Clearing Up Complex Terminology

Complex terminology or production processes are pretty common in business and industry—especially on the B2B side. Think Transoral Incision-less Fundoplication (a type of acid reflux surgery) or Aqueous Film-Forming Foam (a fire suppression system). While terms like these might win points in academic articles or patent applications, they land with a *thud* for most audiences.

The trick to communicating about a complicated concept is to present it in a way that’s relevant and easy to understand.

  • Avoid jargon – Think twice. Do you really need to use a certain term in your article, brochure or communications piece? Whenever possible, opt for a simple descriptor like, “a surgery to relieve acid reflux,” rather than using the full scientific name of the medical procedure.
  • How would you explain it to your mom? – Chances are she’s not a specialist in the same area of expertise as your company, but she still wants to shout from the mountaintop about how great your organization, product or service is, right? Choose a description that would be meaningful to her. If your company adjudicates health claims, for example, say “We help families answer questions about their health insurance.” By coming at it from this level, not only do you simplify a complex idea, you also humanize it.
  • Give it a face – Instead of starting with a step-by-step explanation of your organization’s process or term, start by visualizing the people who benefit from it. Pairing an idea with images helps people grasp the concept in a more personal, accessible way.
  • Bring in timeless appeal and timely relevance – At first glance, this bit of advice might seem like an oxymoron. How can something be timeless and timely? Think of it this way—safety, innovation, peace of mind, the “coolness” factor, those are all timeless qualities that appeal to most audiences. Explain how your product or service relates to qualities like that, then pair it with a hook that makes your concept important among the topics and trends of the day. You’ll have a double shot of interest from customers or news outlets that might otherwise find your terminology difficult to grasp.
  • Know your reading level – Match the sophistication of your communications with the reading level of your desired audience. Again, if it’s a peer-reviewed academic audience, you’ll be able to get away with more complex terminology than if it’s a broad-scale consumer piece. You can test a piece’s readability online at places like:‎ and

At the end of the day, these tips help you leave audiences feeling confident about your company, its products and its services…not confused. 

Five Rules for Any Crisis Situation

Crisis situations have many faces.  They present themselves at different times and in varying ways.  They can come in as a small problem and, if mismanaged, escalate into a mission critical disaster. Some begin as explosive disasters that immediately cripple an organization, while others hang around like a bad virus and kill after a lengthy and unpleasant illness.

While the specific nature of the crisis dictates your response, we follow five key rules when helping clients deal with any crisis situation:

First, acknowledge what has happened. Most people are willing to accept the fact that mistakes happen. What they won’t tolerate is you failing to recognize it. You may not know why 150,000 gallons of #2 crude is now in the backyards of 35 homes, but it is there for all to see.

Second, quickly, clearly and accurately communicate the immediate steps you have taken to deal with the situation. People want to know what you are doing now to fix the problem you created. Actions speak louder than words.

Third, communicate consistently and demonstrate that you will take additional steps to deal with situation as it unfolds. People want to know that you’re going to be around to help them deal with the fallout of your mistake. Again, actions speak louder than words.

Fourth, and perhaps most mission critical, provide multiple opportunities and channels to capture the feedback from those affected by the situation. People really want to let you know how your mistake has changed their lives as much as they want to know what you’re doing about it. Regular feedback also is essential to assessing and understanding how your messages and actions are being received by those affected. The quantity, tone and intensity of feedback helps guide your on-going communications and actions going forward.

Fifth, the key to survival in a crisis is knowing where to go for the right kind of help – the earlier, the better.  Get the extra help you need from your attorneys, public relations firm or other consultants to ensure a positive outcome.

Secrets to a Good Interview

Now, that was a great interview
It’s not just PR folks and journalists who conduct interviews. Many business people conduct interviews, too, and I’m not talking about employment interviews. Whenever we ask questions because we are looking for answers we intend to use in a report, a presentation, a white paper, an article we are submitting to a trade publication, web or social media content or even a video, we are engaged in various forms of an interview. No matter the reason, the art of the interview is really the art of asking questions while making a personal connection. Doing that isn’t hard, but it does take practice.

Do your homework
For an interview with a subject who holds the information you need to complete an assignment or project, do your research ahead of time. Often, this is as easy as Googling the subject, and his or her area of expertise. Sometimes it means talking with other people who can share background and insight.

Occasionally, this can be challenging. We interview many patients for our healthcare clients, for example, and HIPAA laws prohibit the sharing of personal health information. Often, understanding the patient’s personal health situation is key to the story we’ve been charged with writing. So, like it or not, we go into the interview under-informed. That’s where a friendly, personal style can help.

