The power of leveraging your strengths

How do you learn and work and produce best?

I’ve been thinking about the power of leveraging your strengths. Of what you can achieve when you know your best ways of working.

Because me, I’m a binge creator. I’m a binge worker. I’m a terrible employee because if you want me to show up, all day, every day, and be ON, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

But when I have the freedom to have up and down times, all-in times and all-out times, I SHINE. You’ll get absolute gold out of me.

Shelly Davies - You'll get absolute gold out of me

Which is why I love MANAVATION from Tūraukawa and Aimee Bartlett. You can improve your reo Māori and your cultural confidence, systematically – tiny lesson at a time – or you can binge it.

That was my inspiration for the way I’ve set up the School of unProfessional Writing™. I’ve done my time at university, writing essays and doing assignments and meeting deadlines, and at THIS point in my life I know that’s not how I work best. I work best when learning is accessible to me when I feel like it.

I work best when learning is punchy and bite-sized and from a place of DEEP KNOWLEDGE AND EXPERIENCE but not talking to me like I’m a blank canvas. I mean, come on – I’m a grown ass adult with skills and knowledge who’s just continuing to learn and grow and refine skills and hone talents. Don’t spoon feed me.

I’d like to think that’s how the School of unprofessional Writing™ works.

You can graze or binge (I might rename it ShellyFlix – see, for example, below, where I am most definitely NOT teaching people how to twerk onstage*). 

You can watch a 5-minute video lesson every day on your coffee break. Or you can binge a course or multiple courses. The point is, each micro-sized lesson has something you can use STRAIGHT AWAY to improve your writing. Every. Single. One.

So, what I’m proud of is that I think I’ve leveraged my strengths to bring you a really frikn cool, super useful and relevant and valuable thing: a way to improve your writing on your terms. In a way that works for you. So you have choices. So you can leverage YOUR ways of working.

Here are some of my strengths, that I leaned into, to build this school:

  • My authenticity. I am trying to be nothing other than just me. The same me you’d meet on the street.
  • My high-energy all-in-ness. After making some of those videos I melted into a puddle, y’all! I gave it everything I’ve got. I hope you’ll feel it.
  • My super practical lens. I’m not big on the technicalities of grammar. I’m not a fine detail person. I believe that the best approaches to better writing are grounded in understanding modern readers, not in where to put a semicolon or how to use flash words.
  • My decades of experience. Four universities. 30 years of teaching. 31 years of writing. Thousands of people trained. I peeled away all self-doubt and just brought you what I KNOW to be true.
  • My lens for simplicity and keeping things stress-free. You don’t need to commit time to this. There are no deadlines or pressure or assignments. This isn’t STUDY. It’s SOAKING UP CAREER-CHANGING KNOWLEDGE.

Not in my wildest dreams did I imagine the School of unProfessional Writing™ would be received on such a grand scale. I underestimated how much the world is ready to deconstruct our shitty, old-fashioned ideas about what it means to be “professional.” I was unprepared, but I’m grateful.

Because let’s face it. We’re no longer willing to tolerate practices that alienate. Marginalise. Disadvantage. Privilege. Or even just fucking waste time.

Are you ready to get un-schooled?

Confidence in writing

Confidence. Whether you’re aware or not, confidence or lack of it plays a significant role in your writing at work. From my experience, this is true across all demographics, and I don’t care how educated you are, what gender or socio-economic background you come from, how high up the food chain you are or how long in the tooth, your level of confidence has an effect on your writing.

See, here’s the thing: hitting send on that email or report is a vulnerable experience. Once you’ve hit send, it’s out there. It’s open to judgement or criticism. There’s not a damn thing you can do about other people’s opinions once they read your words. That’s a bell you can’t unring.

So if you’re worried about what people think, if you’re young or new at your job or early in your career, if you’re particularly concerned with getting it right, that can slow you down at best, and paralyse you at worst.

