Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How to gain relevance with your target audience

The old joke from my days as a science writer was that the photo was too often the same: a man in a plaid shirt presiding over a metal box filled with wires.

That's how I came up with the mantra "Write about people with problems, not boxes with wires." As writing coach in technology PR for the past 10 years, I asked professional writers to think about the group of people that both journalists and marketing directors share an interest in, and write about them.

Customer, reader -- one and the same

Marketing directors care about the customer; journalists care about the reader. And guess what? That's the same person. Write about that person -- his problems, decisions and actions -- and the technology and messaging come along for a free ride.

But write about the technology or the messaging and ... zzzzz. MEGO sets in.

Keep eyes from glazing over

MEGO stands for My Eyes Glaze Over. (I got that phrase from a Los Angeles Times New Delhi bureau chief. )

This is how to gain relevance with your target audience: Write about the audience.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Magic unveiled: To edit well, turn off brain

Executive Summary:

Impeccable copyediting on deadline -- without the excessive re-writing that dilutes ROI -- sounds like an impossible dream.

But our agency's unusual training program turns PR account executives into elite 9-1-1 copyediters. Eagle Eyes find mistakes that other conscientious proofreaders don't know about or miss. They bring impeccability to documents on deadline.

Key Points:
  1. Instead of learning proofreading and grammar, Eagle Eyes learn the "brain off" and "hot zone" techniques, which attack root causes of errors.
  2. Training includes "muscle memory" exercises in which trainees learn to enter the right mindset on demand.
Sound bite:

"Our brain is designed to keep us from seeing things as they really are. It 'fixes' what's wrong so that we can smoothly absorb the gist without getting hung up on glitches."

Read the whole article:

The sneaky, brilliant details underlying the success of our "Eagle Eye" training program for copyeditors is that I don't teach style, grammar, usage and punctuation. You can get that from a book or in school. In Eagle Eye training, recruits study most of that on their own time in addition to what I teach in class.

Best practice: Short-circuit root causes

To develop the program, I homed in on the root causes of proofreading errors and found techniques for short-circuiting them. Then I distilled principles to show good writers how to develop the professional restraint needed to correct errors by others without re-writing. (If you've seen my other blog posts, you know that I consider re-writing the eighth deadly sin.)

I call this special brand of magic the "brain off" and "hot zone" techniques. I'll describe one now and save the other for a later post.

"Turn my brain off? Where's the switch?"

Notice that you can understand what's below even though it's rife with errors.

To keeep up wth th wolrd and the ecnomy, innoavtion ins't enoguh; creatviity is aslo rquired, he says. "Innovtaion is suvrival in the prceivd wrold--maikng somtheing new in the exstng sistym. To be creativ is to thnik abuot a neew systim," said Luc de Brabandere, athuor of "The Forgtten Half of Chnage: Acheeving Graeter Craetviity Thourgh Cheanges in Percption" (Dearborn Trade Pubilshnig, May 2005). Anti-lock breaks stem from inovation. The comptr muose and Stabruck's and Coka-Cola's use of ther bradns to get into muzik sales come from creativity.

Now have a look at this link. It's about Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain." In Eagle Eye class, I ask trainees questions about pictures from this book.

My point: Our brain is designed to keep us from seeing things as they really are. It "fixes" what's wrong so that we can smoothly absorb the gist without getting hung up on glitches.

It's not your fault; DNA conspires against you

This means we are born to be really bad proofreaders. It's genetic. We can't help it. All of us are bad.

To counter this, we need to find our brain's "off" switch and commandeer it.

In the first couple weeks of Eagle Eye classes (twice a week, an hour each time), I give trainees exercises that teach them to "turn their brain off" so that they can see things as they really are. Visual artists do this all the time. Proofreaders must do it, too, but most people don't know that.

Sit-ups, push-ups for "brain off" decathletes

The exercises include reading things backward and circling subsets of letters in paragraphs of gibberish. Immediately on the first day, trainees feel the sensation. It's a lot like driving on autopilot -- you know, where you zone out and don't remember the last couple of miles. Through practice, trainees learn to commandeer the on/off switch and keep it off even though it keeps trying to pop back on again.

There's more, but we'll save it for another post.

Become an Eagle Eye fan

The next training session begins July 22. Check out our Facebook fan page to find out what some of the veterans are telling the new recruits.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Calling all Eagle Eyes! Got advice and encouragement for new recruits?

We're recruiting our next batch of Eagle Eyes, a team of internal agency copyeditors who can be counted on for impeccable editing on deadline. Eagle Eyes catch mistakes others miss.

Veteran EEs out there, we'd love to hear from you on our Facebook fan page. Got advice or encouragement for the new recruits?
  1. What do you wish you'd known from the start?
  2. How is the program different from what you initially expected?
  3. How has EE experience altered your career path or relationships with team members?
  4. What surprised you?
  5. What's the biggest misconception about Eagle Eyes?
  6. What was more fun than you thought it would be? What was harder?
  7. What else is on your mind?
Please chime in and share your thoughts!