The science vs. the art: Improve writing projects by developing your project management skills

Peep our job titles here at WordsFresh and you’ll find something quite fascinating. Many of us have some form of the title, “Writer and Project Manager.”

Yes, you read that right. We employ those mystical creatures that can somehow bring together creative brainpower with practical and disciplined project management skills.

Not everyone can tap into both of these skill sets, and a lot of writers prefer to only live in the artistic realm (which is great – keep those creative juices flowing!). But for those of us who embrace the more scientific aspects of our writing projects, it helps to be reminded of some best practices.

Here are three ways writers can keep their project management skills fresh:

1) Ask all the questions

As writers, we need to become experts on any given topic before we can communicate about it. However, as project managers, we also need an added level of knowledge. We need know all the nitty gritty details about the project.

In rare cases, we get all the information we need served to us on a silver platter. With most projects, though, we have to actively seek out the information we need in order to deliver amazing results. Things we might need to know, include:

  • What is the timeline for each step in the process, as well as the final deadline?
  • Will multiple people need to review or will there be single approval? How much time should I account for that?
  • What are the design needs? Do we need to shoot new photography, or do we want to use stock images or illustration?
  • Are there deliverables that need to be printed or shipped via mail?

Asking these kinds of questions at the start of a project will save a lot of headaches by the time we deliver the finished product.

2) Find your system

Post-it notes and to-do lists are great – believe me, I consider them dear friends – but to keep your arms around your project, you need a system that keeps you on track. It needs to host all your information, such as background docs, different drafts, design files, etc. More than simply a filing system, though, it also needs to keep you on task (something all writers could use a little help with, am I right?).

For these purposes, there is an unending list of project management software. At WordsFresh, we primarily use Trello. It allows us to set up boards per project, with lists and assignment cards that keep everything organized and in one place.

For budgets, we use a time tracking service called Harvest. Not only do we keep track of our own time there, but we can set up budgets and view our progress on a project at a glance.

And then there’s the tried-and-true spreadsheet. Even in its simplest form, it can be the perfect tool to keep track of costs, orders, etc., without having to use overcomplicated software.

3) Follow the money

Even though it’s not as glamorous as creative writing, minding clients’ budgets is a huge part of our project management services. In past projects, we have been the single point of contact for copywriting, design, printing, programming, video shoots and more. Having that many responsibilities means our clients look to us to keep close track of where their money is going.

Different project managers have their preferred methods tracking budgets, but I’ve found a handy dandy spreadsheet does everything I need. Once you tailor the format to meet the needs of a project, you can track status, capture costs and create an end product that you can reference on future projects. Although continually updating it might take some discipline, your future self will thank you in the end.

When put into practice, these reminders help project management become a smooth process. You’ll be able to marry the art and the science of writing for a truly remarkable end product.

Conducting a killer video interview

Persuasive, riveting, funny or inspiring. Whatever the purpose of the video, you want it to have a big effect on your audience. For an interview-style video, great content starts with the interviewer.

As an interviewer, it’s up to you to dig for the sound bites that capture your audience’s attention.

1. A little background sets the stage.

Conduct a quick search on LinkedIn and Google so you can tailor your questions to the person’s education, background and position. Be sure you know enough about the topic to ask educated questions.

2. Outline the questions.

Jot down five to seven questions. When questions flow naturally, the interview has a more relaxed, genuine feel. Memorize them, if possible. You can always ask follow-ups or add thoughts as they occur.

3. Make small talk.

It’s never comfortable to be in front of a camera. Showing kindness creates a basis of trust. Plus, it’s just nice to be nice. To ease any anxiety, smile and shake hands. Tell your interviewee a little about yourself and ask a few casual questions before the cameras are rolling.

4. Bring a few essentials.

  • A warm drink or room temperature water (cold water is bad for the throat and voice)
  • Translucent face powder
  • Oil absorbing wipes

5. Start with key phrases.

The interviewee feels most nervous right before recording. Talk him through it while the videographer adjusts settings.

“Our team is here to make you look good. The lights make you look awesome.”

“You and I are just having a conversation. Just ignore the camera and don’t look at it. It’s just you and me.” You can clearly see the change in demeanor as soon as you say this phrase. It’s much easier to talk to a person directly than imagine the audience through the lens of a camera.

“This isn’t live TV. You can mess up as much as you want. Just stop your sentence and start over again. No big deal.”

6. Set expectations.

“Don’t look at the camera. Just look straight at me.”

“Square your shoulders toward me.”

“It will make it easier for us later if you use the question in the answer. For instance, if I ask, ‘Why is the sky blue?’ you would say, ‘the sky is blue because…’”

Once the camera’s rolling, ask the interviewee to say and spell her first and last name and say her job title. It provides a sound check, as well as correct spelling and title for any on-screen graphics.

7. Ask easy questions first.

Get the interview rolling with a simple question like “Tell us who you are and what you do” or “How long have you been working at such-and-such?”

8. Listen quietly.

To acquire usable sound bites, the set must be quiet — and that includes you. Avoid speaking or making noises like “mm-hmm” while the interviewee speaks. Wait a couple of seconds between questions to be sure he’s finished answering.

9. Be expressive.

Instead of words or sounds, use your expressions to let her know when she is on the right track. She’ll mirror engaged and energetic body language, so be present.

10. Make comments between questions.

Give the person a chance to breathe and show you genuinely care about what he has to say by responding with your own thoughts. Demonstrate you’re not just checking the questions off your list.

11. “Can you say that again, but this time….”

It’s better to have too much footage than too little, within reason. When the interviewee says something you like but isn’t quite perfect, have her repeat it a few different ways. For instance, ask her to say it again more briefly, with more energy or with a smile.

12. Ask follow-up questions and be flexible.

A good interviewer follows her instincts. Ask the questions necessary to get the best story and follow the story wherever it leads.

13. Wait to ask the harder questions.

The tough questions can wait until you’re about ¾ through the interview. You’ll get a feeling for when he’s warmed up and relaxed. Be brave, but pleasant. He can always say he doesn’t want to answer.

14. Feed lines when necessary.

At times you’ll need the person to say something line-for-line. Though lines can sound rehearsed and disingenuous, it can be helpful, especially when interviewing children.

15. Ask the best question of all.

“Is there anything else you’d like to say?” Save this question for last. By the end of the interview, the subject trusts you, feels relaxed and is on a roll. This is the point where the interviewee will likely give the best sound bites.

An effective video grips your audience. It convinces, educates or entertains. A great interview can be the difference between a dry, talking head and a persuasive video that compels the audience to act. As the interviewer, the difference starts with you.

At WordsFresh, we believe great messages supercharge all communications. It all starts with words. Contact us about how we can help you achieve your communications goals.