06 Aug 2014

Impact. You can’t have it if no one understands you.

By Melanie Hayes

Pitching isn’t just for Demo Day.

Last month our latest cohort started their twelve week programme with BGV. We kicked off by asking them to pitch their ventures to one another.

This isn’t just to break the ice. Be it during the programme, launching at Demo Day or meeting customers and investors, BGV teams need to communicate complex information about big social problems and their solutions in concise and compelling ways. Stand-up pitches, ‘one-pagers’, business plans, funding applications and slides all need to pack a punch.

Clear messaging is not a case of style over substance.

I recently attended a course on improving clarity and impact in written and financial information (with the aim of giving better feedback to BGV teams on their materials). Refreshingly, it focussed on hard rules and simple tips rather than personal style. This post includes some of my favourites – and they are really relevant for start-ups.

Bullets won’t make your words interesting.

There’s a time and a place for bullet points. But essentially they’re bad. They don’t make dull text better; they just break it up a bit. They’re really pointless when they feature on every page in a slide presentation or every paragraph of a document. That’s not making stuff stand-out – its just putting blobs down the left of your text.

Using headlines effectively is a much better option.

Ever had to write something for an audience where some people hate detail and others want to understand every last nuance? This is a frequent dilemma for start-ups, embodied by the classic ‘one-pager’ that you send via email before, or in order to get, a meeting. Well, now that you’ve ditched the bullet points that used to litter those documents, try some headlines which summarise the content that follows instead. Skim readers can understand the point you’re making without reading the detailed text. Detail aficionados can dive right in to find out how you came to that conclusion.

Signposts make your words easier to navigate.

Its really frustrating for a start-up to get a rejection from an investor or funder because you’ve failed to address an important issue. Even more so if you’ve actually dealt with it but that’s buried in a pile of wordy text in your business plan or application.

Thinking about the layout of your text (white space, selective use of bold and larger fonts, columns for longer sections of prose etc) and using headlines as up-front conclusions can really help point your readers in the right direction. And retain their much sought after attention.

Graphs cause more confusion than illumination.

Ask someone a question about some data shown in a graph and ask it again when the data is shown in a simple, well-formatted table. They’ll probably get the answer right (and quicker) from the table. Unless you’re trying to convey a trend over time – a graph probably isn’t your best option. Try writing a short sentence to convey the fact, data point or outcome you’d like to highlight. I bet its more intuitive than expecting your audience to divine it from an eye-catchingly coloured graph with a legend they have to cross-refer to. If you must use a graph – make sure its got a really good headline which explains exactly what you’d like to conclude from the information shown.


Photo by Peter Rukavina