It’s not an interrogation
Want people to open up and talk about what you’re really interested in? Start with a genuine interest in them and their situation. Avoid an insincere or perfunctory introduction, and strive for balance between respect and friendliness. You’re in the driver’s seat, so maintain your professional demeanor – and listen carefully and respond sincerely. Take this approach from your initial contact through any follow-up conversation.

It’s all about the questions
You did that homework for a reason – to understand your subject as thoroughly as possible, and to help develop questions that will draw out the information you need. Write down questions as you research, then develop a final list. The process of drafting the questions is essential for directing your own thinking and visualizing the interview ahead of time.

Strive for questions that elicit robust answers. Get the basics – who, what, when – and spend most of your time on why and how. Have some follow-up questions at the ready, and develop ease with a few more probing prompts like, “Can you help me understand that more clearly?” and “That’s interesting – tell me more about that.”

Go with the flow
The best interviewers are prepared – and flexible. That’s where the “art” comes in. If you’re closely following and listening during a phone interview, you’ll catch the subtle change in tone of voice that makes you ask a follow-up question you hadn’t planned on, or the off-hand mention that leads to a new question. Or, if the interview is in person, you’ll see the body language and make eye contact that could prompt a different way to ask the next question – a way that might be more respectful.

Step up your interview process and style, and when it’s all said and done, you and your subject will be able to say, “Now, that was a great interview!”

Social Media with IMPACT!

So, you want to jump into social media. Or, maybe, you want to refresh your existing online presence. Great! Now, how do you stand out among the hundreds of organizations trying to do likewise? Here are some tips for planning and executing a social media strategy with impact:

Planning a strategy

  • Focus on the social media channels your audiences use vs. the ones you like simply because you already know them
  • Outline realistic goals for frequency and scheduling on each channel
  • Set up analytics and tracking to help identify which type of posts get results vs. which don’t. Programs like TweetDeck and Hootsuite can get you started, and many social media channels generate their own analytics reports for customers.
  • Brainstorm ideas about the type of news and info you want to share. Quotes and photos are particularly powerful. You can also mention new products, neat results or stories, or upcoming events.
  • Establish a process for engaging with others through social media – remember, it’s a two-way dialogue

Crafting compelling posts

  • Think about the length of your news and the most appropriate channels to communicate it
  • Adding photos, links, quotes and hashtags can create intrigue, but don’t overdo it
  • If you have a static piece of news, consider formatting it on top of an image – people love visuals!
  • Aim for short, punchy and enticing in your language
  • Mention key people, organizations or items
  • Put the most interesting information first (This might be different from what you think is the most important information. People won’t get to the important if they don’t first find it interesting.)
  • Leave the readers curious so they engage with links or follow up conversation

Each version assumes a bitly link would follow the language.

  • Weak: Read our new article.
  • Strong: The newest article by Dr. Joe Smith focuses on improving access to transportation services.
  • Stronger: How will access to transportation improve the lives of Milwaukee-area residents? Dr. Joe Smith shares his insights in our latest article.
  • Weak: Join other community leaders at our seminar event.
  • Strong: Connect with #nonprofit leaders for hands-on learning at @AFP_VI 
  • Stronger: #nonprofit leaders are applying lessons from #JohnSmith. Are you? Stop by @AFP_VI today!

The “Stronger” versions in these examples ask questions, sound personal and pull readers in. They also utilize specifics about people, places and hashtags to boost visibility and relevance.


Social Media. Take Two.

Social media is more relevant today than ever, so we thought it was timely to resurrect this post from the archives about what managing it well means for your brand.

Social media is teaching us an important lesson: we no longer own our brands. Anyone with Internet access and an opinion is helping to shape the perceptions about your company and its brand. You now have an unlimited number of brand managers – like it or not.

Let’s like it, and consider how it might be an opportunity to listen, engage and possibly retool. More than anything, it’s critical to be aware of all the conversations swirling around your brand.

  • Listen in on the critical conversations that give you instant insight into what people are thinking, feeling saying and doing when it comes to your brand
  • Engage with “friends” and “fans.” Use them to bounce ideas off of, to learn if your messages are ringing true to your consumers’ ears
  • Hit the pause button and rethink if your “online brand managers” are not resonating with your company’s marketing and brand messages

Here are some free resources to monitor the online conversation:

  • Google Alerts,
  • Boardtracker,
  • Twitter,
  • Board Reader,
  • Technorati,
  • Social Media Firehose,
  • Social Mention,

More than 270 million people in North America are online, in one form or another. Social media grows stronger and more influential every day. Mobile technology is becoming the dominant way we communicate with one another. The bottom line:

  • Spend the time to focus on social media and how it’s affecting you and your customers 
  • Figure out what makes business sense for your company and your customers
  • Use it to benefit you and your customers

Say, by the way, how are your competitors addressing social media?