Meryl Natchez, CEO, TechProse



Meryl Natchez, CEO, TechProse
Meryl Natchez, CEO, TechProse
[email protected]
• How to communicate clearly before,
during, and after a crisis
• How to organize data for ease of use
• When and how to use graphics
• When and how to put information online
"Any scientist who cannot explain to an eight-year-old
what he is doing is a charlatan" -Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
Before the Crisis: Constraints
• Knowledge
• Timeframe
• Budget
Before the Crisis
• Focused intelligence and budget spent on clear,
tested communications BEFORE the crisis have an
exponential value during and after the crisis:
- effective response
- reduced downtime
- impact on safety & data
• Consistent practices &
templates developed BEFORE the
crisis set a pattern for
communication DURING the crisis
Before the Crisis: Create Documents
Based on the Elements of Good Writing
Before the Crisis: Elements of a Good
Thorough research
Accurate information
Appropriate typography
Readable layout
Graphics that enhance the message
Before the Crisis: The Writing Process
Plan before you write
Analyze the audience (users)
Analyze the task/objective
Determine how to measure success
Use terms the audience understands
Test the document with real users
Revise as necessary
Before the Crisis: The Document Plan
• The audience you’re trying to reach
• The basic purpose of the document
• How to measure achievement of
that purpose
Sample Document Plan
Before the Crisis: Audience Analysis
• Who needs this information?
• One audience or many?
• For each set of users:
– What is their skill level?
– What terms do they use?
– How familiar are they with the
– What resistance to the information/process
are you likely to encounter?
Before the Crisis: Define the Objective
• Define specific tasks, process(es), or policies
• Analyze how these map to current
• For each:
Does it require new information?
Does it require new skills?
Will you need change management?
Will users need training?
– How will you measure results?
Before the Crisis: Measuring Success
• What is the baseline?
• What will the document achieve?
• Sample measurement criteria:
– After reading this document, 80% of users will be
able to correctly shut down critical hardware within
2 minutes.
– Currently, users do not know where to find
emergency phone numbers. After reading this
manual, users will be able to locate emergency
phone numbers within 30 seconds.
Before the Crisis: Information Design
• Dependent on purpose, audience, and
• Affected by budget, political process, other
internal factors
• Multiple options:
– Print
– Online
– Both (for critical documents, you need hard
• Not necessarily the coolest new thing
Before the Crisis: Good Writing
Clear, definite, energetic
Easy to follow
Written for globalization
Bad vs. Good Writing
Lockheed statement
Simmons translation
We characterize 1989 as a transitional year which prepared us for
strong financial performance in 1990 and beyond.
1989 was a bad year.
Lockheed’s sales increased slightly when adjusted for the completion
of the C-5B program.
Sales are down $541 million. But
they’re up if you count business we
don’t have anymore.
A third initiative centers on our efforts to attract commercial aircraft
subcontracting work for our facilities in Georgia. We are continuing
discussions with potential customers and expect to build this base
We still haven’t found replacement
business for the C-5B.
Absent the write-off on the EP-3 aircraft modification program,
margins also improved for the technology services group.
Profit margins are down. But they’re up
if you don’t count the business we lost
money on.
Early this year, we agreed with the customer that work on future
phases of this (C-17) program will be performed by another supplier.
We got fired.
Regarding the P-7A, several factors have occasioned design and
schedule difficulties in developing the aircraft. Significant among
these factors was an expectation of a high degree of a commonality
with the P-3 which turned out not to be attainable due to other
performance characteristics required by the Navy.
We bid on the wrong plane.
Before the Crisis: Information Design
Text grouping & information mapping
Change bars
Before the Crisis: Sample Design
Before the Crisis: Sample Design
Before the Crisis: Sample Design
Before the Crisis: Sample Design
Before the Crisis: Sample Design
Before the Crisis: Storing Documents
• Ensure accurate, available documents
– Keep updated hard copies
– Use high-quality materials
– Keep copies at multiple sites and offsite
• Mandate and monitor a routine test and
update process
Before the Crisis: Keep Data Current
How often does data change?
What is the process for update?
Who is in charge?
What is the distribution process?
Who makes sure it happens?
Before the Crisis: What Works Online
Frequently used reference
Downloadable information
Policies and Procedures
Animations and eLearning
Before the Crisis: What Doesn’t Work
Conceptual overviews
Long reports (except for downloads)
Complex tables and graphs
Too much data on the page
Before the Crisis: Getting to the Right
Information Online Quickly
• Wide not deep structure
• Multiple ways to find what you need
• Organized and maintained by a
• Tested for usability
Before the Crisis: Online Examples, Too
Much Data
Before the Crisis: Online Examples, Better
Before the Crisis: Best
Simplify, Simplify
• Simplify
During the Crisis: Basic Rules
Relevance is key
Keep it simple
Present tense
Active voice
Short, declarative sentences
Active voice: A does B; passive voice: B is
Passive: It was determined—who determined?
Passive: The task will be done—who does it?
Instead of It was determined that immediate action was required.
Use The crisis requires immediate action.
Instead of State assistance should be requested when available.
Use The Information Officer should request State assistance when
Instead of Personnel must be directed to a designated safe area.
Use Managers must direct their staff to a designated safe area.
During the Crisis: Information is Critical
• Remember the journalist’s five W’s:
– Who
– What
– When
– Where
– Why
• Add one more: HOW
During the Crisis: Avoid…
• Empty phrases
As you can see…………………….so
In order to…………………………
at the present moment in time……now
Actual, actually……………………..
It is imperative that…………………
• Complex words for simple ones
– utilize………………………………..use
– necessitate………………………….require
• Incorrect usage
– Insure, assure, ensure (if you’re not sure, use “make sure”)
– Effect, affect
During the Crisis: If you have email
• Send on a need-to-know basis only
• Keep content short and focused (one screen if
• Use meaningful subject lines
– Instead of Next steps
Use Steps to restore basic service
• Edit subject lines on replies if needed
• Make sure all recipients understand terms and
• Note whether you need a reply
During the Crisis: Memos, Paper Trail
• Just the facts, ma’am…
After the Crisis: As Soon As Possible
• Document for yourself first
List the sequence of events
List the sequence of actions
Document what worked
Document what didn’t
• Create a Lessons Learned document
• Then create formal reports for the
organization and the regulators
• Documents are written for a specific user and
purpose—on paper or online
• Develop to a plan and measure effectiveness
• Use good, basic English
– Present tense, active voice
– Short, declarative sentences
• Follow sound design principles
• Keep documents current
• For crisis planning, always keep multiple hard
• Handbook of Technical Writing
– Alred, Gerald J., Charles T. Brusaw, and
Walter E. Oliu. St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
• The Non-Designer's Design Book, Second
– Williams, Robin, Peachpit Press, 2004.
• The Visual Display of Quantitative
– Tufte, Edward R. Graphics Press, 2001.