Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 9 and 10 Lessons Combined


I’ve begun to earn what I longed, yearned for: my share of the sky in this world. It is just that I spell it as S-U-C-C-E-S-S. For me, success is subject to only a few things, two of which form the core learning from the day 9 and 10 lessons, respectively: engagement and persistence.

It does require a handsome share of mind to come up with new topics to write about and share with all of you. Like I mentioned, I know that your time is priceless, and if I were to wish you to spend it on my posts, I better make the posts worthy of it. But before I talk about the two key elements, I must share with you what I changed on this site.

The idea behind taking this ten-day free course on WordPress was to see which squares did I miss while tiling this site. The efforts were good so far, but now that the site has grown vertically and horizontally, I must make it possible for you to swim effortlessly through the content and sieve out what’s not required.

The site pages are now less intrusive to traverse, searchable, annotated – a few posts that were tucked under pages and menus are now available on the site’s timeline – and easier to read. I’ve experimented with the fonts, colors, and page layout. I’ve also tried to make the posts look more manmade. And, I’ve got the creative juices flowing: a lot of poems and other creative stuff.

With that background, let me bring you back to the two key lessons: engagement and persistence.

There are two things that, for me, colocate with engagement. The first one is purpose. And the second one is commitment. My posts are there for a purpose: one common thought, which through the course of the post, you will share with me. And I am committed to bringing to you only the choicest, original content. Even when I publish a commentary on other’s posts, the thoughts are as original as the ink.

Similar to engagement, there are two things that colocate with persistence, too. The first is flow. And the second one is regularity. Those of you who’ve journeyed with me through this course of posts will agree that there exists a uniform flow of thoughts. And that the thoughts have continued to flow through to you quite frequently in the last five years.

There still are a few things that I will like to experiment with. For example, guest posts and SEO. For now, I am happy with the little share of the sky I’ve got.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 6, 7, and 8 Lessons Combined


If there was one word that defined the online and offline social communities, it would be Connect. That true at least for the lessons I received through the last three days.

Social connection and interaction, in context of the learnings I have received, is both the origin and the destination of the content on this site. If I were to assign a term to it, it would be a progressive loop of interaction.

This is something I have said in my book, The Write Stride: A Conversation with Your Writing Self. Although a major part of the book is aimed at benefitting technical communicators, the theme (of communicating correct messages correctly) truly underpins the importance of the message in the lessons 6, 7, and 8, and remain relevant for all of us.

As I write this, here’s something noteworthy:

  • In the course of time, I’ve given enough time and scope to this site. I’ve helped it mature into something worth sharing on my online social space.
  • I keep reading the work of fellow bloggers.

I’ve even brought back some of them to WordPress.

  • I keep sharing good content with good people. It works for me in two ways: I bring people to my content and I bring good content (both mine and otherwise) to the people around me.

But, of course, it is a continuous process, and not a one-day, one-time effort.

It takes time to build masterpieces. And, I am taking my own time with this site. You know what I mean!

Happy writing.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 3, 4, and 5 Lessons Combined


The customer is the king. No. The customer is your friend. Well, almost. The customer is where it all begins AND ends. Now that’s correct. The technical communicator in me is smiling.

The learnings in the lessons 3, 4, and 5 are straightforward: listen to the customer. The simple question is how do I do that. This post helps me find the answers I am looking for.

I’ve been writing for quite some time. I know that some of my posts in the past were more like a commentary on what I had read. But aren’t opinions just that? Though mostly unknowingly, I was also listening to the customer (reader, in this case) – most of us do. And, the figures justify that. I have increased the site views by as much as 15 times in the last four years.

So, what am I doing correct to make this site a nice place for you to visit?

Most of my top-read posts are either related to technical communication or poetry. I do get feedback on the fiction/nonfiction I write, but we will talk about it in a moment.

I’ve observed that my readers prefer something that is either too short (for a quick read) or that’s truly explained at length. Those who like to read poetry have interest in the interpretative style of writing. The rule is simple for me: answer some of their questions and raise a few of your own. Walking this thin line of suspense and certainty is definitely not easy, but well rewarding.

Those who wish to read the lengthier prose, wish it to be broken into subheadings and highlighted text. This brings me back to my technical-communication principles of creating content that’s comprehensive AND comprehensible.

The creative prose has been in the recent past received quite an accolade. But, I believe that’s because my writing is connected to the root. Readers look for originality and simplicity.

I’ve also written on well-searched (on the Internet) and well-researched topics, such as photography. Such topical writing is not simple. At least not for me because I am not an expert photographer. But, as long as I can make sense for the readers, they continue to stay with me.

