‘How to present a strong argument with confidence’. That’s what the advert said I’d learn at this Guardian newspaper masterclass, from some of their leading journalists. What I also discovered from listening to these self-assured writers was that they have a lot to teach charity communicators about getting your charity’s messages across. Here are a few tips I picked up from the experts.
“You need to be able to get your idea into a sentence.” Gaby Hinsliff
It all boils down to our attention spans − apparently around eight seconds and diminishing rapidly. So, if you can’t get your idea across succinctly, it’s time to rethink your idea.
When I’m developing a copywriting brief for a charity client, I make sure they can answer the question “If your reader is going to take away just one thing from this communication, what would it be?” After that, of course, you need to dig even deeper. What are your top three key messages? What do you want the audience to think/feel/do? You need this, and more, in your brief if you’re going to make your communication work. But if you can’t tell me what you want to say in one sentence, you’ll need to do some more thinking…
“Write everything with a first-time reader in mind. Don’t assume knowledge.” Tim Dowling
Think about your audience. Really think. What do they know? And what do you want them to know next? Of course, when you’re writing for a broad range of people, you’re going to be dealing with a broad range of knowledge. So you have to write for someone who knows the least about your subject. That’s ok. No one will ever complain that what you wrote was too easy to understand. And ‘easy’ doesn’t mean being childlike or patronising – it’s about being clear, direct and jargon-free. Your reader should be able to understand exactly what you’re saying − and what you want them to do about it − the first time they read it. If they don’t, it’s your fault not theirs.
“Spend as much time on de-writing as writing. Condense.” Polly Toynbee
This blog started upside down and round about. I typed out a load of ideas, moved them around, changed them, and most importantly DELETED a load of them. When you’re editing copy, think about where you might lose people. (Remember what Gaby Hinsliff said about our attention spans?) Are you telling them something they really need to know, or something you just fancy talking about?
Keep challenging yourself. And ask others to edit your work with a critical eye. Ask them specifically what they think you could leave out. Make sure you have as much time as possible for editing − sometimes it takes far longer than actually writing.
“Don’t strip away facts and stats, but connecting emotionally is more effective” Owen Jones
The first time I saw Owen Jones on Question Time he inspired me to write my first blog . He argued with politicians and won over audience members using facts, stats and, most importantly, personal stories. He chose an armoury of information that meant anyone could identify with his argument.
Connecting with your audience is key. There are lots of ways to do it, but including the voices of the people you support is almost always the strongest approach. People want to hear about people, not organisational strategy or fundraising figures (not in isolation anyway). And they care about themselves. Owen suggests giving people something that “resonates with their own experience in a language they understand”. I’m with Owen.