I’ve often been complimented on my ability to adjust my language to the audience I am addressing. It’s part of what makes me good at what I do. I find it difficult to explain exactly how I do it or what the difference is between the words I choose for one piece of text compared with another: it’s innate; subconscious; it just happens. But I’m not as good at tailoring my words when I’m talking: I fumble for the words that are on the tip of my tongue; I say the wrong thing; I go blank. Also, it turns out, when I’m talking about my own business I take a lot for granted.
The other day I wanted to speak to someone who I knew was in the process of creating her business website. ‘In case you need any help with content,’ I said, handing her my business card.
‘What’s that?’ she asked.
‘My business card,’ I began, getting the wrong end of the stick.
‘No, I mean what is it you do?’ she clarified.
‘Oh,’ I said, in embarrassment. ‘Text,’ I added, making myself no clearer. ‘For your website,’ I bumbled on, repeating myself and circling confusedly until she seemed to grasp my meaning (or perhaps pretended she did so the pitiable exhibition could stop).
What I should have said, in my most confident and professional voice, is, ‘I hear you’re working on your website. I’m a writer. Get in touch if you’d like any help with the words or spell checking.’
Having to explain myself completely wrong footed me but it shouldn’t have. If I had been writing or proofing for any other industry facing a lay audience, I would have picked apart every word that might have been unclear or construed as jargon.
Especially when introducing your business to someone you don’t know well, KISS (Keep it simple, stupid!). Assume no understanding and be concise but clear. I sounded like a flustered idiot, certainly not the professional wordsmith I market myself as. So I may have lost that bit of business but I haven’t lost the lesson, which will make me better prepared to present myself next time I have to explain what I do.
‘I am a writer.’