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Unlearning academic/technical/corporate speak to connect with your audience

One of the skills I developed in my academic career was my ability to write for an academic audience.

Imagine my shock and horror when I discovered it was one of my greatest liabilities in my business.

The first time I learned that this previous “blessing” had become a “curse” was when I attended a business coaching seminar.  

At that seminar, all of the attendees were required to develop their elevator pitch (i.e., describe your unique selling proposition in 30 seconds).

Although this was a new genre for me, I had no concerns about my ability to complete this task.

However, with every iteration I created, I became more disheartened.

The feedback I received included:

“Too academic.”

“Too complicated.”

“Too technical.”

“Too process-oriented.”

“Too fancy.”

“Too uppity.”

“Not relatable.”


“Too many stats.”

“Nobody cares about how qualified you are, they want to know what you can do for them.”

I was so confused.

Coming from academia, where you rely heavily on evidence, statistics, qualifications, expertise, and experience to gain credibility, I was totally unprepared for the need to strip all of that back when communicating with my audience.

I had to unlearn the way I had spent 20+ years learning to write. This process required time, energy, effort, and practise. However, it also required a mindset shift.

Academic, technical, and corporate styles of writing are impersonal and do not require vulnerability from the author. This is completely appropriate when the purpose and audiences of those types of writing are considered.

However, I realised that, in addition to being appropriate for that genre, that style of writing also felt safe.

Firstly, because it was familiar but, more importantly, because relying on other sources, quotes and evidence to communicate my point meant that I could leave myself out of it.

When you strip back the stats, and start writing from your experiences (or, shock horror, your heart!), you can feel exposed.

Your work becomes less about the empirical evidence and more about you.

Thus, if people disagree or don’t like what you have written, that feels personal.

And confronting.

And scary.

Hence, the security in stats and other people’s data.

However, sharing your truth is also empowering, and acts as a powerful facilitator of connection with your audience, that an academic, technical, or corporate style of writing can never accomplish.

When you share your truth you feel vulnerable, but you also become relatable, approachable, and magnetic to your audience.

For those reasons, it is totally worth it.

Here are the top 5 things I had to (un)learn to stop writing like an academic and start writing with impact:

  • Your audience doesn’t care HOW you know something, they just want to trust that you DO know it.

Don’t overwhelm them with all the statistical reasons for your conclusions. Just tell them what you think/know, and why it is helpful for them to know those things.

  • Know the evidence, but don’t include all of it.

Ensure that your writing is either based in evidence or make it clear that it is your opinion. Let your reader know where they can learn more and trust that they can access that information if they choose to.

  • Write like a person, not like an expert.

Make your writing as accessible as possible and avoid complicated or technical jargon. If you need to include industry specific language, provide definitions (and, if necessary, examples), so your audience understands.

  • Keep “WIIFM” in mind.

Your reader is savvy and possibly in a hurry. Make it clear what’s in it for them so they know you are not going to waste their time.

Unlike academic writing, where you need to “tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you told them”, get to the point quickly and avoid redundancy.

  • Trust that you are enough.

If you are accustomed to writing in academic/technical/corporate environments, you will be familiar with the importance of leaving your opinions out of your writing. Although this is completely appropriate for those contexts, it can make it difficult to express your truth.

Remembering that you are the expert in your story, and that what you have to say is of value, is an important mindset shift when you are transitioning to writing in a non-academic/technical/corporate style.

I’d love to know which of these tips feels the most challenging for you, and if there are any other important tips I have overlooked. Feel free to let me know your thoughts.

Here’s to writing fearlessly,

Xx Kate

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