Recently, we conducted a Business Writing workshop for the Indian divison of a large MNC which provides consulting and outsourcing solutions. This was a first for me. Having attended some workshops before and having made fun of the presenter’s accent and speaking skills (secretly of course), I never imagined that I would one day be at the receiving end. I am sure that a number of the participants, in the more tedious moments (perhaps post-lunch), dissected my clothes, face and manner of speaking. But I am blissfully unaware of it, so I can thankfully focus on what I learnt.
My learning process began right from when we started putting togther material for the workshop. I had fancied myself something of an expert in business writing – all my beliefs dived right through the window when I started reading up on common errors and universal best practices. I suffer from most of the former and follow virtually none of the latter. But since advice from a hypocrite is nevertheless still advice, I proceeded to write my learnings down and consolidate them into four extensive modules.
Now, a few years ago, when I was applying for my first job, I had learnt to use Power Point over a weekend and managed to put together a fancy presentation that was quite good. So all these years I thought that I knew all about Powerpoint gimmicks. Till a couple of young girls took my presentations, broke them up and reassembled them in a completely different and fresh manner, which, I have to admit, was infinitely more attractive and eye-catching than my slides using different kinds of transitions. When it comes to technology, 30 is the new 60 and my skills and knowledge are getting redundant by the day.
The actual presentation of the workshop was relatively stress-free except for the post-lunch period, where we had to cope with a few glazed eyes and stifled yawns. But I would like to believe that people were smiling and nodding because they were enjoying what we were saying and not because of lettuce stuck in my teeth.
What I enjoyed most about the workshop was an exercise that we set the participants (about 15 in number). Over the course of two weeks, each participant worked on writing copy for six different kinds of pieces (ranging from a blog to a press release to website copy) and I worked with him or her to review, correct and suggest improvements. All participants later claimed that they learnt a lot from this hands-on experience since it allowed them to practise what we had theorised about. It also gave them an insight into writing styles, common error patterns and how the same content can be ‘repurposed’ to suit a variety of articles and communciation vehicles. At the same time, it allowed me to step away from the pieces and critically examine what was working, what was not and why – thus allowing me to understand for myself the real import of the material that we had presented! Plus, it’s always fun to pick faults in other peoples’ work and point out how you could have done it better.
Generally speaking, my learnings from this experience had more to do with workshop presentations, rather than business writing.
- Workshops have to be interactive and encourage audience participation. The only way to keep your listeners engaged is to ask questions, encourage debate. They are then forced to listen since they don’t want to be caught napping. Plus, the more your audience talks, the less you have to!
- Slides have to be eye-catching – if you can get the point across through images all the better. Basically have less content and more images, slogans, visuals and definitely add plenty of videos. Get other experts to make your point for you, and with YouTube there is no dearth of experts in any case.
- Break up your workshop into small modules with plenty of exercises thrown in to keep the audience alert and interested.
- If you have a lengthy point to make, make a handout that can be read later at leisure.
- If your workshop is spread out over multiple sessions, take audience feedback from the first session and build it into the subsequent ones.
- Finally, you can make your material as attractive as you want, but design is no substitute for good content.
And that is what good business writing is also about.
I will follow up this blog with a series of blogs presenting some nuggets of wisdom, some information gleaned and some lessons learnt through the entire process of putting together and presenting a business writing workshop. That should make for some interesting conversations.
On an aside, am I the only Indian blogging about a non-World Cup related topic today? Probably!