If you’re in business you’re a writer. Text, email, and social media are text-based. You can write a whole sentence using emoticons 😝 and acronyms IMHO (in my humble opinion) but unambiguous business writing requires a command of the language. Good news: writing tools can help you with English, whether the language is new to you or you’re an experienced writer.
The Etymology Dictionary is for word nerds. Enter a word or phrase and find out how it originated. Great for research—and for understanding where today’s vocabulary came from.
Use Answer The Public (answerthepublic.com) for an idea generator. Enter keywords and discover the most popular searches. ATP pulls data from Google searches and may give you ideas for your next article.
Polish Email and Simplify Social Media
I use Grammarly every day for on-the-go checks of my writing, especially on my iPhone and iPad. ProWritingAid is similar, though the free version seems more robust than Grammarly. The statistics and ever-so-helpful suggestions for change can overwhelm, however, and may not be valuable to you.
CoSchedule (coschedule.com) offers a free headline analyzer tool. I use it for punching up email subject lines and blog titles. Shoot for a score of 70 or higher.
Have you ever grappled for new ways to say the same thing? Check out Related Words when you don’t exactly want a synonym or you’re looking for a different way to phrase something.
If you do a lot of social media posting, look at PromoRepublic for scheduling your posts. It’s reasonably priced and well worth it for the treasure trove of ideas, content, and templates that save time and help you create eye-catching graphics.
Create Eye-Catching Data Visualisations
If you’re a data wonk, Onomics offers free data visualizations. I haven’t needed to use it yet, but it came to me highly recommended and I’m looking for an excuse to dive in.
Writing Tools Help But They Don’t Write For You
Writing is a creative process. Sometimes you break the rules deliberately. Your style of writing is your style of writing. Yes, there are rules, best practices, and the right way to use punctuation. And if everyone followed the rules, we wouldn’t have Ulysses by James Joyce, Catcher in the Rye by Holden Caulfield, or anything by Ernest Hemingway.
Writing tools are just that: tools. They catch errors and generate suggestions. Use that information wisely but don’t let it rule your writing.
Know a Someone Who Could Use This Information?
Forward them a link to this post.
Better yet, I give a talk with practical suggestions to help businesspeople become better writers. It’s loaded with simple tips and will help you see improvements right away. Interested in learning more? Contact me and let’s talk.
There’s a good reason why videos are increasingly popular. They’re easy to consume and they can be easy to make. You don’t need an expensive crew, equipment, and studio to produce a decent-quality video.
In a memorable video, the speaker communicates their message clearly and succinctly. Viewers are gripped by your call to action. They leap to their feet, ready to volunteer, write a check, fund a capital campaign. Inspired, they share your message with other equally generous people.
Ah, if it were only that easy…
Three Steps to Scripting a Memorable Video
We’ve all sat through DIY videos listening to speakers “uh” and “erm” their way along. The speaker seems lost and befuddled, wanders off into side-topics, gets distracted by the cat (or dog or kid) that comes into the room, and completely forgets their point.
Don’t be that person. Instead, follow these tips to script a memorable video.
Step 1: Grab Attention With a Powerful Title and Opening Sentence
You’ve only got a few seconds to lock in audience attention. Don’t waste this time. Hook your audience from the start. If you can’t communicate your message right away, nobody will bother watching the rest of your video.
Start with a powerful title that piques curiosity, then lure viewers in with an equally powerful opening sentence. Script the opening sentence to support your headline, then polish, polish, polish.
There are lots of free tools available to help.
Check out this article from HubSpot. Yes, it’s about email subject lines. But you can use this approach to craft great video titles.
Use the free headline analyzer at CoSchedule.com to craft a memorable video title. (CoSchedule’s headline analyzer will also score it for search engine optimization (SEO) characteristics. This will be useful if you post this video on your website.) Aim for a score of at least 70.
Step 2: Close Out On a High Note
It’s counterintuitive I know, but next, write your closing. Script a sentence or two that recaps and reinforces your message and includes a call to action. Polish until it shines. This is what people will likely remember, so it’s worth the effort.
