Today I am pleased to introduce the IMPACT style of business writing – a system I have developed for ensuring that your business communications deliver your punchline with
finesse every time.
In a nutshell, IMPACT is a structured approach to creating any form of non-verbal business communication that focuses on up-front thinking and agile writing.
The system consists of the following principles. I’ll go into them in more detail in subsequent articles but for now, remember that because these are principles, you don’t need to follow them in strict order.
What do you want to tell people (your audience) about?
Before you hit the keyboard, you need to decide what your document is all about. Start off with the simplest message that can convey the information you need to present, then flesh it out.
Lay out your thoughts on the screen or the page and make a rough draft of your correspondence-to-be. Break it down into paragraphs – a greeting, brief introduction, main message and a snappy summary. Now read it again and ask yourself if it conveys your goal in a cohesive way.
Keep in mind that your message, whether you are reaching out to your clients or preparing an internal communication, is your image. Consider what impression you would like to get across and how your words portray your intent.
How are you going to say it?
So you have a pretty good idea what you want to say in your communique; now you need to decide what medium are you going to use to reach your audience.
Here context is an all-important factor; if a price hike is in the cards, individual letters or emails to the affected clients will be much better received than a text message. Internal communication detailing your company’s upcoming plan to restructure would likely call for a series of emails and face to face meetings. Twitter and Facebook are ideal channels to announce promotions, competitions and fundraisers. The Digital Age offers plenty of platforms to take to if you want to get your written voice heard – choose wisely.
Who do you want to say it to?
What do you know about the person or group you are writing to? Is this the first time you are communicating with them or have you built a relationship already? If so, what is that relationship like? What professional and personal traits of your recipients are you familiar with? Consider what’s in it for them; Darth Vader and The Arts Council are likely to respond differently to a letter asking for donations to the Rebel Cause so word your message with the reader in mind.
What is your ultimate goal?
Your main focus is on the results you want to yield with your message. Clarity about what you want to accomplish is often clouded by the desire to impart information that enhances your image or softens bad news.
But does it really hit the nail on the head? Analyse how the reader is likely to respond to each one of your sentences and make them work for you. Look at the individual statements in your correspondence as a set of specific sub-goals that are the fabric of your main target.
How are you going to word your message to ensure maximum impact?
It is recommended that you should avoid the passive voice ☺ Action verbs should do the work for you instead. Short and snappy words and sentences will give your writing strength but alternating a couple of shorter statements with a complex sentence here and there will enhance the flow and impact of your communique. See what I mean?
Scattering of a few buzzwords is also allowed but leverage these synergies with caution – they tend to go out of style every now and again. But try to avoid clichés, abbreviations, jargon, Latin phrases etc., unless your audience can be expected to understand them.
Finally, when you are done, step away and come back with a hatchet. Cut out all unnecessary words that weaken your message. Adjectives are good in creative writing; in business they tend to water down your meaning. Edit your written transmission and spell check at least twice*; nothing screams “unprofessional” like a typo or grammatical error.Once that’s done, go over the text yourself. Only apply formatting to your text when you’re truly finished writing it.
How does your message sound to the reader?
Written correspondence takes away the rich medium of body language so you need to be crafty when doing the sound-check of your message. Read your email out loud and consider how the recipient might respond to it if you were talking face to face?
Your audience and your goal will help you inject the right tone; if this is a regular internal correspondence, a more casual approach might be permitted. A presentation for the Board of Directors would call for drier and crisp written inflection.
Needless to say, do not sit in front of the computer to write important correspondence when you are angry or upset. Smile before you type.
By all means, “Mean Business” – but in a nice way; fine tune your writing like a professional before you hit “Send”.
*True story: I used Word to spell-check this document and it suggested that “fine tune your writing” should read “fine tune you’re writing”. This is why you should never trust you’re automated spelling and grammar checks!