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Saturday, February 16, 2013

How to charm anyone and win people over | Katy Cowan, Creative Boom Magazine

This article focuses on human-to-human, face-to-face interactions. But its advice also applies to writing, formatting and designing correspondence, websites, newsletters, marketing and PR materials, brochures, social media, displays, and other publications. It provides especially useful advice when you're trying to persuade people to like, value, use, understand or buy information, messages and products.

Cowan writes:

[H]ow do you make everyone like you? How do you become the sort of person that everyone wants to talk to? I don't claim to be an expert (I made plenty of mistakes when I first started out) but here are my top tips on how to charm anyone in business. ...
Here are headings and excerpts from Cowan's key points [followed by my interpretation for writing in plain language that meets the needs of your readers]:
Rule 1: No one is interested in you
The quickest and easiest top tip to remember is this - no one cares about you. ... With this in mind, become the kind of person who is interested in other people .... Ask lots of questions, be genuinely interested ....
[When doing research for your document, find out as much as you can about your potential readers--their backgrounds, needs and interests. And when writing your document, emphasize information and ideas that meet their needs and interests. Choose and structure your words to respect their existing knowledge and their potential comprehension of the topic. Refer to yourself or your organization in how you can meet their needs and interests.] 
If people ask you questions…
[B]e prepared to charm by following these simple tips - always keep things relatively short and sweet; don't go into unnecessary details or waffle; be humble and don't show off; ... keep things light, fun and interesting, and you can't go wrong.
[Consider in advance the questions people may have when reading your document. Answer those questions in clear, concise language that's appropriate to the response you hope to get from your readers.]  
Use the sweetest sound in the world
When you first meet someone, repeat their name to remember it and then drop it occasionally into the conversation. ... The sound of our own name is the sweetest sound in the world, and people will really warm to you if you say their name and remember it.
[Except for correspondence and social media, you can't easily identify individuals reading your documents. But you can use words that imply familiarity with your readers. Don't be too formal. Use personal pronouns like you, your, we, us and I, emphasizing the you over the I and the we or us if writing about doing something together. You also can connect better with your readers if you mention locations, interests, challenges, and resources that you share with your readers.]   
Weakness is off-putting
People can always smell weakness, particularly if you're shy or lacking in confidence. ... So stand tall and be bold. ...
[Choose clear, concrete words that have clear, powerful meanings to your readers. Use verbs that suggest action and nouns that your readers can visualize. Don't use "weasel words"--adjectives or adverbs like fairly, generally, and somewhat--that weaken the power of those verbs and nouns. But also, don't use adverbs and adjectives that exxagerate or needlessly restate the meaning of the words and information you choose. For example, the idea of very might already exist in your choice of a strong word, like huge or amazing. Be honest and direct.] 
Get your body language right
Body language is very important, so practice in front of a mirror or with a friend until you get it right. ...
[In formatting or designing your document, use fonts that are easy to read; use ample white space around the text; use headings and bulleted lists that help the reader move from section to section.] 
Use the right tone of voice ...
You want to avoid shouting or coming across as aggressive by using a relaxed, gentle tone of voice. You also want to practice the art of assertiveness, i.e. getting your point across confidently without being defensive or aggressive.
[Don't shout in your documents by using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS FOR MORE THAN ONE OR TWO WORDS. They're harder to read, for one thing, and too many all-capitalized words actually counteract the tone you're trying to set. All the letters and words look the same, there's no "inflection." Instead, use other typographic tools to highlight or emphasize words, like italics, boldface, color and type size. But don't overdo it by using more than one or two of those tools at one time.] 
Use the right language
Keep conversation professional at all times by using polite language. ... Also, try and keep everything very positive and light.
[Use positive, supportive language whenever possible. You can't always be light-hearted or overly friendly and casual in serious documents. But treat people professionally, using common courtesies in writing, from please to thank you. Don't use the odd jargon of your field if your readers likely won't understand it. Or explain it when you use it.]
A smile is infectious. Everyone loves a happy person, so naturally smile and be happy to be around others. ...
[Make sure your document is attractive to look at and easy to read. When possible, use graphics and photographs that grab the attention of readers, that aid their comprehension of the information. Put your most interesting or important information first, summarizing it early in the document so your readers get a clue about what's coming.]  
Praise others instead of getting involved in gossip
Whether you're at a networking event or in a meeting, people can sometimes talk about others in a negative way. To combat this, don't get involved. Instead, say something really positive about that person or company. ...
[You may need to describe and define a problem in your document, but do so by highlighting  problems that can be fixed or dealt with in some way. In structuring your description, try to connect problems with solutions: If this ..., then that. ... Also, consider mistakes as an important step in being creative. Think of a pencil. Why does it have an eraser built in? So you can try something, erase it if it doesn't work, and try again ... and again.] 
 Find their interests
If the conversation is quite slow, try to discover the other person's hobbies or passions. ... When you find a topic that makes their eyes light up, ask lots of questions and be genuinely interested in their passion, even if it's something you're not bothered about. ...
[Make sure you provide a way in your document for people to respond to you, to ask you questions, to give you feedback about the information you've provided, the ideas you've expressed, even the ways you've presentedthe information and ideas. Did it meet their needs and interests? Was it clear and useful to them? By doing that, you not only meet the current, spontaneous needs of your readers, but you also get ideas or suggestions for improving your document the next time.] 
Don't people please
There will be the odd occasion when you need to speak your mind or share a point of view that others might disagree with. In which case, still keep things light but be open and honest. ... You have to still believe in yourself and your own principles and beliefs. People will always respect your opinion - just make sure you express it in the right charming way.
[I can't say these occasions are typically odd, unusual or uncommon. That depends on the content of your document, the circumstances, your readers and their needs, and your purpose in writing the document. When you must express an opinion or make a request, be clear and honest about. Express it using meaningful, powerful words--and provide essential facts to support your words. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as the saying goes, but opinions without facts are not useful or persuasive. Describe alternatives if available, realistic and feasible. Ask for suggestions about proposals and alternatives.] 
Remember the little details
To retain your charming manner, write down little details about people so you remember them for next time you meet. ... This is a great way to show people you care while making them feel important. ...
[After drafting, reviewing and revising your document, check it again ... and again, if necessary and possible. Have someone else review it. Make sure you've spelled names correctly, provided accurate numbers, used correct grammar, been consistent in your use of capitalization, abbreviations, numbers, and punctuation. Try to get at least one potential reader to read your document; does it make sense to him or her? Proofread it at least once before printing it to make sure no typos remain after all your edits.] 
For more advice on meeting the needs of your readers, visit Garbl's Plain English Writing Guide. It describes seven steps for improving your writing skills by using plain language techniques:
  • Focusing on your reader and purpose
  • Organizing your ideas
  • Writing clear, effective paragraphs
  • Writing clear, simple sentences
  • Using suitable words
  • Creating an enticing design
  • Testing for clarity.

Cowan's article is featured today, Feb. 16, in my online daily paper, Garbl's Creativity Connections, available at the Creativity tab above and by free email subscription.

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