While perusing Toastmaters International‘s website – an organization I admire – I read their article “The 10 Commandments of Communication: How to Speak like a Leader.”
Speaking and writing effectively have much in common – both require knowing your audience, the purpose of your speech, letter or article, and allowing your personal voice to shine. Writing poses several challenges that speaking doesn’t: when writing you have to engage readers more quickly, be more concise and convey your understanding of the audience creatively. Here are four tips to help you write like a leader:
1. Write to be understood. Just like with speaking, the purpose of your e-mail, article, brochure, booklet or report is that your reader will understand – and absorb – certain information. Take the time to organize and structure your writing. Use simple sentences and emphasize your central points.
2. Write for your readers’ benefit. Address your readers’ interests and concerns as openly as possible. Use “we” and “you” often, and “I” and “me” as infrequently as possible. You must do your research and know your audience to do this.
Use phrases like “From discussing your thoughts on ___” or “We’ve developed strategies to improve ___.”
3. Write authentically. When giving a speech, it’s much easier to tell jokes and show your human side. When writing, make sure you emphasize this part of you with concise jokes (but remember, sarcasm usually doesn’t read well), anecdotes or highly human language. An easy way to infuse e-mails with your human side is to add a short note about yourself and the reader outside of work, such as, “Jim and I had a great weekend at the beach. Have you and Sarah had time this summer to enjoy the beach? It must be hectic (but fun, of course!) with the new baby.”
Remember, nothing cultivates trust like authentic conversation.
4. “Listen” in writing. Your writing is only one side of the discussion – make sure your readers know that you understand their interests and concerns, and that you value their input. Instead of dictating information or listing what needs to be done, ask questions and invite them to share their perspective.
This is easier within e-mails, where you can ask questions freely, such as “We thought your performance on the last project was outstanding and would love to put your organizational skills to greater use. Is there a specific project or task you’d like to join?”
“Listening” in writing is more difficult in white papers, reports or brochures. Articulate your readers’ viewpoints and concerns that’s pertinent to your information. Only by beginning this way will readers feel that they can benefit from reading on. Conclude with a “call to action” for the reader to share their input – you’ll continue the conversation and learn valuable ideas.