Author Archive | Ian Harris

Use This Simple Story to Motivate People

In 2003, three students started a video games company.

They made game after game, hoping that one would be successful. Six years later they’d produced 51 titles. None of them were hits.

For their 52nd game, they decided to make a simple puzzle physics game called Angry Birds.

Today their company – Rovio Entertainment – has over a billion users, 500 employees and annual revenue of over $200 million.

I love this story because it took them 51 failures to become a success.

I’m sharing it with you, because it’s a great narrative to motivate good people who are trying hard to be successful.

Today only – get our storytelling book free on Amazon

Would you like more stories like this that you can use to inspire people? Get Gatehouse’s new book Hooked On You – it’s free on Amazon until midnight Pacific today!

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How to Measure Your Writing

Writing is seen as an art. Something subjective that you feel, but can’t really measure. Turns out, that’s not necessarily true.

In Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 Hour Body, he features the case study of Phil Libin. Phil wanted to lose weight, but he’d failed at both dieting and exercise on and off for years. Finally, he decided to see what effect doing nothing would have.

Each morning before breakfast he weighed himself naked and plotted the result on a chart, but apart from that he made no conscious effort to change his habits.

He lost two stone (12Kg) in six months.

He found that just by monitoring that one statistic – his weight – he could effect change.

In writing, you also have a statistic you can monitor that tells you how well you’re doing

It’s called the Flesch Reading Ease test – otherwise known as the ‘readability score’.

The FK score tells you how easy your writing is to read. It gives it a score based on how long the words you choose are and how many syllables they contain. It’s a very reliable indicator of how easy your writing is to read.

You can run your copy through it to find out how easy it is to read on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score, the easier it is to read. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty accurate.

For example, read this:

Advocates for military intervention in Syria this summer invariably pointed to a prevailing international norm when making their case. Military action, they argued, was the only way to enforce the worldwide prohibition against the use of chemical weapons.

This passage has a reading ease score of 29.5 out of 100. That’s low. You need to be about 21 to easily understand it.
Contrast that with the blog post you’re reading now, which has a reading ease score of 80. It should be easily understood by 12 to 13 year olds.

Some copywriters sneer at this tool, but the kind of writers I admire love it.

Copywriter John Fancher talks about texting colleagues: “85!” “90!” “92!” .

His friends know what he means just by the numbers. It means he’s written something that’s so simple a kid could read it.
And yes, he’s proud of this. You should be too. Why? Because simple words communicate. If you can take a complex idea and communicate it simply, that’s a very valuable skill.

There are other writing tools – Gunning Fog, the SMOG Index, the Coleman Liau Index. I wouldn’t worry too much about the differences. Most of the time they tell you the same thing.

I check my reading scores all the time. It’s a great way to get an idea of how well your message is coming across. It’s not perfect, but if
you run your copy through it and you get back “30 out of 100” it’s a red flag to revise.

Your First 100 Days

100Days.v6-2“According to the map, we’ve only gone four inches.”
Harry, Dumb & Dumber

They say that if you don’t know whether or not you’re on schedule, it’s a safe bet that you aren’t.

One time you really need to be certain of your direction is during your first days and weeks in new internal comms role.

When you’re promoted to a bigger role, you need a big plan to go with it. And you need to deliver results fast.

To help, we put together a little guide called: “Your First 100 Days in a New Internal Comms Role.”

You can download it here.

It’s worth keeping safe until you need it.

We’d like to thank everybody who contributed to this short guide. In particular, we’d like to extend special thanks to two Gatehouse clients, Kate Jones, Head of Internal Communications, UK at Atkins and Sasha Watson, Director, Internal Communications at ARM who shared their experiences, reflections and learnings from recent job moves.

Reading: Just Enough to be Dangerous

Investor Mark Cuban says that when he started his first company, he was scared of visiting customers because he was afraid of being shown up. He was nervous that people would know much more about the industry than him.

So before every meeting, he’d cram as much as possible on the topics of the day. He’d read every trade magazine going so he could sound like he knew something. In meetings, he’d toss out tidbits here and there about software or hardware – features and bugs he’d read about.

“I expected them to say: ‘Oh yeah, I read that too in such-and-such.’ That’s not what happened. They hadn’t read it then, and they still haven’t started reading it. Most people won’t put in the time.”

I think this illustrates an interesting point. If you’ve read three books on a topic, you’re better informed than the vast majority of people – even those who are very well established in a topic.

Often in internal communication, new communicators are worried about ‘getting out there’ because they don’t have the subject knowledge to hold their own. But I think the truth is that reading one or two trade magazines is usually enough to put you in good shape.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. What do you do to make sure you’re ‘read up’ on the field you’re communicating to?

To grok

At General Electric, Jack Welch liked people to know where they were going.