In a nutshell, I am writing more of what sells the most from my site. I am giving the readers something that they wish to read about. The layout of the site is simple to navigate through. That, on my part, is a clean combination of responsive content and design.

A lot of that writing is born from experience; the experience of, for example, staying behind the camera to bring out something that’s ready and reference worthy. The idea is simple: my readers’ time is limited; I better not waste it. You might have read some worthy archives I shared recently, now haven’t you? Let me know which ones.

I am curious to listen to you – the reader – for everything begins and ends with you.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 2, Lesson 2


I know it is technically day three, but the tasks of day two took time. And, I must say that though on paper I might not have moved a mile, I have covered a long distance to see the blog from the visitor’s eyes.

I’m told that I must look into the finer elements, such as the theme, fonts, and widgets. As a technical communicator, I do look into these things even in my daily work chores. So, I am beginning to see and hold the common threads.

Last week, I tweaked a few things on my site. I can see from the response so far that the changes have paid well — no, not in monetary terms. I can see a positive response, already, because people are beginning to scroll through pages and read even those posts that previously remained untouched. The site is now more searchable, navigable, and simple. But, not all bells and whistles, so to say, are gone.

Like they mentioned, I cannot cover everything in one day. I agree. No one can become a master in one day. Not even masters became who they are, overnight. So, I am determined to refine the content and appearance of the site. And, I look forward to a welcoming response from all of you.

Happy writing.

Lessons on Branding and Growth

Day 1, Lesson 1


I’ve been blogging for quite some time now. And, someone prompted me to teach blogging or how to go about this whole process of blogging. I don’t know if I can teach (I know I am far from teaching anything of that sort, as of now). So, I turned to WordPress to teach it to me first. Hence this post.

In the next ten days, I will continue to explore and learn something about WordPress. Hopefully, I will get to translate my thoughts into words and share those with you in that period. Here goes my first attempt:

Q. Why do I blog?

I guess I need a place to scribble down my thoughts. But, more importantly, my blog (now my website) is a medium for me to share my thoughts with you. All of you. If I could envision this whole experience as a gearbox, you would be the most critical cog in it. I do it for you. I share because I care. I share because I wish there would be someone out there waiting to read my words and (in some corner of their hearts) feel that I could read their thoughts and wishes. Going forward, I might monetize my blog (site). But, that is a discussion for some other day. Take care.

#bloggingbranding

Five Easy Tips for Using Nifty Fifty

After using the 50mm prime lens with my Canon DSLR for some time, I think I’m getting a hang of it. It is undoubtedly one of the first non-kit lenses you should purchase. I am no expert, but it does give me the result I expect from a DSLR. The images are tack sharp and sufficiently stuffed with the creamy bokeh or blur effect. This post is based on what I learned after using the Nifty Fifty for some time:

Use Appropriate Aperture

As I continue to explore (and define) the limits of the lens, I find that just because the lens allows me to use an aperture that’s as wide as f/1.8, I shouldn’t go for the wider aperture. As is the case with every other lens I have used, the workable sharpness lies between the maximum and minimum aperture, excluding both the extremes. This means, though I can go as wide as f/1.8, the usable, workable images have an aperture that’s ever so slightly smaller than f/1.8. At f/1.8, notice how shallow the depth of field gets (Notice only the brim of the glass is visibly sharp. Of course, I held the camera at an angle to explain you the effect):

7585943552_IMG_0795

You are the Zoom

This one takes some time getting used to, especially if you are a novice photographer like me and are used to using the kit lenses. You, too, would find how easy it is to zoom in and zoom out of the kit lenses to capture just the right frame. I know, this means that you would be compromising on the aperture (and hence light), but that’s plain convenient. A prime lens, like this one, doesn’t zoom. It captures what truly you see with your eyes. This means you must move around, go near to or farther away from the subject, to get the perfect shot.

Walk Around

Try experimenting with the lens. It might take you a lot of practice, capturing, composing, and recomposing before you get the combination of light, aperture, setting, and subject. So, walk around the subject and try experimenting. This lens allows you to push the limits of your photography. Try low light situations, capturing silhouettes, with facing into the Sun, or just at the widest aperture. Much like me, you might get surprised with the lens’ capabilities.

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Take a step or two forward or backward. Location credits: Pind Balluchi, Indore.

Take Multiple Images

When possible, take multiple shots. Bracket those shots in a range of apertures or shutter speeds. Let the subject move around. You can always take the best pick later.

Use a Tripod

I know that not everyone would recommend it with the prime lens. But, if you have one, I’d recommend. I believe this is one of the most versatile lenses I’ve used. I can take portraits, landscapes, panoramas, and low-light images with it. It is lightweight and comfy. And, if you love experimenting with your photography, like me, a tripod will help you push your limits. Try getting a long exposure, capturing a panorama where you horizontally pan the camera to capture motion, or simply clicking a portrait in low-light. This lens does it all.

