Technically Speaking: Three Best Practices for Finding Harmony in Technical PR Content

Consider this. Does anyone actually take the time to read their user manual before using their new camera or other electronic device? Not surprisingly, the answer is often a resounding, NO.

According to Chuck Westfall, assistant director of the technical information department for Canon, Inc., “There’s no question that people are averse to reading the full instruction manuals — that’s a given these days.”

Retired photographer, Lee Battaglia confirms the average consumer sentiment that, “It’s too time-consuming and I’m impatient.” Unfortunately, that mentality can lead to more than just frustrated consumers.

Much like user manuals, technical PR content like blogs and articles, often get an equally bad rap.

Relying solely on the power of your technical prowess can cause an audience to move on to content (or another company’s product or solution) that is easier to digest.

Not a technical writer? No problem. In fact, it’s preferred and for that very reason. Whether the writer comes from a creative or journalism background, both the technical and non-technical contributor can take a cue from the principle of Yin and Yang. Though opposites, they share the common magnetism of wanting to intrigue and inform their readership. This can only be accomplished through technical content harmony.

Here are three best practices for finding harmony in technical PR content:

DO YOUR RESEARCH

No, it doesn’t mean you have to go back to school for an engineering degree, but plan to bring to the table, a basic understanding of your technical subject matter. It never hurts to ask your tech contributor for an abstract of what he plans to discuss (for the article or blog). The abstract can provide you with a basic set of tools to get you started and a storyline for directing the interview Q & A sequence.

Take for example a young couple who is planning a trip to a non-English speaking country for the first time. Learning enough to get by through a pocket-sized translator, or via a YouTube tutorial, can help them get by, while navigating their way in an otherwise foreign place. In other words, no one expects you to be fluent, but you should know the difference between The Louvre and The Loo.

As a bonus, being able to engage with the technical contributor also gives you some level of ‘street cred’ and will likely get your technical contributor to open up more than he expected.

CONDUCT FACE-TO-FACE INTERVIEWS WITH THE TECHNICAL CONTRIBUTOR

Without a doubt, the most effective method for conveying technical content in a non-technical voice is by way of a one-on-one interview with the technical contributor either in person, through video chat or over the phone.

Why? In most cases, if the technical contributor is aware of your non-technical background, the technical contributor often unbeknownst to him/her will automatically translate technical jargon into everyday language. It may seem like they are attempting to dumb it down, but truth be told, an in-person interview is almost always more conversational in tone and therefore easier to digest on paper.

TAKE THE LEAD

A technical article that lacks the human aspect will typically die a slow death. It is the interviewer’s responsibility to steer the ship or direct the flow of the interview and without the human aspect of the story, the technical content can often read like a How To manual. Ask questions that intrinsically tell a story – a technical and human story. Know its background. This is where research comes in handy. If you allow the technical contributor to control the flow of the interview, you run the risk of only focusing on the technical components which can lead to un-relatable and fragmented content.

Remember, the human brain is intrinsically balanced between science, math and logic (left brain) and creativity and the arts (right brain) – a natural dichotomy that can also function harmoniously. Through a balanced approach, a technical article can successfully tell a story just as well as a non-technical article. By following these key steps you’re already on your way to achieving technical content harmony.

Camille Thompson is a Marketing Communications Specialist at Peter Basso Associates, Inc.  and a PRSA Detroit blog contributor. 

Works Cited: Mayor, Caroline. “Why Won’t We Read the Manual?” Washington Post, 2002, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/business/2002/05/26/why-wont-we-read-the-manual/b7f08098-1d08-4d67-9e3e-8f3814f4d90a/?utm_term=.fac30a82e49b. Accessed 9, Apr. 2019.

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