What Bronze Quill judges can teach you about communication

In our shop, we’re getting geared up for entering the Kansas City IABC chapter’s Bronze Quill Awards.

And as we’ve been going through the annual procrastination that postpones actually writing our entries until the last minute, we’ve been discussing strategies for winning judge attention to and appreciation of  the full brilliance of our work.

In a moment of pontifical self-importance, I penned (electroned?) the following guidance based on my experience as a communication awards judge and my observations of other judges.

It strikes me that the counsel here – assuming you find it persuasive – also generally applies to any situation in which you’re trying to communicate complex information to people who are interested in a topic, but by no means necessarily experts in the specifics you’re trying to convey. Where the word “judge” appears, just think audience or stakeholder or whomever is the target of your communication affection.

So, for your use or toss:

“As you are preparing your Bronze Quill entries or future communication competition entries, here’s my perspective on what plays well based on judging a lot of these competitions and hearing other judges beef and moan about things they are reading.

It is just one person’s perspective, however; so take it with that grain of salt.

  1. Judges are looking for significance. Why is this project important? What did it accomplish? What and how did the effort and its results help the sponsoring organization achieve? It’s hard to answer those questions too often or too thoroughly to turn off a judge.
  2. Keep in mind that your judges are looking at dozens of entries. It’s at the end of the day, they’re tired and preoccupied reviewers. They most likely are skilled communicators who know very little about you, your client or the subject matter involved. Anything you can do to help them understand and remember you and the project is a good thing – including repetition.
  3. Judges often are looking for easy-to-spot (and sometimes trivial) reasons to hammer or elevate entries. So here’s my list of things that may keep your entry in contention.
    • Judges usually are experienced communicators (i.e. many like me are in bifocals and/or are suffering from computer eye fry).  If they have to look at fonts that are intricate or smaller than 11 points, they will hate you. Likewise, they will be seriously peevish if they have to read some dense river of text. Simplify and open up text by:
      • Using simple, direct language.
      • Highlighting by position, formatting and other techniques what is important about the material you are presenting.
      • Scrutinizing every sentence that has a comma in it to see if the sentence should be broken up into two or more sentences or edited down to one simpler sentence.
      • Using bulleted or numbered lists wherever possible.
      • Moving complex or lengthy material to appendices if rules allow it.
    • As experienced communicators and smart humans, they likely have seen or shoveled more professional manure than you, so will disdain your use of adjectives but praise your reliance on facts and analysis to make your case.
  4. Bottom line, what’s story have you told.  A judge judges by mentally recounting to herself or himself the abbreviated, cocktail party version of the story you’ve presented and then assesses whether that story is true, important and compelling.  Have you told such a story in the project summary – which sets or at least frames the judge’s perception of everything that follows?  And have you then constructed your entry to support and extend that simplified understanding?”
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One response to “What Bronze Quill judges can teach you about communication

  1. Thanks for the pointers and your help on the Johnson County Gateway submittal. Jared said he was going to talk to you about other uses of the application.

    Thanks,

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