A call to action is the step you want your viewer to take. It may be to enroll in a workshop, donate generously, or volunteer. Whatever it is, make sure you clearly state that next step.
Don’t forget to include your or your organization’s name and contact information (name, website, email, and/or phone number).
Step 3: Fill in With One to Three Talking Points
Now develop the body of your script. Here’s where you tell your story.
Most videos are short (30-90 seconds) — just enough time to make a couple of points. You need to decide whether you want to dive into one point or skim lightly over two to three points. The more you have to say about any one topic, the fewer topics you should have.
Jot down a few five or six words for each bullet point. As you write, hone your message so that it is tightly focused. If there’s a specific example you want to use, note it. Write down specific words or phrases you need to remember.
Worried about forgetting something? Keep your notes on your smartphone or on a pad nearby and refer to them if you need to when you’re recording.
Should you script every word or just use bullet points? I’m not a fan of scripting every word, but then I’m comfortable ad-libbing. See Bonus Tip 4 for my thoughts on this topic.
What kind of details should you share? It depends on your audience. For example, bankers, accountants, and lawyers may be more comfortable with bare facts. Parents might want to know how your organization helped another child before they trust you with theirs. Medical professionals might not want to share anything because of patient confidentiality and safety concerns.
A little humor can work, but it can be tricky to pull off. If you’re not a natural with humor, don’t force it. And if you are, avoid snark and irony. It may backfire if your audience is listening but not watching the video.
Bonus Step 4: Practice, But Don’t Practice Too Much
The key to any successful video is practice. Practice enough so you’re comfortable, but not so much that you sound rote. Be able to deliver your opening and closing as scripted, but allow yourself to explore your topic in different ways with each run through. You may discover something you forgot when scripting your talking points or find a better way to say it.
An old Toastmasters trick: memorize your opening and closing sentences. Know the major points you want to make, and let your words flow naturally as you move from open to close.
It’s perfectly OK to get excited, even passionate about your subject. Just don’t overdo it. Worse, don’t fake it.
If you’re recording your video yourself on your smartphone, your first recording or two (or more) may sound forced and unnatural. You may be nervous and you’ll probably make a couple of mistakes. That’s OK; this is practice, remember?
The trick is to recognized when you’ve practiced too much. Be aware when you start feeling tired or sounding rote. Time for a break.
Do I Need a Videographer For a Memorable Video?
It depends. Some of the most effective videos I’ve seen were shot on smartphones with no set, script, or video team. They succeeded because the speaker was passionate about their topic and wanted to share that excitement with me, the viewer. Their energy shone through and pulled me in.
But there’s a good argument for paying a professional videographer. It takes a lot of pressure off you, especially if you’re not technically inclined. A professional videographer will add polish to the final product in ways you probably can’t.
I’m all for paying a pro to do something I can’t do as well or when it would just eat up my time. In the long run, a professional videographer can save you time, money, and a lot of frustration. They can be well worth the investment.
If you want to see a wide range of videos, from polished to home-made on no budget, check out Indiegogo. It’s a fundraising site for everything from start-ups to non-profits, and most projects include a video. Some are great, some are awful. Worth the look.
Oh, and don’t forget to lock the door to the room to keep pets out while you’re recording your memorable video.
Whether you like it or not, LinkedIn is the place to be for most professionals. It’s more than your online resume: anyone wanting to confirm your experience will check you out on LinkedIn. If someone searches for you on Google, a link to your LinkedIn profile may appear. Even if you spend more time on other social media platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, your LinkedIn profile is important.
That means your Summary needs to shine. It may be the toughest part of your profile to write. Everything else is dates and skill and accomplishments. But this, this needs to catch the reader’s eye right away.
To make it worse, a reader will only see the first two-and-a-half or three lines of your Summary, even though you’re allowed 2,000 characters–a full page. And you’ve probably slaved over that page, too. No pressure, right?
Where do you start? What do you do first? How do you write a killer LinkedIn Summary? The steps below will get you off to a good start
While writing a LinkedIn Summary can be challenging, spend some time on the first three steps. Once you’ve completed them, the rest will flow more easily.
The Hard Part: Who’s Your Audience?
