Advocacy for the practice is a big part of being a UX expert—especially when it comes to content. While I don’t think that’s a controversial statement, it's still a hard one to swallow. It may feel like doing your job is never enough and therefore that parading what you do is as important as actually doing it. With the frustration—and potentially exhaustion—that comes from having to show off your work, however, comes also the opportunity to tell your story and show others the power of content design.
And what better opportunity for us, content practitioners! Stories are what drives our profession and our passion. Being a storyteller should be in our DNA and if it’s not yet, this could be a great opportunity to refine that skill with some practice.
Know your audience
This may be the hardest part of the entire process but not one that should scare you away. After all, empathizing with users is also a key element of your work. In this case, your audience may be your direct team, your org or even your manager. To understand your audience, ask yourself some some simple questions to gather some basic data: how many people will you need to communicate to? what are their roles and background? what are some of their goals and how to those goals relate to your work? Finding commonalities with your audience will help you make your story more compelling. Understanding how they work may help your figure out the best format to deliver your message. However, what your audience wants is only part of what drives how you tell your story, which brings me to my next point.
Pick a format that works for you
Storytelling comes in many forms. Whether it’s written, oral, visual or experiential, anyone should have the power to use the one they are most confident with. Once you figured out who your audience is and how they usually communicate, I suggest you explore a way of telling your story that’s also comfortable for you. Not all of us feel confident with speaking in public, some may prefer writing. The medium is not the message in this case and the power is all yours to figure out what works for you.
Sometimes, however, you may be pushed into using one format over another. When I was at Amazon, I had to quickly learn that the best way to share new ideas and advocate for change was to write a document. Amazon documents are infamous and foundational to the culture. While I could not avoid writing docs for more formal team collaboration, I still found the opportunity to use other methods to share my work, including creating a newsletter on one instance and developing a workshop in another, just to name a few examples. While the newsletter and workshop did not substitute docs, I was still able to use them when the context and audience were right. At the end of the day, the format was important for me and my level of comfort, but what was even more important than how I delivered the message was how I structured my story.
Build a narrative
I am not always a fan of structure. Formulas can sound stale and become cliches very quickly. They can also, however, make your story clearer, more familiar and therefore easier to understand. I am sure there are plenty of resources out there on how to structure an effective deck or write a clear narrative. Just as for the format, how you structure your story depends on both your audience and what you’re comfortable with. For my most recent presentation, I used a combination of advice from Beth Dunn’s seminal book, Cultivating Content Design balanced out with a behind-the-scenes look at my process and visuals exemplifying my work.
On a side note, I am partial to the use visuals, especially for presentations and workshop. When trying to explain really complex ideas, I really do think “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Visuals are the best way to show solutions and a great preamble to speaking about results.
Show results, drive action
No matter who the audience is and what the format and structure of your story are, this is the most important thing to do when sharing your work. Show the impact of your work. Show the result. While open endings may work well in art films, they are not going to leave your team satisfied—and even less so your manager— if that’s your audience. This is your grand finale and what people will remember most about your story. Don’t squander it.
Concise, clear outcomes are the among the best thing to show. Hard numbers usually work really well as they don’t leave room to confusion but so do quotes and testimonials as they may stir emotions. Showing the impact of your work will help your team see your value and feel compelled to include you and seek your contribution. You want people on your team or org to think, “I wish my product looked and sounded like that.” And when everything else seems to fail, keep repeating yourself.
Lather, rinse, repeat
An old marketing adage states that a message needs to be repeated 7 times for it to stick. While I am not trying to sell you on repeating your message a certain amount of times, I believe that consistency and repetition will help your cause. As the first content designer on a product design team, I started consistently sharing my work with both the design and the engineering team.
While my first presentations to the team was a primer on what content design is, what it looks like in practice and how it could be useful to the work of our team specifically, I learned really quickly that one presentation would have not been enough to build trust with everyone. To compel even the most skeptic people on my team, I had to keep my message clear, consistent and omnipresent. So for now, I am focusing on sharing in different flavors only a few basic concepts concerning accessibility and voice. In the words of content strategist, Sean Conner:
“Saying it seven times doesn’t mean you have to just verbally say it over and over (though that doesn’t hurt). You can reinforce the message through multiple mediums.”
Socializing your work is key to any job but it’s particularly important when the people you work with may not really understand your discipline. While it requires great patience and lots of care, our mission as content designers and UX writers is to make the word a better—or at least easier to understand—place through words and communication. Often times that means starting with the people around you. Communicating consistently, clarifying hard concepts and moving people along through a journey of discovery starts with sharing generously sharing with you do with care and compassion. And when it gets too exhausting—because it will get exhausting—remember to share that care, compassion and generosity to yourself first. In the words of Kristina Halvorson,
Stop defending. Stop comparing. Stop complaining. START SHOWING
and if I may add, start telling your story.