Shelly Davies: Is it a crisis of confidence? I see you, and you're amazing

If you’re completely unconcerned about what anyone thinks then you’re giving no fucks and hitting send left right and centre without a second thought. Also possibly a narcissist. Or an arrogant prick (sorry, my courses can’t help you with that).

Seriously though, if you’re confident in your writing and ability to express yourself, you’re probably writing faster and rewriting less. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re writing more slowly and doubting yourself more. If you’re worried about proving yourself, you’re writing and rewriting and dying a little bit inside each time.

Shelly Davies: Is it "for fucks sake" or "for fuck sake"? It's for work, so I want to make sure this sounds professional

We haven’t got enough time in the day to be doubting every word we type. 

So for me, one thing I want for you when you come to one of my trainings or do an online course is that you’ll walk away feeling just a bit more confident.

That you’ll hit send with a bit less hesitation. 

That you’ll reread and rewrite less.

That you’ll trust your instincts and your authentic voice just that little bit more.

That you’ll know you can’t please everyone but that you’ve written a clear, fit for purpose message.

And that then, because you’ve done that, people will respond accordingly. They’ll feel that confidence. They’ll have a little, subconscious seed planted that you’re easy to work with. Efficient. That you get shit done. In my experience, writing more authentically and confidently helps people progress their careers. It engenders confidence, and that’s good for us, good for our customers, and good for business.

Shelly Davies: The written word has power! It has weight. It changes things! It gets heard differently. It gets listened to.

So, write more like the way you speak. Read it out loud. Hear it. See how it feels. And start to lock in the fact that your verbal, conversational voice is pretty good at expressing things simply, one idea at a time. 

And then, hit send. 

(When nothing bad happens, you can lock that in as evidence that it worked. When it comes to writing, the absence of negative feedback should be considered validation. We’re way less likely to get people replying and telling us what a great email that was. Good writing becomes invisible. Go be invisible and consider that a win!!)

How to advocate for yourself by email

I won a huge battle last year for my daughter. HUGE. Like, $300k+ PER YEAR kind of huge. Almost entirely by email. So here’s my advice for how to advocate for yourself (and whānau, friends, employees, all the good humans who need your support) by email.

Before you write, you need to be clear on these things:

  1. What the problem is, factually
  2. How the problem is affecting you
  3. Your understanding of where in the system or service, the problem is happening
  4. The outcome you want
  5. If there’s any compromise you’re willing to make

Seriously, don’t even think about emailing until you’re clear on those things – even if you answer to any of them (like #3) is “I don’t know.”  You still need to think them all through.

How to write the email:

  1. Greet politely, but not fake friendly
  2. Express how you’re feeling, very succinctly
  3. State the problem, factually and concisely – and if you can add the solution here, that’s even better
  4. If there’s a lot of background or you need to give a lot of detail to explain the problem, divide it into sections with headings and bullets. Include anything you know or suspect about where or why the problem might be happening
  5. Offer a solution – and if there’s any way you can make this a win-win, that’s your best bet
  6. Now be a bad-ass or kiss-ass: end with a threat or a human pleas for kindness

What I can’t stress to you enough is how you need to be as brief and factual as possible. You need to make it EASY for the person to help you. Don’t expect them to read your novel of pain and frustration. Use headings and bullets because this person will SKIMREAD and you want to help them do it easily.  

What might that look like?

Example 1 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #1 by Shelly Davies

Example 2 (it worked, btw)

How to advocate for yourself by email - letter writing example #2 - by Shelly Davies

No joy first time? That’s normal. Don’t take it personally.

Time to escalate.

You need to make sure you’re contacting the right person. Yes, you’ll have started with some kind of customer service or complaints or support email. Or maybe it was the person you usually have contact with in that service – like a case manager.  We always need to be aware, though, that those frontline people often have limited authority. We almost always have to start our advocacy process with them, but that is NOT the end of the story.

