asking for more, kids lost in the social media forest, bills coming in. Plain language gets your message across the first time so your audience can absorb it, do what they need to and move on. Help them do this.

You might notice that just 1 of these tips is about you. The rest are about your audience. Even when you're communicating, it's helpful to consider this quote from the ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus: "We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak."

Need help communicating better in 2015? Please email or call (503) 734-6853. I promise to listen.

Recommended Reading

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Other Lessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. What happens when health care ends? Doughty offers a clear-eyed take on death, from health regulations that don't necessarily make sense to rituals that help us cope ... or not. Arguing that modern Western culture is unhealthfully "death phobic," Doughty demystifies modern funeral practices, suggests a better way earns her spot on the bestseller list.

Counterclockwise, by Lauren Kessler. Can you reverse the aging process? Kessler tries calorie restriction, cosmetic procedures, an exercise study and more in her quest to learn if anything really turns back the clock. Turns out it's simple, but her journey is fun. And if you've never had it, I bet you've wondered if Botox works, too.

Taking a spring break?

I'm in the office until March 31, so you can keep your projects rolling. Call (503) 734-6853 or email now for vacation coverage.

Recent Projects

  • Consumer blog and physician mailer on marijuana and glaucoma
  • Plain-language clinical trial summaries on meningitis vaccine and drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and ADHD
  • Ad copywriting for major eye center for placement in Wall Street Journal, Portland Business Journal and other periodicals
  • Pediatric neuroscience report for leading West Coast hospital
  • Annual report editing for Magnet-recognized nursing program
  • Patient information sheet and waiting room stand card on sleep disorders


Yes! Starting new projects February 2

Office closed for education days: February 19-20

On the road: March 31- April 3