I’m still experimenting with the lens. But, if you like this list and could add to it, I’d love to hear from you.

Happy clicking.

Handy Tips for Impromptu Speeches

Here’s one post on a special request from a follower. For our company’s recent communicator’s club meeting, we organized for some impromptu speeches. Each of the speakers had their own style. While I cannot say that one spoke better the other, the effect on audience told more than we could gauge. Later, a few wished for us to provide them a handy reference list for such impromptu speeches. Hence this post.

The organizer, Sanjeev Patra, helped me prepare this list:

A good impromptu speech should have these three points:

  • A central idea: The speech should revolve around a theme. This theme, or central idea, should hold your sentences together.
  • A structure: This means that your speech should have a definite start, middle, and end. We encourage speakers to construct their speeches in the PREP format: Point, Rationale, Example, and Point. Begin with a broader definition of your point. Make the introduction emphatic and attention-grabbing. For example, begin with a quote, a question, or a story. Then, give the rationale and its supporting example. Toward the end, state your point again. Make sure you prepare well for the speech, even when you are short of time.
  • A conclusion: Conclude with a summary and a thought.

Here’s what you might consider including in your speech:

  • Personalization: Remember, your speech is your story that has your thoughts. Make sure you include an inspiration; something that made you a better person.
  • KISS: We all know what the expanded form is, but for the sake of clarity, let me share that with you again. Keep it Succinct and Simple. Yes, I know you are thinking, “but, it’s supposed to mean keep it short and sweet.” The word succinct means that your message should be crisp but accurate. So, when you share your story, make sure it is simple, short, and accurate.
  • Suspense: This one is important. On a lot of occasions, speakers end up becoming predictable with their stories; the audience can guess what’s next on the speaker’s list. Have an element of surprise and unpredictability.
  • Friendliness: Even if you don’t know and wish, you pass on the same energy to your audience. So, when you have a negative energy, that is you feel disturbed, unhappy, scared, or unsure, you pass on the same negativity to your audience. On the contrary, your image, as a speaker, should be that of a person who welcomes sharing. Remain positive. Stand straight. Look at all the audiences. If possible, name a few in your conversation. Your positive posture and body language will do half of the job for you.

It is time to rock!

The Question of Approach: One vs Many

Last week, for our internal communicator’s club meeting, I presented some Tips for Effective Writing. Those who attended the session were mostly developers. And, that’s why it was even more useful for them. To help understand the core need for communication, we used a picture quiz, which you and I will discuss through this post.

Look at the following pictures (courtesy: Internet). The first picture is of Lotus Temple, New Delhi, and not of Sydney’s Opera House. The other picture is a multi-utility tool, also called Swiss knife. Here’s a question for you:

How do you think the two pictures contrast?

Before you begin answering the question, here’s a little built up for it:

As a seeker of information, I am like every other “user” or “audience” – I am like YOU, dear reader. I prefer to take the shortest or quickest path to the resolution. Much like you, I get petrified when I can’t find the shortest route. Much like you, I get petrified when I see unorganized or insufficient information. It’s as simple as that. This puts a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of technical communicators and user experience (UX) designers. Sadly, there is still no guarantee that we, the information seekers, would access the right information tidbit at the right time; or even if we do, we get to use it correctly. This means, despite all efforts by technical communicators and UX designers, the communication remains incomplete if the seekers can’t get to – or comprehend – the right information or the right tool at the right time.

Given that background, look at the first picture.

 

Lotus-Temple-Aerial-View
The Lotus Temple, New Delhi

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who seek answers to oneness and peace, go to Lotus Temple. Don’t drift: the name is indicative. So you can take any temple, mosque, church, or even faith. Seekers like you might have a lot of questions, but each of those questions will lead to only one answer: of realizing the seeker’s true self. So, there may be numerous problems that might lead to just one solution. This resembles the Sanskrit hymn, Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti, which largely translates to “That which exists is One. Brahmin (Sages) call it by various names.” Rather than seeking the solution, seek for what you wish to solve – the need. That’s how even I have organized the content for you.

Look at the second picture.

 

victorinox_mountaineer_lg
Multi-utility tool

 

Here is the message from the technical communicator within me to the information seeker within me: those who wish to complete a task or resolve their issues will seek such a tool. A tool, which has one unique solution for every problem. A tool, which can do a lot, but only dedicatedly. Seek, if you must, the need. The tool is still only a medium to accomplish; it’s a means to achieve, not the end.

