Thursday, June 26, 2008

Story Quotes

A couple of great quotes about the power of stories in business that I came across today.

"Good leaders are good authors of stories that include everyone else."
- Gerhard Gschwandtner -

"Stories give us context, and context helps everyone understand."
"Stories wield special power because they can be translated into something visual. When we hear a story we see it too, and the visual image becomes something that sticks in our memories long after the words have fled."

- Harry Beckwith & Christine Clifford - You Inc.: The Art Of Selling Yourself.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Now Twittering..

Just a quick note to let you know that if you feel so inclined you can know follow my random thoughts on a variety of subjects via TWITTER at

Emotional Warning Light

I’ve long been an advocate of the advantages of using a controlled authoring vocabulary in producing technical documentation. The concept of one word = one meaning is central to this concept and is the underpinning of standards such as Simplified Technical English (STE).

In short ambiguity can lead to mistakes, or in extreme cases even cause fatalities. But one thing I hadn’t thought about before is that as well as considering the literal meanings of the words and phrases used, we should also consider the emotional and psychological impact.

It was an article by veteran racer and motoring journalist Denise McCluggage in a recent (16 June 2008) AutoWeek magazine that opened my eyes on this subject.

Denise’s article discussed the impact of the “CHECK ENGINE” warning light common in most vehicles today.

By all the rules and principles of controlled authoring that’s a perfect valid warning statement. Clear, concise, using simple words with well defined meanings.

But as Denise points out it has the potential for two distinctly different emotional impacts.

For a typical car guy (like me) the response to the “CHECK ENGINE” warning may be “rats I need to take the car in to the dealers at some point, where they will do some minor adjustment and charge me an arm and a leg for it.” After a few go-arounds when the car doesn’t do anything untoward they may even ignore the warning altogether.

But for a female driver the response to the “CHECK ENGINE” light may be concern that the engine, the thing that makes the car go, is about to fail and leave her stranded at the side of the road. Her reaction maybe that that warning could lead to something that will put her in a potential life-threatening situation.

As Denise goes on to point out the “CHECK ENGINE” light really means that “something might be amiss with the emission system and you should really have it looked at next time you are in the shop for routine maintenance.

So the choice of words is not as good as I first thought it was. Maybe it should read “Emission Controls Service Due.”

In short this article made me realize that as well as making sure we use the right vocabulary we should also be taking just as much notice of technical context and audience psychology.

Preparing technical communication is not just about passing on knowledge, its also about the emotion with which the message is received.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Business and Storytelling

Anyone whose spoken to me for more than a few minutes will quickly find out that my passion is story telling. In fact I believe that ALL business communication, be it in sales, marketing, technical publications, white papers, reports, even simple emails, is simply different forms of telling stories.

Sitting on my desk next to me is a book with the great title Whoever Tells The Best Story Wins. I'll be honest I wasn't too impressed by the actual content - but I keep it on my desk so that every day I see that title.

Today doing some business plan research I was looking for examples of the ultimate in business story telling - The Elevator Speech.

What's an Elevator Speech - the idea is that if you are riding in an elevator and someone asks "What does your company do?" - you can answer before the elevator ride is over. In other words you can tell your business story in less than thirty seconds.

That research lead me to the video below.

The video has some good pointers on composing a good Elevator Speech - but what really caught my attention was the idea of a CEO using the job title "Chief Storyteller." - That's a job title I think we should all adopt, at least in spirit if not in practice.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why Technical Publishing Shouldn't Be Art..

Writing is a solitary occupation. Publication is a group exercise,” so stated novelist Madeline Robbins in her February 25, 2008 blog entry on the DeepGenre web site. And she’s correct. The work may start with the author, but to get it from the author to the end reader means it also has to go through an editor, copy editor, book designer, typesetter, printer, sales and marketing team, distributor, book buyer, and, eventually, a retail store.

It’s a model that the book market developed centuries ago and still works today. Although it could be argued that the Web and print-on-demand are altering the delivery mechanisms slightly, the same basic process still applies. The book trade is based on the fact that the artistic elements, the creation of the content, and the design of the book are small parts of the overall process, and that the publishing process is a business that only flourishes through being scalable and repeatable.

Yet the more I write books and the more I become involved in the book business the more I am struck by the differences between it and what has been my “day job” for over twenty years, technical publications.

Over the years, I’ve been trained and worked as a writer, editor, document designer, coder, formatting expert, content management specialist, and workflow designer. I’ve used software tools that applied to every one of those disciplines. And here’s the point: often at the same time.

Click here to read my full article on "Why Technical Publishing Shouldn't Be Art" at Techcom Manager