Here come the Holidays, so who needs business writing? Ah, but…

As you’re reading this – especially if you’re in the UK – the last thing on your mind will be what you need to write for business in the coming two weeks.

HTWB Xmas biz writingYour to-do list will be heaving with everything from gift shopping to picking up the turkey to getting your tax return in order (well, you should, according to my accountant) to cleaning up after the office party to wondering how to stop your cat from shattering the Christmas tree all over your living room carpet.

Look on the bright side – you’ll soon be free to think about business writing 2016 (LOL!)

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Websites must be mobile friendly by April 21st. Here’s a quick way to find out if yours is…

For some time now, everyone has been talking about the need to make websites and blogs mobile friendly (including the words we write).

Websites must be mobile friendly by April 21st. Here's a quick way to find out if yours is...

Seems HTWB is mobile friendly already. Phew.

Now it seems that Google has set the date for the axe to fall when your site MUST be mobile friendly, like it or not – April 21st, 2015.

Most digi-gurus will know this already, but I thought it might be helpful to share this with people like me who aren’t necessarily in the know about all things internet…

I discovered this while chatting with other group members in Facebook’s The Women in Biz run by Bonnie Frank, and am eternally grateful to Bonnie for bringing my attention to it. There are more details about the whole thing in this article by Chuck Price on the website Search Engine Watch.

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How to write a bloody awful FAQ page

FAQ,FAQ page,bloody awful,frequently asked questions,page,website,writing,questions,customers

Is your FAQ page as awful as it should be?

FAQ pages are another great way to promote your business, right? Never mind what customers and prospects really would ask. This is simply a page where you can put up “questions” that you would like  your customers to ask, so feeding you the lines you need to bring out important sales points. [Read more…]

Come on, China – surely you can find SOMEONE who writes English properly?

A true pearl arrived one time in the Guest Post box of a website I used to edit and for once, Suze was speechless after trying to read it. It is quite the most utter nonsense I have ever read, and trust me, I’ve read quite a lot in my time.

Checking out the source, I found that it came from a Chinese company selling children’s toys, so I’m not quite sure why they wanted the website concerned to run a guest post about an Apple iPhone. Perhaps it’s an Oriental marketing technique we haven’t heard of before in the West.

Here it is verbatim, with the link to their site removed…

bangaccessory
on May 3, 2012, 16GB apple iPhone 4S newest arrival of shipment, The business gives the quoted price is 4600 Yuan, before comparing, pelts 250 Yuan , the digital accessoriesis: Battery charger, earphone, data line and so on. Apple iPhone 4S is one section supports the CDMA network the fashionable intelligent street machine . The apple iPhone 4S fuselage is composed of the glass and the metal, and And fuselage thickness only has 9.3 millimeters, the whole is revealing rich when Shang Gan and technical feeling. Its screen is 3.5 inch IPS touches together controls Screen, not only supports the multi-spots to touch controls the operation, but also has 640×960 The picture element superelevation resolution, cannot feel the picture element pellet nearly. In Sets 8,000,000 picture element cameras have the HDR function, the photograph strength not Vulgar. Simultaneously has also promoted theapple accessories
market development.
Apple reduction

For Heavens’ sake, Chinese businesses, if you want to be taken seriously in English-speaking countries, get someone other than a piece of hysterical article spinning software to write your marketing communications.

What would you think of a British or American business advertising in China and mangling Mandarin or crippling Cantonese in the same ridiculously awful way?

Serious help to make sure your English is perfect:

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”…over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English

“English to English: the A to Z of British-American translations”…more than 2,000 business and social terms from the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Website audio: want to make yours a “wow?” Hear this…

A well-written audio track can work wonders to liven up anything from product assembly instructions to the home page of your website – and, it’s cheaper and far easier to produce than video. The trouble is, not all spoken audio tracks are well written.

Often we think if we pay for a good voice-over artiste to record the words, by some miracle he or she will be able to transform lumpy brochure copy into a great sounding audio track. Wrong. I have directed some of the most experienced voice artistes in Europe and although I’ve seen them do a lot to improve a weak script, they’re not magicians.

We tend to underestimate the value of the human voice in communications – a voice can convey a lot more than mere words. It can touch people’s emotions in ways that text could never hope to. But you’re not going to make much of an impression on people’s emotions if the script for your spoken words reads like a passage from last year’s Company Report and Accounts.

Remember that audio speech really is “a word in your ear”

Someone once said that audio listeners aren’t one audience of thousands; they’re thousands of audiences of one. Always communicate with “you” in a personal style, as if you were talking to the listener direct. Get it right, and your close proximity to the listener’s ear is a powerful communication tool. Get it wrong, and you unleash the equivalent strength of hostility. Never patronize or talk down. Write as if you’re talking to a friend. Be honest and realistic – no hype, no corporate-speak, no unnecessary jargon.

There’s no mystique about spoken speech

It’s simply that – writing the way people speak, rather than the way we’ve been taught to write at school. If you want see how that works, audio-record yourself talking through the topic you want to write a script about, as if to your intended audience. Transcribe it, clean it up (but not too much – audio speech must sound natural if it’s going to work, unless it’s a commercial) and that’s about right for your script.

