To Thine Own Self Be True
Stephanie Hay, Former Viget
Although clients know themselves and what they have to offer, sometimes they struggle with conveying that through writing. They consider who they are now, what they had to offer a year ago, maybe what they want to become in five years ... Ack! So much to wade through in paring down a unique voice and tone. Categorization helps us process things, so when we come across a new site, we immediately ask ourselves questions like: Is this legitimate? Does this sound like some kooky pyramid scheme? Is the design a joke? Do the people look happy in their staff headshots? (Maybe that's just me who asks that...) Across the board, more and more websites are being labeled legitimate because they seamlessly integrate informational tones with a subtle degree of whimsy or humor. Gone are the days of formalspeak that no one cares to read. Readers want to be spoken to the way you'd interact with them in person. The web is beautiful like that. So, where do you start? The first step I suggest when clients are trying to define their voice in writing is to, well, SPEAK. Gather a bunch of people whom you trust, and then pitch to them how you would describe yourself or your business. Just say what you mean, from the hip, in a way that is free-form and flexible. Answer questions like: What benefits do you offer? Why should anyone care about you? How can you improve their lives? How can you impact them? Listen to how they react. Correct what's confusing. Emphasize what works. After you've heard your pitch a bunch and gathered the crucial feedback, then start writing. Try to replicate what you were saying. Don't immediately edit everything you write. Come up with several sentences -- not paragraphs -- and then say it again. Listen to the way you sound. If it sounds forced when you say it, chances are it will read that way, too. Keep trying. Once you have something solid, determine if it could be even more succinct. Cut what's redundant or awkward. If you think it takes many paragraphs to explain something, then chances are your readers won't get it fast enough. You could have the greatest idea since Al Gore invented the Internet but no one will stick around to care if you can't convey it concisely and in a way that resonates with them. It's from this exercise -- which admittedly can be rather tedious -- that all additional content can be generated. Knowing yourself and describing yourself in a way that's true to your voice and tone will provide the point of orientation against which all other site content can be created; writing new content will be easier, and your readers will appreciate the consistency and personality.