“You have to be willing to press out there to take the risk to push to the edge to your own comfort zone to look for the next right answer (…) when I go after a photograph of an extraordinary vision (…) I try to celebrate what’s best in the shot (…) that connects us with our passion and emancipates the energy (..) our lives are about continuously finding the right next answer, continuously zooming in and out.” Dewitt Jones.
Working in high-tech entails a significant communication effort because innovations often present novelties and new paradigms which break with what we are accustomed to. Emerging technologies typically excite curious and open minds while deeply concern many others who might feel impacted by changes. Promoting necessary shifts can easily prompt a far more intensive communication campaign than what the inventors initially expected.
Developing technical content is a challenge when complexity results in convoluted presentations and self-defeating information overload, confusion and frustration. Just focusing on simplicity might lowball the value and potential of a great idea, which can then be deprioritized. In a recent discussion, I emphasized the need for content conveying elegant sophistication instead:
- elegant means pleasantly grateful, an ingenious and crisp solution which the target audience can understand and value
- sophistication is about applied wisdom, cracking the code by displaying intellect able to address complex and/or overlooked problems.
- elegant sophistication appeals to both our emotional and intellectual response systems, sets a new benchmark, delivers an iconic “object of desire.”
Plenty of the work that I have been involved in wrestles with technologies’ new jargon in the making. Discussing these requires well thought out materials because even brilliant concepts and good progress can otherwise be severely discounted. There is nothing worse than content perceived as disingenuous hype and vaporware.
Let’s also consider bloatware’s negative impact by loosing focus. This happens by overextending, “shooting at everything that moves” and/or pivoting in excess when “trying to be everything to everyone.” A good friend of mine would also add the kind of credibility issues that arise when well intentioned concepts “defy the laws of physics,” or “gravity” for that matter. But I do think that questioning and defying what we think we know is one of the sources of innovation.
Communications wise, it pays to outline storyboards that build growing interest and engagement levels as a well structured narrative progresses. Meaningful content draws from insightful abstractions and supporting facts, clearly stated assumptions and correlated need-to-know data. The best overall delivery creates memorable experiences that win audiences thanks to a genuine and lasting wow effect.
Following that line of thought, helping visualize concepts and data plays a fundamental role in our cognition. We happen to acquire far more information and we do so more rapidly by means of our vision than by what can be consumed by all other senses combined. Envisioning information enables a greater understanding for many of us as discussed in “the art of delivering quality content.”
For these reasons, the presentation materials and discussion tools that I create not only involve messaging, information architecture, storyboarding and infographic work among other items, but also real life photography. I like to take and display photos that matter, whether those are screenshots of actual user interfaces, pictures of gear and facilities involved or, better yet, capturing telling experiences and relatable moments, humanizing and making the technology more approachable in the process.
At the time of sharing these thoughts, this workstyle happens to stand out in contexts where generic graphic libraries and stereotypical stock photography seems to be at everyone’s fingertips. Relevant real life photography helps mitigate hype and vaporware perceptions: arresting enough images convey a more tangible sense of reality when based on assets and people who actually exist, instead of leaving visual communications to art work and graphic icons alone.
After writing the above, Alex F. let me know about Heidi Cohen’s “Seven Ways to Use Photographs to Support Content Marketing” where she covers the following:
- Make your products into stars.
- Tell your organization’s story.
- Enhance your brand.
- Show a human face.
- Educate viewers to use your product.
- Broadcast the news.
- Invite customers and the public to share product and brand related photos.
“Because on-line search databases typically contain only abstracts, it is vital to write a complete but concise description of your work to entice potential readers into obtaining a copy of the full paper (…) in a business context, an “executive summary” is often the only piece of a report read by the people who matter. An abstract must be a fully self-contained, capsule description of the paper. It can’t assume (or attempt to provoke) the reader into flipping through looking for an explanation of what is meant by some vague statement. It must make sense all by itself.” – How to Write and Abstract by Philip Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University.
“These summaries, sometimes as much as a few hundred words but usually somewhat shorter, appear at the beginning of an article and are generally offered without cost to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike (…) some abstracts are supplemented by targeted key-words intended to increase visibility to search engines. The content of an abstract is extremely important because it can influence decisions.” – The Chicago Manual of Style by The University of Chicago Press.
Every paper, talk, video, brochure, catalog, contest and writings for webpages that I have involved in required the delivery of abstracts or brief descriptions. Interestingly enough, when looking at metrics, abstracts can end up being the unit of content that gets the higher readership as well as search traction. A publication’s “editorial style guide” sets guidelines on how to prepare, write and publicize information. However, many of them overlook the value and impact of short-length assets such as tag-lines, abstracts and brief descriptions and pitches.
We should be proud of having developed communication technologies that democratize content creation. We are making it even easier to publish, repurpose and cross-syndicate, as well as conducting all kinds of conversations on multiple online platforms. By having lowered barriers to communicate we are also experiencing some side effects. Information overload is an issue of concern, where many experience what I like to call “digital hoarding disorders.” High signal-to-noise ratios that clutter today’s channels can dilute and degrade our messages.
In this context, we are pressed for ways to conduct content curation and filtering for relevance, reputation and impact. Semantic technologies working with quality metadata and good abstracts become more and more valuable to marketers in high tech industries.
Good abstracts abstract out complexity and are not exercises on content compression. This is not about crafting collages of short but cryptic and even harder to understand sentences either. Good abstracts are more about synthesizing and clearly delivering the essence of one’s work to enable speed reading, grab the audience’s attention and generate interest in the item that they actually promote.
When discussing products and services, this becomes an exercise in targeted advertising, crisp storytelling and ease of consumption (reach and readability). In a way, writing abstracts can borrow “elevator pitch” techniques where the storyboard can be comprised of:
- A valid concern – a need and a gap that is worth addressing and that becomes an opportunity.
- A wow factor – a specific solution with compelling value, making a credible difference with a tangible and meaningful impact.
- A call-to-action – an immediate next logical step set on a “path-of-least-resistance” to move forward.
One other thought, we tend to think of an abstract as an asset that is delivered at the back end of a process… a marketing afterthought. However, abstracts can be written and deployed at the front end in ideation exercises and, therefore, in creative briefs. As an example, I have worked on innovation projects where I delivered abstracts to get the team thinking through what the project’s end goal would and should be. Basically, this helps with screening and testing concepts and, equally important, envisioning and defining success frameworks. This also aids to building consensus and setting a given course and speed for the project. This kind of abstracts also feed executive summaries.
Generally speaking, agility is driven by a continuous improvement mindset and is comprised by a series of both planned and unplanned iterative steps. Moreover, we can reap the benefits from unplanned serendipity not just as a happy casual accident, but as an eureka effect resulting from a workstyle as follows:
- Sketching – jotting down structures, concepts, key words and, if need to, also short sentences.
- Post-it clouds – these are collages using stickers that can be easily reorganized anytime, taking quick pictures of any groupings.
- Drafting – writing a strawman to get a first feel for what it takes to deliver the message in complete sentences.
- Prioritizing – re-writing things as needed for brevity, credibility, persuasiveness and impact.
- Rightsizing – keeping stuff down to what’s actually needed in terms of length (e.g. word count).
- Wordsmithing – seeking clarity, enabling speed reading and search engine optimization.
- Testing – proof reading and validating the abstract’s ease of readability and effectiveness.
- Cycling – iterating any of the above steps in any order to get needed improvements.
- Capping – saving oneself and the team from over-engineering the deliverable.