Use a crisp, uncluttered style

Funnily enough people who write well for online purposes are more likely to write well for audio (and video) because those styles, like online copy, are more direct, more human. When you’re writing for audio, use easy, shortish sentences, but vary their lengths. Stick to one idea per sentence where possible. Make each new idea flow logically out of the previous one.

Check everything you write by reading it aloud

No matter how relaxed a sentence may look on paper or screen, it could read awkwardly. Always, always check what you’ve written by reading it to yourself or preferably to someone else. Or into a recorder, so you can listen to it as often as you need. If it does read badly, change it – even if that involves doing something ungrammatical. Remember, write as people speak, even if it would make your old English teacher blanch.

Words on their own become boring

After a few minutes, wall-to-wall words begin to drone and make people’s attention wander. Break them up with musical interludes. Use simple sound effects. Use pauses. For a script that’s more than a few sentences long, use a second voice for contrast. Get the voices to relate to each other, bringing the audience in as the third party in a 3-way conversation. Use “character voices” as well as straight-sounding narration (most good voice artistes can do numerous different accents and styles). Above all, use your imagination – audio has much more creative potential than most people realize.

On a website, work with accompanying text – don’t fight it or mirror it

There’s no point telling people what they already can see. Use spoken words to add a dimension to the written text, or to embellish images where there is little or no text. In view of current technological limitations, don’t depend too heavily on the audio content to get important messages over (some people don’t even have their speakers on all the time.)

Any questions? Jot them down here in the comments and I’ll answer as best I can.

Make sure they hear the right words:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

Creating your own video for your blog or website: how to make it look professional

As technology moves us farther and farther on in terms of what we can achieve with relatively simple kit to put ourselves online in visual and audio terms as well as in pure text, we can be grateful that decent quality video has finally become affordable for nearly everyone.

With video cameras being so easy to use and video material being so easy to upload, it’s not surprising that many people think it’s equally easy to produce good video content and performance. However, they’re wrong.

Whereas there are high-tech, high-quality solutions for all the practical elements of making a video, once it comes to who says what and how, no amount of technology can improve on a bad performance.

The camera exaggerates even the slightest movement and makes it look maniacal. On the other hand, once you recognize this point and make yourself sit absolutely bolt still, you’ll look like a ventriloquist’s dummy. It takes a lot of training and practice to hit the right balance, as any TV newsreader will tell you.

The answer? Unless you happen to be very good at on-camera presenting, don’t do it. Instead use the off-camera interview technique.

This technique is often used on TV by news reporters and documentary directors, where you see the interviewee talking to an unseen someone just beside the camera.

It’s brilliant for two reasons: one, the camera in this case is recording one half of a genuine conversation between two people which is far more natural and relaxed than a “talking head” and two, you don’t have to remember your lines in anything like the same detail.

All it needs is for someone to sit beside the camera (or it can be the person running the camera, depending on whether you use remote control or not) and ask you questions which you will have pre-agreed, but not over-rehearsed.

You then look at the person (so your eyeline ends just to one side of the camera) and reply to him or her. The person’s questions can then be cut out afterwards, or if you really like the “fly-on-the-wall” approach, you can leave them in.

Whoever asks the questions must take care not to phrase them in such a way that you automatically respond with either a “yes” or a “no” as this can make the dialogue fall rather flat. The way to avoid that is to ask “open” questions and these are what journalists use – start every question with:

  • what
  • who
  • where
  • why
  • when
  • which
  • how
  • etc.

And finally, leave a short gap between the question and your answer so that if you decide to edit out the questions later, it can be done cleanly. Similarly, don’t talk over each other as that can mess up the soundtrack.

Another damning element of some amateur videos can be that the voice of the speaker sounds like s/he was talking from the bottom of a well – echoing, hollow and distorted.

This usually arises when you are using the camera microphone to record the sound; no matter how much camera manufacturers swear up and down that their on-camera mics are of excellent quality, in the main they are not.

Rather than go to the expense and palaver of setting up individual mics, you can simply ensure that the place where you record your video is as sound-dead as possible. A nice, fluffy, thickly carpeted, softly furnished living room is ideal, well away from domestic noises. And avoid shooting in large open spaces, outdoors, and anywhere with hard floors and few soft furnishings.

Do you have any favourite tips of your own on how to shoot a DIY video? If so please share them with us here. And let me know if this topic interests you a lot, as I can expand on it at some length…!! (I wrote and produced corporate videos for a long time back in the Ming Dynasty…)

For now, here’s some useful further reading:

MakeAVideo.net … they seem very fond of one particular brand of software but there could be commercial reasons for this! However they offer some useful advice.

Tim Carter from AskTheBuilder.com, on YouTube … this assumes you want to do a relatively fancy video, but the basic advice is good.

Web Design Discussion … some good tips in this post of theirs.

…and there are some really good pieces of advice from Indie Filmaking.

Let’s make sure you get the words right:

“Super Speeches”…how to write and deliver them well

“How To Write About Yourself”…how to make the most of yourself, whatever you need to write

“Business Writing Made Easy”…everything you need to know about writing for business in English

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