Decide what you want your Summary to do. Do you want a new job? More customers? A stronger network? Making this decision will help you create a clear message. Yes, you can do more than one thing at a time but choosing one will make your job simpler.
Determine who you need to reach. This is the audience you’ll be writing for and it’s important you know exactly who they are. If you’re looking for a job, you’ll want to attract recruiters and hiring managers in your field. ILooking for more customers? Then corporate decision makers in your industry are probably your target. If you want to expand your LinkedIn network, then you want to attract colleagues.
Why would someone look for you? What problems would they ask you to solve? (This is not the same as “what I can do for you.”) Make a list. Dig deep on this one. Sure, a hiring manager may be looking for a Senior UX Designer. But the real problem is her top designer quit right in the middle of the biggest project of the year. Deadlines are tight and she needs someone who can ramp up quickly. Your ability to learn quickly and work productively under pressure is probably more important to her right now than anything else.
The Not-So-Hard Part: Write Your LinkedIn Summary
Write a very short lead that will appear “top of the fold” on your LinkedIn Profile page. Summarize why you’re the right choice. Include contact information so the reader doesn’t need to click to find it. (They may not know where to look. Besides, LinkedIn has a habit of changing their user interface without warning.) Keep it very short－175-200 characters, not counting your contact info. Why? Because that’s what a reader will see without having to click “more” to read your entire summary.
Write the rest of your content, ending with a call to action. Keep it short, solution-focused and compelling. If you need help, see my blog post “How to Create a Powerful Message.”
Ask friends and colleagues to review and give you feedback. Polish, polish, polish. Edit your text carefully. If you’re not good at editing, have someone else do it. DO NOT RELY ON GRAMMAR AND SPELL-CHECKERS!!!!!! Seriously, if you screw up here you blow your credibility. Don’t be that guy. Or girl.
Create a draft in Microsoft Word or Google Docs. That way you can keep several versions around and play with them to your heart’s content.
Before you post your final Summary on LinkedIn, turn off Notify Your Network. (Check LinkedIn Help for information on how to do this.) Turn it back on when you’re all done and ready to publish to the world.
Need more help with a LinkedIn Summary? I know some excellent professionals who would be delighted to speak with you. Contact me to get the information.
One of the most common problems I’ve faced as a project manager is “fixing” a broken team. There are lots of reasons people don’t work together well. Sometimes team members prefer working solo. Sometimes there are organizational issues discouraging collaboration. And sometimes two people just don’t like each other.
Even if you’re not a project manager, there are some simple things you can do to help build a strong team.
Listen to everyone. And I do mean everyone. Even the squeaky wheels, even the people that make everyone else roll their eyes. You never know what you’ll learn.
Show respect to everyone. Assume everybody has something to offer. In my experience, they probably do. It just may not be what you expect.
Acknowledge it when things don’t go right. If you don’t screw up, you won’t learn. Focus on what went wrong (the process), not on who’s to blame (the person). Get to the root cause and address that.
Encourage creative bitching. If you’re already stuck, it’s too late to ask for ideas and input. I had one rule as a project manager: no complaining without suggesting a solution. Get your teammates’ input on problems you’re facing before it’s too late.
Keep your promises. The fastest way to build a team–or turn around a troubled one–is to build trust. And the easiest way to do that is to be true to your word. If you commit to something, do it. If you can’t meet a commitment, fess up and negotiate an alternative.
You’ll be setting a standard that other team members will most likely respect and emulate. And your project manager will appreciate the support.
It’s time to write that marketing email or sales letter or request for a donation. You need to convince someone to buy something and you don’t know where to begin. Here’s are six steps to create a powerful message that gets results.
AIDA Isn’t Just an Opera
Writers use a number of formulas to get create messages. AIDA (Attention, Information, Decision, and Action) works well for me, whether I’m writing content for a website or persuading a prospective client to buy my services.
Creating a Powerful Message in Six Steps
Before you start, figure out who you’re communicating with and what problem you can fix for them. This not about what you’re selling or why you’re the best. It’s about your audience. Why would they want what you’ve got? What problem are you solving for them? Say you’re a coach. Newsflash: your clients aren’t buying coaching. They’re buying help finding a job, getting a promotion, or getting along better with their partner.
