Friday, April 15, 2011

Stance & Slant: Stand and deliver with respect

There’s a great commercial by Xerox that shows a guy interacting with a cardboard cutout of the “Fighting Irish” mascot. The mascot, of course, doesn’t speak a word, but his “stance” speaks volumes.

Stance refers to a person’s posture, body language, and the physical expression of their attitude: the way they hold or carry themselves.

For athletes and musicians, the stance is the position they take just before performing. The attitude being expressed is to perform well and win.

Stance also can refer to a person’s attitude, state of mind, or the specific position they hold on a topic.

People who hold liberal views are referred to as left-leaning, which is their stance; while those of a conservative bent are said to lean to the right.

The stance we hold when we take a stand on an issue translates into writing as slant, but with a bit of a twist.

Slant is not just about where we stand, but is more about connecting with our intended audience.

Avoiding the spin cycle

When someone abuses slant, they move into spin. To put a spin on something usually means bending facts, stretching truths, and embellishing reality to make something more appealing; kind of like trying to gild a cow pie and presenting it as an acceptable centerpiece for the dinner table.

On the other hand, the purpose of slant is not to distort, but rather to clarify, connect, and convince using clear facts, plain truths, and unvarnished reality.

Slant takes into consideration the intended audience and casts messages in a tone and style acceptable to that audience. Wording and terminology used are selected and crafted carefully to ensure the audience will be able to receive and understand the message.

Engineers, lawyers, and accountants

For example, when I was developing technical sales proposals with AT&T, the majority of these documents were written by engineers to engineers and incorporated a ton of acronyms and technical terms only engineers could appreciate.

However, these proposals also included financial sections, legal sections, and the always critical executive summaries. Each of these sections were crafted to appeal to their intended audiences.

The executive summary was always one of the more challenging sections to write, and one that I was often singled out to develop. It was slanted toward a non-technical reader who wasn’t a finance or legal expert, while providing a brief but thorough overview of the entire proposal that would allow the reader to make an informed decision.

Engineers, lawyers, or accountants didn’t write executive summaries primarily because their personal stance was too heavily weighted toward their specialties. This made it impossible for them to slant their content in a way that would connect with someone who was not deeply versed in their specialties.

Leaning in to make connections

Writing slant means you need to be objective about your own viewpoint while being sensitive to your intended audience. It means you lean toward them like you lean in close when chatting with an intimate friend.

Slanted writing is real, personal, and accessible.

We all have a variety friends, relatives, and acquaintances who are very different from one another. The way you chat with your buddy, Gus, the 30-something architect, can involve more complex ideas and language than when you chat with Aunt Gertie, who is in her 70s, dropped out of school after 7th grade, and spends all her time watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

With each, you’ll modify your conversational style to match their conversational style as well as taking into consideration their frames of reference, etc.. If you don’t, there will be a lot of “Huh? What?” going on.

Slanting expresses respect

When you write slant, you are being aware of who you are writing to, what’s happening in their world, what your key points you are trying to get across, and how to connect with them in a respectful way at their level.

You will want to be aware of essential demographics, but more importantly, you want to see the people you are trying to reach as human beings and not just an “audience” you are “targeting” with a “message.”

To slant your writing never means to “dumb it down” or come off as if you are talking down to your audience. That’s just another form of spin. Slant is about getting close to your audience, leaning in, looking them in the eye, and respectfully sharing your story.

Tell it slant

To best connect your message with your intended audience;
  • Be aware of your own stance on the topic
  • Stay away from spinning your message
  • Tap into the language of the audience’s community
  • Lean in and write to them as if you are addressing a friend
  • Talk to them, but never down to them
  • Be respectful
Carefully crafting a message means to slant it to be accessible to the various audiences you are trying to reach.  It means stepping off your soap box and standing alongside those you want to connect with.

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Thoughts?

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