One very basic communications skill to grasp is the ability to speak with one voice, even when it’s many people doing the speaking. To help with this many companies will have what is called a Style Guide. A document that provides references for many of the questions that come up when communicating.

In the UK, Wycliffe uses the Guardian Style Guide as a basis for our communication. It’s a fascinating read – really it is – if you want to know about frequently used and misused phrases in English. There are also natty illustrations for what is appropriate and inappropriate use of various terms.

The reference for Biblical Quotations is worth particular attention though:

Use a modern translation, not the Authorised Version. From a reader: “Peradventure the editor hath no copy of Holy Writ in the office, save the King James Version only. Howbeit the great multitude of believers knoweth this translation not. And he (or she) who quoteth the words of Jesus in ancient form, sheweth plainly that he (or she) considereth them to be out of date. Wherefore let them be quoted in such manner that the people may understand”

From the Guardian and Observer Style Guide

When is it OK to make things up?

Unidentified homeless man - London

An unidentified homeless man taken in London by Brad J. Gerrard

Does this photograph look at all familiar? If you’ve got Christian friends on Facebook then there’s a good chance you will have seen it in the last day or so illustrating the story of ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, who turned up to take his first service at his new pastorate, a 10,000 strong mega-church, dressed as a homeless man.

Only thing is, ‘Pastor Jeremiah Steepek’, isn’t the slightest bit homeless, rather he’s been created in the imagination of someone who writes for the website Beauty from Ashes Facebook page.

Now, the story does try to make a good point about values but I’m not sure that it’s helpful when it’s portrayed as fact rather than fiction. Making the mistake of reading this as a true story could lead the reader to draw a whole load of wrong conclusions about the US mega-church scene.

I find this even more frustrating when I think what Christian media should be. Truthful, accurate, well thought through.

Recent experience has taught me that while the secular media will get in touch with you to check facts and listen to your side of the story, much of the Christian media either reprints statements without any corroboration, or writes whatever fits best with their worldview. This is hugely frustrating when so much of my time is spent trying to ensure that the things we print accurately represent the communities we work with.

Surviving without e-mail

The BBC website is carrying a story about the boss of an IT company Atos, banning all internal e-mail.

Thierry Breton caused a sensation last week when he told an interviewer that he planned to ban internal email at the information technology services giant, Atos.

Read the full story here

Let’s be clear from the outset, he’s not planning to ban all e-mail. If you’re trying to get in contact with someone inside the business you will still be able to e-mail them. What Mr Breton is stopping is the stream of e-mail that goes from one desk to the next.

Personally, I reckon this is a brilliant idea.

In the last year I had to review my e-mail using habits. I wasn’t getting work done as well as I should have been because every five minutes there was another e-mail that would need replying to. Just that little envelope icon was enough to cause a distraction. So, I now have a plan.

For the most part I only open, read and respond to e-mail first thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon. In cases where I think that the e-mail I’m sending will illicit a response that will require more of my attention, I’ll schedule it to be sent towards the end of the day, meaning that I won’t need to deal with any response until the following day at the earliest.

This may sound a little cheeky, but there are days when conversations can start by e-mail that are no help to anyone. While I’m not a great fan of meetings either, I can see times when it makes sense to get five people in a room to discuss and issue rather than attempting it by e-mail.

I should also say that there are occasions when rules need to be broken. Dealing with external clients and customers, I’ll try to respond more quickly. Coming back off holiday, I’ll sit for a morning or a day to clear the backlog. I’ll even deal with messages on my phone when I’m travelling and there’s not much else to do. But, in general, the principles above still hold true.

So this is currently how I manage e-mail, but I’m willing to learn. So if you’ve got any tips or tricks I’d love to hear them.

Memory like a sieve – I blame my phone

iPhone 4 32GB Black by Yutaka Tsutano

Once upon a time I could remember phone numbers. Now I rely on my mobile phone.

There was a time when I took time to check my spelling of words, now I look for a red line to tell me what I need to go back and change.

I used to write letters and always enjoyed going to the post room at University to pick up my mail. Now I open my in box to look for Facebook updates.

Where do you most notice change?

Communications headaches – the wonder and hassle of a world wide web

I’m a big fan of the internet. I love the speed, the access to all sorts of information, the ability that it gives to me to share news with friends in all parts of the world and the access to people I wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance to connect with (Paul, Mark, Eric, Ruth, Matt, Ann… Stephen and Boris!).

But, despite all the opportunities, there are a couple of things that cause me to stop and think.

The demise of the editor

Once upon a time documents were checked thoroughly for accuracy before they were published. This isn’t the case anymore. People can now publish opinion as fact without having to take responsibility for the consequences. Disclaimers can often be a get-out for people who just want to sound off.