But before talking about contrast, let us take a minute to discuss a little about what’s common for both the pictures. The only common thing is the need. The need to discover, resolve, and accomplish; the need to get things done; and the need to get questions answered.

So, here’s the contrast: the contrast is in having one universal solution versus a unique solution for every problem. The contrast is also in stressing the presence of the right information tidbit and of the right tool both at the same time. For the seeker’s shortest route to the resolution is the one that contains a quick and unique solution to their problems; the one that addresses the need.

What’s the lesson for the seekers and technical communicators?

The rules of grammar stand true and remain unchanged. However, there still are different ways in which we can compose, express the same information. Similarly, even though there are style guides and standards, there are hundreds of scenarios that we can count as exceptions. Probably, that’s why we see the Microsoft’s Manual of Style, fourth edition, mention “Microsoft” and “Not Microsoft” ways of creating content, unlike the “correct” and “incorrect” ways in their third edition of the book.

We should choose based on what’s needed, required from the content. There lies harmony where both technical communicators’ and information seekers’ needs meet.

To Article or Not to Article

Throughout my projects and writing schedules, I deal with numerous situations when I get stuck between choosing to use or not to use the definite or the indefinite articles. This post contains a handy list of situations when I am supposed to NOT use the articles:

The Definite Article

Do not use the when:

  • Naming holidays: for example, “I went home for Holi.”
  • Naming seasons: for example, “Winter has arrived.”
  • Referring to geographical locations: for example, “Next month, I’ll be in New Zealand”, or “He provides consultancy to banks and hospitals.” Note that I did not use the definite article for banks and hospitals, too, which qualify as geographical locations. Unless specified, do not use the definite article in such cases. For example, “We visited The Central Business Park last week.”
  • Referring to sports: for example, “Rohan played Cricket until last year.”
  • Referring to things in general or when using the plural nouns: for example, “I love dogs” or “Marathis love to dance”, or “we love listening to music.” Of course, the usage will differ based on countable, uncountable, or countless nouns (dogs, Marathis, and music all are pluralized), but we will discuss that some other day.
  • Talking about languages: for example, “Shambhavi can speak Sanskrit.”
  • Using names (or nouns): for example, “Shailaja works for Microsoft” or “Anil is an alumnus of Devi Ahilya University.

The Indefinite Articles

Do not use either a or an:

  • With adjectives that modify something that’s contextually understood or imperative: for example, “Spruha is intelligent.” However, when the sentence contains information about what the adjective modifies, then include the indefinite article: for example, “Spruha is an intelligent kid.” In this sentence, the italicized fragment refers to the kid’s intelligence.
  • With plural and uncountable nouns: for example, “Apples are apples and oranges are oranges.”

Happy writing.

Good versus Well

Much like the previous post, in which we discussed the differences between the usage of I and Me, this post, too, discusses something that people find confusing: the use of good versus well. I’ve fallen prey to it on a few occasions (in the past) and so have most of my friends.

What’s the difference?

The thing is, our mental ears have always known (or is it registered?) the difference. So, none of us will ever, EVER say, “You did a well job”, while all we wish to do is praise the other person for their efforts. However, things get a little tricky for some of us who might happen to say, “Hey, you look good, buddy!” I’ve often used that in the past, and some of those who I know still use it.

Good is an adjective; it is a property of the subject of the sentence; it describes the subject. When I say, “You look good, buddy”, I mean that the “buddy”, or the subject of the sentence, has good eyes or, perhaps, vision because the word good describes buddy’s look. The sentence really means I am telling my buddy that they are actively using their eyes well. And, that isn’t what I intend to say. All I wish is to remark is that my buddy is looking hale and hearty. And, I must say what I intend to.

Well, as you rightly guessed, is an adverb; it describes the verb that relates to the subject of the sentence. So, instead of “You look good, buddy”, I should say, “You look you are doing well, buddy.” Yes, I might sound odd. But, I would choose to sound one rather than end up being one.

Are there any rules?

Yes. A rather simple one to remember: if you are referring to your or other’s health, use well. For example, “I heard he is doing/recovering well after the surgery.” Another advice: keep listening to your mental ear.

But, wait! There’s a catch!

First answer this: is it OK to say, “I’m good?” Good, based on what we just discussed, is an adjective. And, because it describes something, it should be incorrect to say…

WAIT, right there, for here lies the catch. I’d like you to read about linking verbs, which I covered in my previous post. The linking verb, “am” in the sentence, “I’m good”, connects the subject to the property of being good. So, it is OK to say, “I’m good.” However, you still can’t use good as an adverb. So, never say, “you did good”. Instead, say, “you did well.”

Happy writing.