Account Director, Janet Flaherty, was invited to ELFT’s Informatics Team Away Day to help them to think about how to turn their data into stories. She encouraged them to write compelling introductions to their reports that have everyone on the edge of their seats – and made people want to know more!
The Informatics department in any organisation produce important information about performance, activity, under-activity, over-activity, trends, etc. which is useful to managers each month and in planning ahead. However, this information can be complicated and complex and not everyone is able to digest and understand it. The manager of the Informatics team was keen to equip his staff to help others to see the story in the information and prompt them to want to know more about it.
Janet said: I set about producing a light-hearted presentation (Away Days are supposed to be relaxed and fun after all!) focusing on simplifying the language they use, thinking of more accessible alternatives, and looking at some long-winded and amusing examples where writing styles obscured the meaning of the information.
What exactly is Informatics?
We talked about writing conversationally. I asked them to imagine that they were at a wedding, and the person sitting next to them asked “So what do you do?” Informatics is not a word commonly used by the public so over time, they have probably found accessible short-hand ways to describe their work. (Although one participant said she once said to someone that she “ran scripts’ and they thought she worked in a theatre!)
We like stories. It’s a key way of learning and understanding information. So I suggested that when preparing a report, they need to take a moment to think what this latest data is saying and how they would explain it.
We often think that to be taken seriously, we have to write in a formal style but some of the greatest academics write very simply and are very accessible. I compared the introduction in their data reports to being like the back page of a paperback at an airport. You see the front of the book and think it might be of interest to you. Then you turn to the back cover to where the editor will have written a compelling description of the story and content. Usually this will hook you in and make you feel that this book is for you and that you want to know more – and you’ll head off to the till! That might sound over the top for a monthly data report but imagine if the Informatics team did write provocative or gripping intros – staff would be falling over themselves to read the next installment! Informatics staff verbally presenting the report could hold the attention of everyone in the room if they whetted their appetite and brought some drama to the proceedings.
The session included some practical tools: short sentences work best, punctuation (let your reader breathe), bullet points for lists, substituting technical language with more accessible terms, sub-headings, paragraphs, the use of the Hemingway app to test accessibility, being aware of colour blindness if using graphs (7-8% of men are colour blind) and much more.
The session seemed to hit the right note. The Manager emailed later to say, “Thank you Janet. Your session made such a great impression, everyone was talking later in the day about storytelling and use of language in a manner that would have never come up before. Very grateful.”
When you think about it, all Away Days should have a Comms professional involved. If nothing else, there’s someone there able to take a decent team photo!