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Keys to Dynamic Written Communication

As I sit down to write this piece, I am aware of the wealth of material available in print and online about this very subject. If you want to learn how to communicate well in writing, there is no shortage of excellent resources to help you learn. (Two worthwhile places to start would be to check out www.andybutcheronline.com and to sign up for the Slant letter, by going here: www.stephanieduncansmith.substack.com.) This article then, is not an attempt to repeat what you can easily find elsewhere. 

What I’m trying to say is, I’m not an expert. In fact, perhaps by leading with that paragraph I am giving you a not-so-subtle message: if you’re looking for that expert, you might be best to go elsewhere. I am much more like you than those writing experts. I am a YWAMer who also leads teams and, for the past 24 years, writing about my ministry has been an important part of what I do.

When my husband and I first joined Youth With A Mission and moved to Mozambique as part of a small, pioneering team, we knew that our ability to do this work depended, in large measure, on the strength of our connection with those back home. This group of friends had played an important part in discerning that this was indeed the right move for us; they partnered with us both financially and in prayer. We had to learn to communicate in ways which helped them feel connected to this faraway land that was outside their own experience.

We were living in a rural place with no postal service or internet. I remember creating newsletters by cutting and pasting photos and text together – and I mean with scissors and glue – then taking photos of the finished pages! And while things have changed a lot since then, I believe dynamic communication that fosters true connection has never been more important. Here are six of the principles I have learned along the way. 

After reading them through, what others would you add? Please head over to our Facebook page and join the conversation there. https://www.facebook.com/groups/EuropeLLC

1. Put yourself in your reader’s shoes

Stacy Kaiser describes dynamic communication as ‘the ability to consciously interact and react thoughtfully.’ Being a dynamic communicator means that you are able to convey a thoughtfully developed message that engages others in the process of working towards your goal, and that you can do so with empathy.

When we are caught up in the busyness of our daily activities, we can lose a clear sense of what others understand of what we do. Effective communication depends on us being able to hear our message from our reader’s perspective. Will they remember the context of this story, or might it help them if I briefly connect the events I am describing with what they already know about my ministry? Are they familiar with the meaning of the acronyms and inside terminology that are part of our YWAM culture, or could I work a bit harder to ‘translate’ what may be unfamiliar? Our job, when we are writing, is to build connection, not unlike building a bridge between my reader and myself. 

The next time you sit down to write a newsletter, blog post or article, bring to your awareness the person who will read your item. Can you picture them clearly in your mind? As you write, be conscious of the knowledge, culture and norms that influence their ability to connect with your words. What kind of adjustments do you need to make?

2. Don’t fudge it

If you are not a native English speaker and look up the meaning of the word ‘fudge,’ you will find reference to a soft confectionary made from butter and sugar. We also use the idiom ‘fudging it’ to mean being deliberately unclear in our communication. When we bring our reader to mind while writing, sometimes we may be tempted to be less than clear. In other words, we might try to make things sound greater than they are, or less than the actual reality. If they are not really successful, we exaggerate just a bit; if there have been problems, we play them down.

To communicate with integrity, which is the 18th value of our mission, requires a level of honesty from us. That is, we must write plainly and honestly, with respect, knowing that our global level of connectedness means that what we write in one place can always be read by people in another, for whom we did not first intend it. So be as clear as you can, in ways that help your reader develop a picture of what you describe that is true to reality. 

Go back and re-read a couple of newsletters or articles you have written in the past. Where have you fallen prey to the temptation of making things sound greater or less than they actually are? Where could you be clearer about what you describe?

3. Tell stories

People relate to people and we are wired for story. More often than not, the bridge you seek to build between your reader and yourself will be a story. In YWAM we place high value on being visionary. Generally, our communication is intended to invite people to play a part in something big – the bigger the better! And yet, for our reader, this can feel out of reach and very distant from his or her own experience.

Distant visions are brought nearer through story. Can you think of one particular person who will be, or is already, impacted by this work? When your reader hears this person’s story, along with their needs, dreams and experiences, the human nature of your communication will help them connect in a more personal way with the work you are describing. A story invites empathy, and empathy brings your reader close.

When Tim and I lived in Mozambique, he travelled into places beyond our town which were even more rural and remote. It was almost unheard of to meet fellow believers in these areas. On one trip, he and a couple of team members met a man whose name meant ‘against the tide.’ Over subsequent months, we told the story of Contramazi, describing the way he had come to faith many years earlier while travelling away from his area on fishing trips. We helped people imagine what it must have been like for him to live as a believer when his community – and even his wife – were actively opposed to Christ. Contramazi eventually saw one or two others come to faith and subsequent YWAM teams came alongside to help them learn more about living as disciples of Jesus. We told Contramazi’s story out of desire to knit together a connection between two worlds, that of rural Mozambique and the western context of most of our readers. 

It was the story of this man, living for so many years against the tide of popular belief and custom, that ultimately led to collaboration between a church in South Africa and this remote community. Partnerships were formed as doctors and teachers visited the area, motivated to be part of this unfolding story of God at work.