Do your research, then, about the structure of the organisation. Who is their manager? Who’s the regional manager? Who holds the budget for the thing you’re asking for? 

And if that contact person you have won’t escalate your concerns, know what channels you have for escalating things yourself. Is it an ombudsman? Is it a complaints authority? Is it that you get public on their social media page? (I get good results with this when I’m not getting fast enough action).

There is no single way to work within systems to advocate for yourself or your whānau. But these are the many avenues you can try. And remember – the basic structure of the email will remain the same each time. But you might add in a section that says “what I’ve already tried” or “who I’ve already talked to.”

I truly believe that this can get you amazing results. Both of those examples above worked. I have countless others. And then of course there’s the battle for my daughter.

How to advocate for yourself by email - "Systems can suck, but we can make them work for us, to advocate for ourselves and our whānau" - by Shelly Davies

If you’re wondering –

Here’s how I won the huge battle advocating for my daughter

  1. I banged my head for months in the DHB
  2. I banged my head for months in ACC
  3. I asked someone I knew at Kāinga Ora for advice
  4. She put me onto a special Kāinga Ora team
  5. Kāinga Ora invited ACC and DHB to the party
  6. Kāinga Ora provided a home
  7. We all went round in circles for a while
  8. I asked all of them to escalate my request to the right decision makers
  9. I emailed a Deputy Director General in the Ministry of Health
  10. She forwarded my email to a funding person in the DHB
  11. The funding person called me
  12. There was a fun little ballet between DHB and ACC
  13. We got the funding. And my daughter now lives safe and supported.

Go well, amazing humans. Systems can suck but we can make them work for us. You got this.

(And tell me how it goes!)

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Still not convinced? Take a peek at my super-quick, FREE Communication Rockstar course

And when you’re ready to take on the world, my Write Better Emails online course is here to help!

Learn how to advocate for yourself in a major way with my Write Better Emails online course.  It delivers a never-fail formula to instantly apply to EVERY kind of email - Shelly Davies

Writing for outcomes – Part 3

How to strip back your business writing

OK, so you’ve taken care of your up-front framing, and you’ve started to drill down to the clarity you need to write an amazing, fit-for-purpose document that’s gonna help you take over the universe. Now you’ve got to the real guts of it! How to strip back your business writing so that your message isn’t lost in all that wordy noise. 

Now you’re thinking:  So what do I actually write?

Why is writing so hard?

So here’s the thing. You know your stuff. And that’s both a blessing and a curse, because

  1. you know everything your reader needs to know, but
  2. YOU KNOW FAR MORE THAN YOUR READER NEEDS TO KNOW!

And you really want your reader to know all that, too. 

Which is a mistake.

Because let me be clearthe more words you use, the weaker the message.

Yes, I said it. 

The key to good writing is to write less.

The more words you use—the more text on a page, the more you think in someone’s general direction—the more likely they are to miss your point. 

Your bottom line. 

Your slap in the face. 

Or kick in the ass. 

Or pat-on-the-back (I thought I’d better add in a warm fuzzy—apparently my violent alter-ego is writing today).

Filtering through everything you know and want to say—and stripping back to only the key points—is the real challenge.

A process for stripping back

First of all, read and follow the steps I gave you in part 1. Then part 2.
There’s stuff in there you need to produce before you follow this process.

Once you’ve nailed that, do this:

1 – DUMP: get that shit out of your head. Brain dump.  Sketch, purge, free-write, list, use post-its. Do whatever you need to do, to get your thinking outside of your head. Because outside is where you can work with it.

2 – CHUNK: take that messy dump and group it together into chunks of related info. (If you wanna feel really cool, call this a thematic analysis.)

3 – LABEL: describe each of those chunks of info. But don’t use one-word labels.  Describe the chunk, like ‘How we got here’, ‘What we found’, ‘How we can fix the problem’. These will become your headings. And your readers will L O V E them!

