Coverage by Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI on “How to write so people read” masterclass by Neelima Thota of ISB PGPMAX

When you bump into someone with impeccable communication skills, you will immediately know it. There is an unique style with which they carry themselves and their clarity of expression, written or verbal, is in their nature. Neelima Thota is one such professional with excellent written and oratory skills. She also has a nice habit of personalizing her communication that makes the reader or listener readily connect with her.

Here is a masterclass with Neelima and some of her fellow organizing team members of ISB’s PGPMAX Leadership Summit 2020.

Poornima: How do you improve command on English as a language? How to sharpen it? Talk about your journey.

Neelima: My dad kept on moving our home base with work. It became difficult for me to make friends. I made books as my friends. Even my parents are into reading. I started with Nancy Drew and then all the way to Shakespeare. As I read, I get attracted to new words and the context.

When I read something interesting, I want to share and I used to go to my grandma for that. When we have the inner urge to share, we want to share about the powerful words that are part of the story line. Anecdotes are something I make a mental note when I find them interesting.

Imaginative language of the books I read help me. I build a relation when I talk to anyone. I don’t want to just share just the facts. Communication shall reflect your own persona. Make a stamp of who you are. Choice of words reflect your personality.

At the end of every stay, my dad takes his entire extended family with him. Once It took us two weeks to go from one side of the country to all the way to Agra up in the North. I started writing Travelogue at every train stop and that makes my habit. Making notes has become my habit.

I used to use flash cards in childhood and I used to give my own recall of the meaning of the new words.

Meenakshi: How do I bring in powerful words in communication that suit the audience? I prefer the simple words and I wish I could plug in the powerful words when required. How do I fill the gap?

Neelima: What is the purpose? Purpose of communication is the key. Know your audience. Understand the need to make your communication powerful. What is the purpose? It is important to hook the reader. Books are my companionship. I make notes or key points as a result. That helps my conversations.

There must be an emotional intrigue in what we write. Here comes the context of audience. You shall put yourself in their shoes. Will this create a strong visual in the reader’s mind? We want to make, sometimes, compound sentences to make the write-up more interesting. The first part can be complex but it has to be relevant and engaging.

I introduce the powerful words as if I am building a car in stages. These powerful words get into the plot. I start small with simple words and let the reader get hooked. Gradually I introduce the powerful words. I want them to go back and research those words and then we can ween it off.

Audience is the key. As you note down, you build those actionable items. We engage with people around us and they are people. Bring the sense of emotion and sensibility. It builds confidence and trust. The intrigue in general dictates your choice of words. I use anecdotes simplify the thought or intent behind. Bring in nice metaphors or similies.

Poornima: I am analytical and an engineer. Any inputs?
Neelima: I want to gauge the audience and Segway into what the audience want. I started practicing story telling around the facts. This story telling made me see the spark in the audience. Looking into the eyes of the person makes me know the person more. This shows my integrity and courage. This is the top I got from my dad. This to know whether I am throwing them off or not.

Meenakshi: Someone gave me an idea to use synonyms for finding the powerful words. Your comments?

Neelima: I used to always recall the writing styles of famous authors. I get intrigued by these styles. Word by itself doesn’t make sense without the context. We shall and hence learn the word in its context and not just as a synonym for something.

Poornima: I get conscious about being important with new words. I only experiment when it doesn’t matter.

Neelima: If someone critiques you, it makes you think. In that case, I elaborate my intent. In the process, I revisit my thinking. I won’t get defensive. Everyone comes with his or her own lens and perspective. I make that first step. Take the plunge and do it. You should be clear about the use of a specific powerful word. It must be just fitting in. You should be able to defend it. It is like I know it and I have seen this work. I have seen the use of the pattern that I can depend on. As long as you depend on your actions, you can be confident to take a plunge.

Poornima: How do you want to take this forward?

Neelima: “Barbed wires and open skies” is the title of the book I am currently authoring. Similar to writer’s block, there is something called writer’s buzz. When I get a new thought or word, I record it. When I listen to it again, it recalls the emotion too. How do I open the book itself is a challenging. Can I make the opening more powerful? I keep iterating.

The book is about how one copes up with the barbed wires and take it to the open skies.

Poornima: How about listening skills?

Neelima: The listener is making choices. We need to have good listening skills without which we may not be able to observe. When I write and introduce powerful words, I eagerly look for the response of the listeners. I pay attention else I can’t let the entire group to converse freely. I can’t let even one left alone in a group communication.

Poornima: Say something about the art of asking questions. Connect that with writing.

Neelima: All of my questions are about what intrigues me. Often times we don’t ask the right questions. One reason could be the fear of being judged. Think that you are just alone with that person. I was never trained to think linearly. Credit to my dad. I always draw the big picture in my mind and then I will ask. I got wired to look into the interconnections. For example, is the good policy good enough? Where does this lead to?

Poornima: How do we change the way we learn as we age?

Neelima: I become selective about what I process. I compartmentalize. For example, I used to ask ISB professors questions during the tea breaks. I could get them to engage with me. We compete for participation in the class at this age! I also paint and do art work. It requires me to focus. This improves our attention span as we age. We have to find something that resonates with us and it conditions our mind to stay focused.

Ritu: I teach business communication at times as part of my role at work. Attention span of the students is so less these days. Writing powerful punch lines with twitter-like crispness is part of what I do. Any thought about this?

Neelima: I agree with you that the attention span is getting shorter. We have to find that one-line around which we build the crux. We have to understand the audience and purpose. Going short or long, the core of the message shall stay strong. I use the core of a long message if I have to post the article on twitter. The intrigue factor shall stay. You want the reader to pick the powerful word(s) and tweet around it. Lay out the core and build the content around it. This gives you readily the core.

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