What story could you tell that would help your readers connect with the situation or vision you are writing about? Is there a particular person whose experience would help your reader to enter more personally into a situation that may otherwise be unfamiliar to them?

4. Spell things out

My reader might not automatically see how her life connects with the story I’m telling; perhaps I need to make that very clear. My friend Ruby* lives in London, and when she read about Contramazi it sounded so outside of her own experience that she couldn’t really relate. She experienced the sense of drama in what I described, but wasn’t sure how I expected her to respond. She filed my letter under ‘news’ and left it at that.

Dynamic communication helps my reader engage in the process of working towards my goal. To engage Ruby in this way, I needed to help her imagine what her life would be like without any other believers living nearby. What difference would the Good News of Jesus make in a place where there was no healthcare and no schooling, where people felt forgotten by their own government?

As dynamic communication helped Ruby to enter into the story, she came to see how powerful it would be to pray for a place like Contramazi’s homeland. Recognising that she had the privilege of a faith community living nearby, and struck that this was exactly what Contramazi was longing for, she invited a few friends to join her for regular prayer. Over time, the Zambezi delta region saw more local and overseas visitors. Discipleship of new believers began, even as the clinic and the school were launched. Ruby and her friends received regular reminders that their prayerful engagement played an integral part in what became possible on the ground. This was no longer just Contramazi’s story, or just YWAM’s story – it was also one of Ruby and her friends. Which is to say, this is the story of God’s people.

How could you help your reader to feel part of the unfolding story you are telling? What connection or opportunity might you need to make really clear in order for your story to become their story too?

5. Make responding easy

Dynamic communication invites a dynamic response. Every time we connect with our reader, we need to make that invitation clear. When a reader isn’t clear on what response is being asked of them, or exactly how to do that, theywon’t even stop to consider the invitation. At least let’s give them the chance to think things over!

Communication teachers call this the ‘Call to Action.’ In order to give a positive call to action, it must first be clear in my own mind. How do I want people to respond to this letter or article?

If you want people to pray for the situation, then say it! Offering two or three clear prayer needs is always helpful. Inviting readers to join an online prayer time could be a good idea, even having an RSVP option to let you know that they will be attending. Perhaps you want to invite them to sign up for a regular, brief prayer update over WhatsApp? You could include a link enabling them to do just that. Many people who are not themselves called to a life in overseas mission would nevertheless jump at an opportunity to play a part. Your sharp communication could help them to make that connection.

If you want people to partner with your project financially, that too should be made clear. It should be clear how their donation could make a real difference by describing how it will be used. Those who want to respond should be able to do so as easily as possible, go ahead and include those details – or a donation button – so they don’t have to go searching for the information. There is so much great content available if you want to learn more about communicating with the purpose of raising funds. For the sake of this article, let’s just say: be clear, be convincing, make it easy.

Perhaps you have other kinds of responses in mind for your readers. Maybe you would love them to volunteer their time, or perhaps you are looking for some other kind of long or short-term partnership. No matter the nature of your call to action, be sure to make the response obvious and straightforward.

Take another look at the story you began telling after Principle number 3. How do you want your reader to respond to it? How could he or she engage actively in the process of working towards your goal? What would be a clear, convincing and easy way of making it possible?

6. You are not your reader

By its very nature, communication is a two-way thing. Once you have written something, you will only ever be able to read it from the perspective of the writer. However well you have put yourself in your reader’s shoes you are not, in fact, your reader. I know this seems very obvious!

What this means is that it is essential to have someone else read what you have written before you send or publish it. This person should be a native speaker of the language in which you have written and, preferably, capable of noticing any typos or grammatical errors. While we live in an era when capital letters are optional and apostrophes are inserted at random, it still adds to your credibility if your writing is generally free of obvious mistakes.

We never outgrow our need to have someone else read our material before we send it out. No matter how long we have been writing, or how expert we feel in our field, there’s always the chance that we may miss something – a turn of phrase that doesn’t communicate well, or a simple typo – that later we wish we’d noticed. Reading your text aloud is an important first step, then have a friend take a look. That’s what friends are for!

Who could you ask to read your communication pieces? Try to think of someone who could read from the perspective of your intended audience. And if they can help spot any mistakes, that’s even better.

I trust these six principles help you craft your own written communication in ways that enable your reader to meet you on the bridge of story. Even more, I hope that all of us will find ways to communicate that invite others to play a part – a unique and significant part – in the unfolding story of the ways God is at work all over the world. 

Don’t forget to join the conversation over in the ELLC group on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/groups/EuropeLLC

See you there!

*Ruby is not her real name.

Miranda Heathcote has been part of YWAM’s global network of communicators (now known simply as Circle 18) for 20 years. She loves that God made us for communication and relationship, and enjoys expressing her own thoughts in reflective writing. While still very much learning how to do this well, Miranda is passionate about YWAM’s 18th value: to communicate with integrity. She lives in Spain with her husband, Tim, and two daughters.

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