The ABCDs of Being a Better Communicator

All communicators have to revisit the building blocks of communication now and then. So, whether you are starting out or experienced, here are my four ABCDs (literally) that will help you be a better communicator:

A is for access. There's no point communicating something if your target audience doesn't get it. For much of my career, I've worked with public sector/non-profit scientists who are improving the lives of poor people throughout the world. These dedicated experts have made amazing breakthroughs but often fall short when it's time to broadcast their findings beyond an inner circle of scientists.

In my last job we promoted the benefits of vitamin A in people's diets. So, for example, instead of always being scientifically accurate and saying people get their provitamin A carotenoids from consuming sweet potatoes we would simply using the term "vitamin A." So much simpler; everyone gets it and it's not going to eat up your tweet. My mantra when it comes to communicating with non-scientific audiences is always "accessibility over accuracy."

B is for brevity. This goes hand in hand with building block A. Consider using as few words as possible to say what you need to say and use shorter words whenever you can. One way is to use words with Germanic/Anglo-Saxon roots rather than Latinate ones. I first learned this from Rita Mae Brown's writing manual, Starting from Scratch. She notes that upper-class characters tend to use Latinate words while lower-class characters prefer Anglo-Saxon ones. Class distinctions apart, Anglo-Saxon words are more direct so if you're telling a story, or have an ask, be sure to use them. There is also an immediacy to Anglo-Saxon words that supports building block A.  Building off the example in first paragraph, subjects in scientific studies may consume sweet potatoes, but in everyday life we don't consume sweet potatoes for dinner, we eat them.  So the latter is the more understandable, and shorter, word to use. (Ok, so "consume" comes from French but "eat" is definitely Anglo-Saxon.) Are you ready to renounce Latinate words? Or simply give them up?

C is for creativity. So much communications coming out of science and research organizations is dull and repetitive. Wake up writers! Work in human interest angles and inspiring quotes. Look at TED talks. Sing songs or better yet get professionals to sing them. Take for example this music video from Rwanda that educates people on the health benefits of eating beans. Beans, you say? Watch the video and you too will be on singing for your supper.

D is for differentiation. What makes you different from the others in your field? What are you or your organization/company doing that no one else is? Hone in on this. If you don't differentiate yourself from the competition, you won't get noticed. But the other rule here is don't exaggerate or spin. You want to stand out, but you don't want to find yourself standing alone. If you're really not a game-changer or leader in your field, other than asking yourselves why, go to building block C above to differentiate your organization in how you communicate. I recently read of a headphone manufacturer who offered free expensive headsets to anyone who tattooed their company's name on their body.   OK, so this won't work for everyone, but you get the idea.

So those are my ABCDs. Nothing earth-shattering but the best things in life never are. " C" can easily stand for "clarity" and does. We're not restricted in how we tag to our mnemonics! What are your ABCDs of good communications? Share them in the comments below, and if you have a better word than mnemonic which still trips me up every time I say it.

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