Finding your voice in words

For many studio owners I meet, speaking comes much more naturally than writing.  (Well, let’s be honest, dancing actually comes the most naturally!)

Discovering your writing voice does not have to be difficult though, even if speaking feels more comfortable to you.  One simple tactic is to simply start writing the way you would speak, then read aloud what you’ve written: if it sounds forced or unnatural, don’t be afraid to start over.

Another tactic to try?  Have a close friend or family member read over what you’ve written, and ask if it sounds like you.  You’re writing should give people a sense of who you are – or what your business’s personality is like.

Make sure your grammar matches what you’re writing too.  If it’s an informal marketing piece for example, don’t worry about ending a sentence with a preposition.  If it’s an executive business plan for your bank, then focus on those formal grammar rules you remember from grade school so you can sound like a pro.

The most useful thing of all though is to practice, practice, practice.  Writing, just like dancing, needs to be fresh on your mind and “rehearsed” with plenty of practice.  Your writing voice will sound louder and clearer the more you use it and improve it!

Read to write

Let’s say you want to become a better writer.  You know you should practice writing more (I can hear you saying “duh” right now, so hang with me here).  More ideas, more words, more often.

But did you know you should also read more?

Yep.  It’s true.  Scientific studies like this one show that the there is a dramatic increase in blood flow to certain regions of the brain while reading, suggesting that the “coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions” are at play.  In other words, your brain is building (metaphoric) muscle while you read.

Reading gives you practice at seeing and “hearing” other writers’ words, allowing your brain to absorb that information, store it, and reflect on it.  And the subject doesn’t necessarily need to be related to your own writing; whether you’re reading historical fiction or today’s business news doesn’t really matter.  What matters is your attention to it.

So if you’re not already well-stocked with reading material, head on out to the library or bookstore and get to it!  Read what you enjoy, read what challenges you – read what makes you hungry for more.  Your writing will thank you.

The serial comma

You’re probably familiar with the serial comma – also known as the Oxford comma – whether you realize it or not. It’s the comma that appears before a single conjunction when listing a series of items, like in this example from Strunk and White’s famous reference book, The Elements of Style:

“He opened the letter, read it, and made note of its contents.”

Many publications in the U.S. do not use the serial comma, preferring to follow AP Stylebook guidelines which do not require it. Using it (or not) is generally up to your personal preference.

From a writer’s perspective, I love the serial comma! It lends itself to clearer sentences and less ambiguity.  I love the clean way it separates a list.

For example, let’s say you’re advertising the programming at your studio. Which sentence more clearly states what you offer?

  1. “We offer dance, music, and tumbling.”
  2. “We offer dance, music and tumbling.”

In my mind there’s no question that Sentence #1 is easier to understand. At a glance, Sentence #2 makes me wonder if music and tumbling are part of the dance program.

The serial comma may seem like an unimportant detail compared to other matters of grammar, but it can have major consequences for the readability of your website content, marketing materials, or training manuals. There was even a court case in March 2017 where the lack of a serial comma was the deciding factor in a labor dispute. Wowza! 

My advice? Use the serial comma most of the time, with few exceptions. Small detail, big impact.

Why should I blog?

If you’re not blogging already, you should be!  Having a blog might just seem like extra work, but it’s well worth the effort.  Here are my top three reasons to have a blog on your studio’s website:

  1. Google loves blogs!  Consistently curating unique content for your blog means that Google “sees” your website in a more favorable light, which can positively impact your studio website’s ranking in search results.
  2. Blogs make your website relevant.  Instead of having static content that only updates a couple times a year, your blog page shows people that your website is up-to-date, informative, and reliable.
  3. A blog gives your studio a voice.  Chances are there’s a lot of information on your websiteinformation that’s useful but can also seem impersonal.  A blog, however, feels like a real connection to your studio community; it’s a chance for your studio’s personality to shine through!

So if you haven’t done it already, call up your web designer and get that blog page added to your website.  Start by adding (or scheduling) a blog post every other week, then see if you can ramp up to three or four times per month. Remember that consistency is key!  

Four common writing mistakes and how to fix them

We studio owners have a lot of writing to do; there’s no way around it!  From email correspondence to marketing materials, our words are all over the place.  Make sure your writing sounds and looks correct by avoiding these four common writing mistakes:

  1. Not writing the way you speak – What you write should sound natural and conversational, not forced.  Try reading aloud what you write.  Does it sound like something you’d say to someone face-to-face?  Do the sentences flow?  If not, try making some edits.
  2. Incorrect spelling – Nothing says “I was in a rush” quite like misspelled words.  Use your spell-check feature AND proofread what you write to catch those spelling errors before clicking send.  (Bonus points if you can have someone else proofread for you!)
  3. Poor grammar or punctuation – This is a tricky one.  So many grammar rules, so little time!  Watch out for the most common misuses of words, such as your vs. you’re, there vs. their, and to vs. too vs. two.  Be careful with punctuation as well.  Exclamation points are fun, but too many can look overly dramatic!!!!!
  4. Writing with the “curse of knowledge” – Psychologically speaking, the curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that makes us think our audience understands us better than they actually do (more on this in an upcoming blog post).  To put it simply, it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows our studio lingo!  Being aware of this bias as you write will help you use clearer sentences and less jargon.  

Try to enjoy the writing you do for your studio.  Remember that you are representing yourself, your team, and your studio vibe with your words.  Type your thoughts out and then re-work them with these tips.  Keep it natural, check your spelling and grammar, and watch out for the curse of knowledge!

What is a press release, and what should I do with it?

A press release is a short, one-page document that announces something new and meaningful about your studio, such as a school program partnership, a charitable outreach effort, a special event open to the public, or a business award you’ve achieved.  

Press releases are a staple of the public relations world, and they help spread your announcement to the local community.  Your goal with a press release is to get the attention of a journalist who can put your studio in the news!  Try these tips for sending out your press release:

  1. Create a media list of contacts for your local newspapers, magazines, or television news outlets.  This may take some research.  You’ll want to have the contact information of journalists who can potentially take your press release and run with it, such as the arts editor of your city’s monthly magazine.
  2. Don’t send your press release as a mass email.  Send a short, personal message to each recipient.
  3. Copy and paste the press release into the body of your email.  Most journalists are simply too busy (and get too many press releases) to open attachments.  Attachments can also get blocked by an email server, or seem too risky to open.
  4. If you want to share a photo or other digital content, don’t attach that either!  Include a link instead, such as a link to your Facebook event page or a link to a Dropbox photo.
  5. Send your press release on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday in the morning.  Statistically these are the days and times with the best email open-rates by journalists.

Don’t get discouraged if your press release isn’t immediately picked up; remember that publications and news stations are regularly bombarded by news and can’t always include every story they want.  Keep trying and keep your media list up to date!  Your persistence will pay off.