4 – FILTER: using the purpose and the primary reader you identified in part 2, look at each beautifully labelled chunk and ask Does my reader need to know THIS for my document to achieve its purpose? Now here’s the gold (I love this. I’m excited. Can you tell?). If your answer is:

  • Yes – put it in! (Yuss!)
  • No – leave it out. (Duh!)
  • Maybe/I’m not sure/Some readers need it. Then either mention it, summarise it, point the reader to where they can find it outside of the document, or push it to the appendices. When in doubt, go to the appendix. It’s like magic. All the evidence that you know your stuff and you’ve done a shitload of work and you’re worth your weight in gold, without losing your reader.

5 – ORDER: look at the chunks you have left and put them in order based on what’s most important to YOUR READER.

A document is successful if it works for the reader - Shelly Davies

Now you have a plan

Some people might call it an outline. 

But that sends way too many of us back into PTSD-like flashbacks from our university days. 

So let’s just call it a plan. A map, maybe.

That plan means you can now write. With ease and clarity. Without second-guessing yourself and angsting over what to say or what not to say. 

It means you can write fast and that’s good on every level (read here for how good writing saves money).

Your extra set of steak knives

My favourite thing about this process is this: It gives you confidence!

It’s one of the most common comments I get from participants in my trainings:

I feel confident now. I know what I’m doing. I can relax. 

And that, my friends, is what it’s all about. 

Now write!

Hey! Don’t forget to grab your free process infographic!

Access For All: Plain Language is a Civil Right

An unmissable global virtual conference

If you, like me, believe plain language and accessible information is a civil right, and you have the internet, then this virtual event is for you no matter where you are on the globe.

This is the first time that PLAINClarity, and The Centre For Plain Language have joined forces to bring together one amazing global event: Access for all.

These are my peeps guys!

Everything I know, I know from them! And this is THE GATHERING of plain language pioneers and warriors from around the world.

Did I mention it’s timezone friendly?

Each day you’ll see 4 hours broadcast LIVE (like TV not zoom, and recorded so you can watch EVERY TALK, anytime), and ongoing discussions around the clock so you can interact no matter your timezone.

Check out the amazing ways they’re meeting our viewer needs:

  • Every talk/keynote is recorded live both BEFORE and AFTER the event
  • Every live session starts with an online discussion, which, as everyone wakes up in their various time zones, will Just.  Keep.  Going.
  • An unparalleled mix of pre-recorded, and LIVE content with interactive LIVE discussions with keynotes and speakers
  • Every talk/keynote will be available online to attendees until 30 April 2021

Crazy, right?! That’s access to MONTHS worth of #PlainLanguage training and resources for your company!

Access For All is an investment for your team/company

With everything going on in the world today, we need to stop allowing access to information to be something that’s impacted by privilege.  

If you’ve EVER complained about bad documents, forms, notices, legislation, or comms, now is the time to influence change in your organisation.

Hear and engage with a wide range of perspectives on plain language across industries and disciplines. No matter what your work and specialty, there’s something for you, including:

  • our responsibility to ensure access for all
  • Using plain language to improve the criminal justice system
  • Using plain language to protect the rights of vulnerable populations
  • Celebrating when plain language succeeds
  • An international case study: using plain language to affect the outcome of the health crisis COVID-19

Check out all the incredible keynote speakers and presenters!

Ok, so obviously I’m excited!

But what’s really exciting (yes, even more exciting than me being a keynote!), is this global opportunity we have to create necessary, life-changing systems, where we all simply #writelikeahuman and change the world!

Join me?

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The fine print (details and social links)

Writing for outcomes – part 2

Fit-for-purpose document structure achieves results

In my trainings, document structure is one of the most common things participants say they want help with.  Fit-for-purpose document structure achieves results!

They hope I’m going to give them a standard report structure.

*snort*

That’s like unicorn farts – would probably be lovely but there’s no such thing. 

Sorry bout it.