No more borders

Once I could pick my target audience. Magazines and newspapers knew who their readers were, radio stations knew their listeners, everything could be targeted and tailored for the audience. We don’t have that luxury anymore. I need to remember whenever I publish something it could go anywhere. Even writing for a print publication, the final text could end up on a website somewhere and be open to the world to read.


  1. Accuracy does matter. Especially if you want to maintain your authority, which is valued in today’s online society.
  2. National borders no longer exist for information. Remember what you say could be read/seen anywhere so you should be writing for an international audience.
  3. Technology is a wonderful tool, but it’s a tool to aid communication and it’s the quality of the information/message that holds the value.

Flying for Life – the new magazine from MAF

MAF News - the old magazine and prayer diary

One of the organisations Wycliffe Bible Translators works most closely with is MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship). MAF provide planes and pilots to take people in and out of remote communities, transporting valuable supplies and ensuring that people can reach important medical facilities in times of emergency.

They share the news of what they do through their website and through a quarterly magazine and prayer bulletin.

Now, to be honest, their magazine hasn’t been doing their mission justice (see the top picture). The stories it told were fantastic, but the overall appearance was tired looking and cheap. Plus, there was no way to tell that the prayer booklet belonged to the same organisation as the magazine.

Compare this to the new publication (bottom picture), which looks and feels loads better. Why…

1 – The colour scheme runs through both publications. You can tell, without reading anything, that the magazine and prayer diary have come from the same organisation.

2 – The paper is heavier. It’s amazing how printing on heavier paper can make a real difference in the feeling of quality. OK, it pushes the costs up a bit, but it does convey a message about your organisation. Heavier paper people will associate with quality.

Flying for Life - MAF's new magazine and prayer diary

3 – Loads of white space. MAF have always shared really good photographs of what they do and they’ve never been scared of using half a page for a picture, but in the old publication any space not being used for an image was used for text. The new publication still has the great photography, but doesn’t have so much text, as a result it’s easier to read and is more inviting to the reader. There are still some great stories to read, but maybe in this case less really is more.

What I’d still want to change

The magazine and prayer diary look great, but I’d want to do more to strengthen the MAF brand. Their website could look more like the publications just by changing some of the colours to match what they are putting out in print.

That could be a quick win as changing colours doesn’t take an awful lot of technical know-how.

Of course, if there was money to spend I’d like to see the swoosh on the web too, but that can come later.

Now I’ll just be interested to see them at a future event to find out if this change has made it across all their literature and onto some of their display stands too.

For now I’ll just say, great job guys… keep up the good work and thanks for all the flying.

The best medium for your message

Slipstream, the monthly podcast produced by the Evangelical Alliance and Focus is coming to an end.

Set up as a network to encourage and grow younger Christian leaders, the podcasts were part of a communication strategy trying to link experienced leaders with those just starting out on the road to Christian leadership.

The quality of the podcasts were always good and the interviews provided some really useful information, so why are they stopping after almost two years.

David Couchman who presented the podcasts wrote the following on his blog…

In the future, the main way the Slipstream resources will be delivered will be through the e-letter. Users identified email as their preferred way to receive information. This will be more frequent, shorter, and will not have a regular schedule, but will be sent out when there is something specific to say – a new resource, an upcoming event etc.

Read the full post here

A few thoughts

  1. We can often get caught up in schedules and loose the plot of what we are trying to do. If you plan to release something once a month you have to produce something once a month, regardless of whether you have good quality content or not. I don’t think this was a problem for Slipstream, they had lots of good stories – including interviews that I recorded with Andrew Hamilton and Eric Bryant that never made the cut.
  2. You have to use appropriate media for what you are trying to share. It’s far quicker for me to read an e-mail than it is for me to listen to a podcast. Much of what was shared through Slipstream could have been conveyed faster in writing than by listening to the audio.
  3. Finally, does the technology limit the audience? I reckon more people can be reached by e-mail than by podcast. I listen to podcasts because I have an iPod and use iTunes on my home computer. If it wasn’t for my attachment to the Mac I probably wouldn’t bother. In other words, a podcast may be convenient for me but not necessarily for everyone. I reckon the e-mail route will give access to a wider audience.

What do you think?

Learning, growing and sharing: The use of Media in Mission

It’s taken ages to get this sorted, but, finally, this is the presentation I gave at GO2010.

It’ll take a few moments for the audio to download, but the whole presentation is below.

Wenlock and Mandeville: Mascots for the 2010 games

I was willing to give them a chance. I’m not a designer and am more than aware of my ability to miss something clever by making a snap judgement, plus I didn’t want to get sucked in by the media coverage about the 2012 Olympic Games mascots.

But, I’ve now seen the launch video and have to admit that I’m more than a little underwhelmed. This should be a fantastic event with icons that really make Britain stand out in the eyes of the world. I’m not convinced by the video that these characters do that, in this country or anywhere else.

Anyway, that’s my opinion, you should make up your own mind. Wenlock and Mandeville are below, enjoy.