A lot of leaders say that. But there’s a part in Jack’s book that shows how much communicating GE’s strategy meant to him:

Your direction has to be so vivid that if you randomly woke one of your employees in the middle of the night and asked him, “Where are we going?” he could still answer in a half-asleep stupor: “We’re going to keep improving our service to individual contractors and expand our market by aggressively reaching out to small wholesalers!”

Fantastic.

There’s actually a verb for the effect Jack is describing: grok. To ‘grok’ something means to intuitively understand it – to ‘get it’ profoundly and intuitively.

Now you know the word, it’s up to you to make it happen.

Ready to work with us?

If you’d like help to make your people grok what’s happening, you need to work with a partner who’s capable of ‘grokking’ it first. We work on large, complex campaigns every week for all kinds of clients – big ones you’ve heard of, and small ones you haven’t. Email me i.harris@gatehousegroup.co.uk to see if we can help you too.

 

Stuck

When you glance at your watch, does the second hand ever seem stuck?

It’s a phenomenon called chronostasis, when things appear frozen when you first look at them.

Apparently, your brain tries to guess what it missed while your eyes were busy moving. So it ‘backfills’ the image, making it feel like the second hand is stuck.

I think the same thing can happen in organisations.

As communicators, it’s easy to look at people who seem ‘stuck’ or disengaged and presume that they’ve always been that way, and always will be. We take what we see and ‘backfill’.

But one thing we know from our ‘6As’ behavioural change methodology is that the least engaged people – or most actively disengaged people – were often once some of the most engaged people, and vice versa!

We also know that, if you can turn them on in the right way, even the most disengaged can become your best advocates.

It’s important to see beyond the stopped clock and recognise that it’s sometimes just an illusion.

All you have to do is listen

The copywriter Eugene Schwartz once said: “You don’t have to have great ideas if you can hear great ideas.”

He tells the story of a copywriting job he once had. He met up with his client and got him talking about the product. The client ended up talking for several hours while Schwartz sat back and took notes.

Later that night, while Schwartz was waiting for his wife to get ready to head out, he wrote up the entire advert. Apparently, the vast majority of the copy came straight from the horse’s mouth. He waited a couple of weeks, and sent the advert to the client. They loved it!

There are so many great stories all around most organisations. Often, all you have to do is listen and feed it back.

7 Ways to Make Your Writing Look Easy to Read

Go to a bookshelf and open a book.

I bet you can tell straight away whether it’s easy to read. People love to talk about writing well. But what’s the point if people don’t even read?

These days, you have to make your writing look inviting to have a chance of being read.

Here’s 7 tricks I use to make people read what I write:

1. Put the first sentence on a line by itself

Make your first sentence as short as possible, and put it on its own line.

The standalone opener gives a little signal to the reader that what they’re about to read is simple:

I’m in a bad situation at work.

I wanted to make money so I moved to New York.

Berkshire’s gain in net worth during 2013 was $34.2 billion.

2. Put bullets up front

Bullet points make any piece of text look inviting. They’re a signal that the copy is going to be easy to read.

  • Try to make sure your writing has bullet points ‘above the fold’, so that as soon as your reader sees the writing the bullet points are visible
  • In design, bullet points are known as a ‘point of entry’ because they draw the eye in
  • So take extra care when you write your bullet points – they’re often the first thing that your reader reads

3. Keep your column widths tight

Great writers have a secret
weapon: short column widths.

Readers find it much easier
to read something when their
eye doesn’t have to make several
saccades back and forth across
the text.

Short column widths definitely make
your writing more likely to be read.

4. Keep your sentences short

Favour short sentences over long sentences.

5. Open with a quote

“The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity.” Abraham Lincoln

This trick isn’t always suitable, but for some reason lazy eyeballs love copy that starts with a quote. Quotation marks indicate speech, and to the brain speech is easy to read.

You can open with a famous quote from a relevant figure, or you can use somebody you’ve quoted in your piece.

6. Sign your work

I often put my little signature at the bottom of things I write:

Besides adding a touch of whimsy, it’s a visual signal of where the end is. When you first glance at the copy, I want the end to be in sight.

7. Don’t forget the P.S…

If it’s appropriate, include a postscript – a P.S. The P.S. if another ‘point of entry’ that draws in the eye. Even though it’s at the bottom, it’s something a lot of readers will go to first.

The trick with the P.S. is to sum up your entire message – so even if somebody only reads your P.S., they’ve still understood your message.

LinkedIn's little blue pencil

Do you have access to LinkedIn publishing platform yet?

Go to LinkedIn and look at the top of the screen. Do you see this little blue pencil inside the status bar?

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.17.07

If you do, you have access to LinkedIn Publishing Platform. (If not, be patient – it’s rolling out over the next few weeks. )

It’s a relatively new feature on LinkedIn that could have a big influence on your communications career. I’ll explain how in a moment.

First, let me show you what Publishing Platform does…

Publishing Platform is essentially LinkedIn Influencer for everybody.