A quick re-cap

In part 1, I covered the upfront framing that:

  1. gives readers an incredibly satisfying experience, and
  2. engages the right audience

But I promised more.

So let’s move from reader behaviour to a reader-centric document structure.

Being readercentric (AKA empathy), outs us in the shoes of our READERS - Shelly Davies

How documents work

Let’s be very clear about how documents work.

  1. You’re writing a document because you need to achieve something. An outcome.
  2. To achieve YOUR outcome, the document has to work for THEM – the reader.
  3. The upfront framing either engages or loses your reader (we’ve already covered this).
  4. The structure of the rest of the document determines its success (ie: YOUR outcome).
  5. Shall I say it again? Write for THEM. Not for YOU. That’s the only way you’re going to ultimately get what you’re after.
A document is successful if it works for the reader - Shelly Davies

Purpose, purpose, bla, bla, bla

Any writing trainer worth their salt will tell you:

Identify the purpose of the document before you start writing

This is true. 

But, I find purpose – both the word and the concept, problematic.

Firstly, it’s overly and inappropriately used as a heading (how many documents have you read that have the heading purpose followed by a waffly, non-specific introduction??)

And second, when I ask people what the purpose of their document is, they give me answers like:

  • to inform…(for what purpose? We don’t tell people stuff for no reason!)
  • to analyse…(documents don’t analyse things. People do!)
  • to define…(see above!)
  • to describe…(see above above! For what purpose?)

None of which give a writer the drilled-down clarity we need to develop a fit-for-purpose structure.

Instead, I train people to ask 2 questions:

  1. What does this document need to ACHIEVE?
  2. If this document works, what will HAPPEN?

Both questions direct us to a tangible, observable action by our reader.

Know your audience, bla, bla, bla

Again, everyone tells us this.

And it’s also true.

"Buzzword jargon buzzword, hyperbole buzzword buzzword, trite rhyming platitude...Yep, looks good"

But what’s most common in business documents today is what we have multiple audiences, with differing needs.

So knowing that can make the writing process even more daunting and definitely not simple and clear.

How about trying this as an alternative?

List all the readers of your document, then consider?

  • Who will access it?
  • Who will use it?
  • Who will sign off on it?
  • Who might need to refer to it?

Now look back at the solid outcome you identified with questions 1 & 2 above.

And ask this 3rd question:

3. Who has the authority, ability, or position to make this document achieve its purpose?

Answer that and you’ve identified your primary readers. THEY matter most.

Write in a way that works for them, above anyone else.

(BTW – this also gives YOU the ability to push-back when an approver wants a document written a certain way, but you know that won’t work for the end-user.  Handy!)

Now build your document

Now you can create the headings, sections, and chunks of your document.

With clarity on outcome and influential readers, you can create a fit-for-purpose structure.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and tell you what that structure looks like.  But again, unicorn farts.

From where YOU sit, with YOUR reader knowledge, expert and insight, and with new clarity about purpose and readers, YOU have all the pieces to the puzzle.  You can now create a structure that will work best for you and your team.

Remember, ask yourself:

  • What does my PRIMARY READER need to know so I can get MY desired outcome?
  • Does my PRIMARY READER need to know X (ie, any chunk of information) for my doc to achieve its purpose?

It’s all connected.

With clarity on outcome and influential readers, you can create fit-for-purpose document structure - Shelly Davies

Want to know more?

Bring me in for a training, or book a zoom one!  I’ve got so much more!!!!

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If you’re working from home, you’re emailing.  And in this chaos, no-one has time for email ping-pong!

You can #writebetteremails with my ONLINE course.  Use my never-fail formula to build connections with empathy and authenticity.  You’ll quickly be writing professional, clear, concise, fit-for-purpose emails that will:

  1. save time and sanity
  2. deal with customer complaints quickly and with humanity
  3. retain clients and smash deadlines
  4. get better results and faster replies.  

Imagine-more YESes, less chasing-up.  Sing out for a rockin’ deal for your team or company!