Thinking like a journalist can help us all communicate better
Whether you’re communicating with employees, managers, customers – or just about anyone in any life or work situation – it’s crucial to get your message across effectively. If you don’t, you’re unlikely to get the action or reaction you want. To communicate better, we can all benefit from taking a leaf out of the journalist’s book.
Journalists specialise in capturing attention and powerfully telling compelling stories that cut through the information overload. A good journalist can turn whatever topic they cover – however complex, dry or niche – into sparkling copy that informs, engages and often entertains.
Reporters use the so-called five Ws – also known as the five Ws and one H – to make sure they capture all essential elements in their stories. And being guided by Who, What, Why, When, Where and How can enhance everyone’s strategic and tactical communication skills.
Here’s what to keep in mind before you start writing (or talking!):
- Who is your audience? This is the essential starting point. Before putting pen to paper, put yourself in the shoes of the people you’re addressing. What do they already know? What do they care about? Which factors will influence their level of understanding or interest?
- Why are you communicating? What do you want to achieve? What do you want your audience to think/feel/do in response? Why should they listen and care about what you’re saying? All this needs to be clear if you are to grab and hold their attention.
- What is your story? Exactly what do you want to say? You’d be amazed how often people haven’t even clarified their message to themselves, let alone for the recipient. Also key: what is the new, interesting angle that will hook your audience and keep them engaged?
- Where are you communicating your message? Think carefully about the most effective and appropriate ‘vehicle’. Which communication channel and medium fit best? Is it a press release, opinion piece, advertorial, white paper, email, employee newsletter, speech, poster, or social media update?
- When should you communicate? Timing is crucial. Whether you’re announcing news publicly, addressing employees or informing clients, when is the right moment to do this? What’s the best time to give the information they need, so you can make the impact you want?
- How will you address your audience? What is the right format (text / photo / video / graphic / other) and tone of voice? Regardless of the tone or format you choose, strong communication always means using clear, simple, jargon-free language.
Nowadays, we’re all creators and consumers of communication. No doubt you’ve been on the receiving end of too much complex, confusing, irrelevant or boring communication, so you’ll know how counter-productive it can be. Keeping that critical perspective when you’re the communicator – and always remembering the magic 5Ws – will help you cut through the clutter and make an impact.