Writing is a necessary skill regardless of your leadership position or the type of school you lead. The act of leadership requires you to influence those around you to unite in a common mission.
It may be bold, writing to school Heads about how to write, but we see many who continue to write as if they are composing messages to their university lecturers. Lecturers are no longer your audience. Academic writing has its place but, for the most part, it is not a useful tool to use when talking to your audience.
Yes, in a world where text is losing favour, you can achieve a lot with personal on-on-one persuasion. But as a leader, you need to be exercising your influence one-to-many which requires you to write. It may be words on a page, a script for a video, a speech or a web page, but you will need to write. Effectively.
Here are six strategies that will ensure your writing makes an impact on your audience:
- Forget what you have learned
It’s a simple fact. Forget what you learned about writing in school and university. That style is designed to teach the basics of writing. Ann Handley, in her book Everybody Writes, says, “Five-paragraph essays are formulaic and structured, they are boring to write and boring to read.”
Instead, be yourself and let your message come through — this is what attracts your audience after all. Do not get hung up on being formal just because you are writing. Write in a style that is genuinely you, but one that also works for your audience. Stay true to you, your audience and your content.
- Readability really does matter
As a school Head, you want your message to engage your audience. However, nothing loses an audience faster than something too long or too complex.
A good goal is to write for a 12-year-old. Keep your sentences simple. Write for your audience like you are speaking to them. Your audience will usually already know you, so they should be able to hear you saying the words in their mind as they read. This makes the readability easier and helps develop the relationship with your audience.
- Bold your headings or make them stand out in another way.
- Use bulleted or numbered lists.
- Focus on a single idea in each paragraph or section.
- Provide visual breaks. If the text appears to be too long, you have lost them. A useful rule is that paragraphs should not exceed five lines.
- Use infographics, charts or other visuals to provide cues to your reader and to supplement your content.
- Get a ‘why’!
Every piece you write needs a purpose. If you are writing a newsletter message because it is Thursday and you ‘have to’, you are writing for the wrong reasons. Your reader will notice, and you are training them not to value your communications! Stop and find the ‘why’.
Every time you write it needs to be crafted with an audience outcome in mind. What does the audience get from your piece of writing? The audience must understand why your message is relevant to them and how you can help them better their lives.
Questions to ask before you begin to type: Is this serving an audience need? Am I meeting a specific pain point for my audience? Is this deepening the relationship with my audience?
- Juicy headlines work
Headlines are important. If you don’t create a headline that grabs the reader’s attention, elicits an emotion, or creates the desire for them to learn more, you miss an opportunity to engage your audience with your message. Your headline works as an advertisement.
A great headline, however, is not enough. Researchers know that you have three seconds to keep readers hooked after the headline. The first sentence plays a role in determining whether they read the rest of your piece. As a result, it should capture the reader’s attention and smoothly lead them into your first point.
“A message from the Principal” is not a gripping headline. It’s an easy formula that suggests to your audience they can skip your message because you have nothing new or important to say. Once upon a time you could rely on your position to garner readership, but those days are gone.
- Consider the most important thing to tell your audience.
- Make your headline actionable for your audience. Offer a solution to their problem, promote unique information and include keywords used by your audience in online searches.
- Please use that tone of voice
Consistency is a key to success, and that applies to your writing too. Consistency in tone can help you establish a ‘voice’ for you and your school brand. Consistency is invaluable in connecting with your audience because it gives them a familiar voice of authority once they have identified with and acclimated to the tone you use in your content.
Consequently, developing your unique voice through writing tone reflects you and your brand. It allows your audience to connect with you on a personal level and develop a deeper relationship between you.
We need to distinguish the difference between voice and tone:
- Voice: Your brand personality described in an adjective, such as lively, positive, cynical or professional.
- Tone: A subset of your brand’s voice that adds specific flavour based on factors like audience, situation and channel.
Essentially, your brand has one voice with many tones. Now the question becomes how do you find your school’s brand voice? This is not a quick process, but consider the three C method:
- Culture: What does your school stand for?
- Community: How does your audience talk about your topic?
- Conversation: What do you want to add to the conversation?
- Always provoke action
Every piece of writing should have a call to action (CTA) for your audience. Marketers often think of CTAs as buttons with a link to an enrolment enquiry form or to book a school tour, but they are much more.
If every piece you write has a ‘why’, then every piece should also ask an action of your reader. Do not leave them guessing what you want them to do next — call them to action.
You might be asking your audience to buy tickets for the annual drama production, consider a different perspective on a familiar topic or adopt a new behaviour. They are all examples of CTAs in action. So often the piece is carefully crafted to make an impact with your audience, but they are not prompted to take a clear action.
Conclusion: Let me be the first to tell you – your writing is not perfect. That’s okay. No one’s writing ever is. So, if you have the luxury of time, step away from your writing for a day or two before editing it. Then, proofreading by someone other than you is essential. Always.
- Your role as leader requires you to influence others in writing styles that may not be natural to you.
- Consistently use the same tone and voice: yours.
- Always call your audience to action.