Consider me wowed.
Ann Wylie blew into town on June 30 to present Robust, Readable and Riveting: Writing that Compels in the Age of Now! The event was presented by IABC/DC Metro with the support of event sponsor Johns Hopkins University and event patron Marketwire.
Ann’s presentation was a hybrid of two of her signature talks: Think Like a Reader and Cut Through the Clutter. Each segment of the presentation addressed part of Wilbur Shram’s famous Fraction of Selection formula: people decide what information to consume based on what they think they’ll get out of it (expectation of reward) versus what they have to put into it (effort required).
In Think Like a Reader, Ann addressed how to make the communications experience more rewarding for your readers. She breathed new life into time-honored strategies, like WIIFM (“What’s In It For Me?”) and focusing on benefits (not features).
In this section, Ann demonstrated time and again how small changes in approach can generate big payoffs in terms of reader engagement.
In Cut Through the Clutter, Ann outlined a framework for reducing the amount of effort you require from your readers, which increases the likelihood that they will pay attention to, understand, remember and act on your messages.
As Ann mentioned in her talk, much of the research that’s conducted on readability is tucked away in academic journals and obscure reports. It’s just not getting to the people who need it, namely communications practitioners like us!
As a writer who tends to “feel her way through” the process, I was impressed with the many concrete tips Ann was able to provide based on solid research. Did you know:
- Regardless of the length of a piece, readers tend to spend only two minutes on it.
- Most people read at a pace of 200 words per minute.
- People skip big paragraphs, so try to keep your paragraphs to 2-3 sentences (1-2 for the web!)
- Readability plummets for long sentences. Try to average 14 words per sentence.
- Use short words! Any word longer than two syllables is considered complex.
- If you have to use a complex word, increase readability by surrounding it with simpler words.
I can hear you counting the words in this sentence.
Based on the turnout (the room was packed!), this information is something we all know we need. Ann delivered 3 hours of mind blowing, actionable content, much of which I’ve already started to put to work in my own writing.
Read more of Ann’s tips at Waxing Unlyrical.
Ann Bevans is the chapter’s new portfolio director, Creative Services.
Image: Shonali Burke, ABC, Creative Commons