For several years, LinkedIn has let celebrities like Barack Obama and Bill Gates use LinkedIn to share inspiring, thought-provoking articles.

And now with LinkedIn Publishing Platform, you can do the same thing – essentially becoming the ‘Richard Branson’ of your industry.

  • You can post long-form articles and videos, and LinkedIn will share them with your network (and beyond)
  • You get a follow button next to your name, so people can receive your updates (even if you aren’t connected)
  • You get to become a trusted expert amongst LinkedIn’s 300 million members

It’s a huge deal for communicators. Again, I’ll explain exactly why in a moment – but first it’s a good idea to understand why LinkedIn is doing this.

LinkedIn wants to create industry celebrities (and end ‘click bait’ content)

For a long time, the content you’d see on LinkedIn has been generic ‘click-bait’. It’s the kind of material you can find all over the web – scannable content designed to be skimmed, shared, and forgotten.

All that’s about to change.

Now, LinkedIn wants to offer users material that’s tightly focused on their industry.

That’s because LinkedIn is 100% business. It’s not a news website. It’s not Facebook, or Twitter. It’s the world’s largest professional social networking platform.

And that is why – starting very soon – the blog posts and articles you’ll read, share and comment on when you use LinkedIn will reflect your own industry much closer.

That’s why LinkedIn needs original voices to step up to the plate and become ‘thought leaders’ that its audience can follow.

Who can you help take advantage of this?

If you’re a communicator, you could decide to use Publishing Platform yourself – to build up a network of followers on LinkedIn.

That’s great. But I think the real value here lies in ghostwriting for senior leaders.

Pretty soon everybody in your organisation’s C-Suite will see the little grey pencil appear in their LinkedIn interface. And sure as sugar most of them will ignore it completely.

As a communicator you’re perfectly positioned to help them.

On Accelerate we talk about being a trusted advisor, working at the top, and having a seat at the table. Well, how about becoming the person responsible for putting your organisation’s leaders in front of LinkedIn’s 300 million members, and having them recognised as authorities in their market?

Something to consider. If you’re interested in doing this, go to LinkedIn and look for that little blue pencil.

LinkedIn’s little blue pencil

Do you have access to LinkedIn publishing platform yet?

Go to LinkedIn and look at the top of the screen. Do you see this little blue pencil inside the status bar?

Screen Shot 2014-11-13 at 15.17.07

If you do, you have access to LinkedIn Publishing Platform. (If not, be patient – it’s rolling out over the next few weeks. )

It’s a relatively new feature on LinkedIn that could have a big influence on your communications career. I’ll explain how in a moment.

First, let me show you what Publishing Platform does…

Publishing Platform is essentially LinkedIn Influencer for everybody.

For several years, LinkedIn has let celebrities like Barack Obama and Bill Gates use LinkedIn to share inspiring, thought-provoking articles.

And now with LinkedIn Publishing Platform, you can do the same thing – essentially becoming the ‘Richard Branson’ of your industry.

  • You can post long-form articles and videos, and LinkedIn will share them with your network (and beyond)
  • You get a follow button next to your name, so people can receive your updates (even if you aren’t connected)
  • You get to become a trusted expert amongst LinkedIn’s 300 million members

It’s a huge deal for communicators. Again, I’ll explain exactly why in a moment – but first it’s a good idea to understand why LinkedIn is doing this.

LinkedIn wants to create industry celebrities (and end ‘click bait’ content)

For a long time, the content you’d see on LinkedIn has been generic ‘click-bait’. It’s the kind of material you can find all over the web – scannable content designed to be skimmed, shared, and forgotten.

All that’s about to change.

Now, LinkedIn wants to offer users material that’s tightly focused on their industry.

That’s because LinkedIn is 100% business. It’s not a news website. It’s not Facebook, or Twitter. It’s the world’s largest professional social networking platform.

And that is why – starting very soon – the blog posts and articles you’ll read, share and comment on when you use LinkedIn will reflect your own industry much closer.

That’s why LinkedIn needs original voices to step up to the plate and become ‘thought leaders’ that its audience can follow.

Who can you help take advantage of this?

If you’re a communicator, you could decide to use Publishing Platform yourself – to build up a network of followers on LinkedIn.

That’s great. But I think the real value here lies in ghostwriting for senior leaders.

Pretty soon everybody in your organisation’s C-Suite will see the little grey pencil appear in their LinkedIn interface. And sure as sugar most of them will ignore it completely.

As a communicator you’re perfectly positioned to help them.

On Accelerate we talk about being a trusted advisor, working at the top, and having a seat at the table. Well, how about becoming the person responsible for putting your organisation’s leaders in front of LinkedIn’s 300 million members, and having them recognised as authorities in their market?

Something to consider. If you’re interested in doing this, go to LinkedIn and look for that little blue pencil.