Once you’ve got a clear definition of the problem, write your Attention statement. This step can be daunting. You’ve only got a few seconds to capture your reader’s attention. Your text should identify the problem from a potential customer’s perspective. (“Wouldn’t it be great if you could…” “Stop worrying about your next job.” “People just like you are….”)
Now comes Interest. This can be a sentence or a couple of short paragraphs that expand on your Attention sentence. Provide more information that shows you understand the problem your readers are facing. Make the case that you get it. Facts and figures are good here but don’t overwhelm the reader.
The Decision sentence(s) explain why your solution is the right one for them. Summarize your expertise; use quotes from customers; support them with numbers if you can. (“Our customers tell us we….”. “95% of the people who bought this product ….”. “Your donation will let us help 100 needy animals…”).
Wrap up with your call to Action. What do you want these people to do after they’ve read your message? Do you want them to sign a petition? Read an article? Click on a link? Buy something? Tell them what to do next. (“Click the button below to sign up for….” “Call us today to reserve your seat.” “Check out this video on YouTube.”)
Finally, polish, polish, polish. First, check the message with your current customers. Have one or two review your text. Use a thesaurus or use Related Words to punch up the message. Next run the text through Grammarly, Hemingway or another editor to be sure it’s clean. Finally, have a human copyedit it.
Like any new approach, this one takes a bit of practice. I find that if I spend a lot of time accurately identifying the problem I solve, the message falls into place fairly quickly.
If you’re just starting out and you don’t have customers yet, ask a boss who liked you for input. Or check in with friends and family. If you can explain it to them, you can probably draft a great message anyone will understand.
Thank you, Mark Twain, for helping me put it so succinctly.
I am once again being buffeted by statistics. Statistics, the math of populations, not of individuals. And I am an individual.
Statistics Be Damned
I survived a rare and aggressive form of cancer in 2017, no thanks to statistics. I rang all the bells when it came to triggers; I pulled a perfect score on the list of predictors. My numbers through surgery, chemo, radiation, and afterward were appalling. By all rights, I shouldn’t be here to write this. Yet here I am, statistics be damned.
Early on I decided to ignore the numbers and focus on one thing: getting well. I did some online research to see what I could do to increase my odds. The content from reliable sources was generalized to the point of uselessness. (“Get your sleep. Eat foods that agree with you.” Duh! That second recommendation justified a historic chocolate binge.)
My oncologist is a data wonk; she has the facts, figures, and population studies engraved in her brain. She knows her stuff. My doctor could tell me the odds of needing a transfusion were high—I never needed a transfusion. She could tell me 80% of the neuropathy in my feet would remain—about 50% has. She told me my hair would fall out. OK, she was right about that. I’d wanted to shave my head for a long time, so baldness turned out to be a fun experiment. (For the record, I liked having no hair. Cool in the summer with minimal upkeep.)
I am not a statistic; I am me and I needed answers for my specific case. I decided not to indulge in any more online searches, pursuing ever-more esoteric links down the proverbial rabbit hole. The news wasn’t good; the statistics did not get me one step closer to my goal of survival. If I’d paid them any attention, I’d have been planning my funeral instead.
I could tell when friends and family had been Googling. They looked pale and frightened, and couldn’t look me in the eye. I ended up reassuring them more than they did me. Trying to explain that statistics is the mathematics of populations didn’t help. They thought I was in denial.
Google and Statistics
Fast forward one year. Now one of my hips is well past its use-by date thanks to poor gene selection on my part, a lot of time spent jumping out of trees as a kid and my love of hiking. Most of the women in my family have had hip replacement surgery, so it’s not exactly a surprise.
I’ve begun the rites and rituals of preparing for surgery. Or, as medical folks call it, “pre-op.” If you’ve been subjected to Western medical practice lately, you’re probably familiar with the drill. Endless rounds of tests and interviews are conducted by various medical professionals so they can pore over the minutia of your body.
I sat in an over-heated office with a competent nurse practitioner reviewing my life history. “Have you ever had…” “No.” “Any symptoms of….” “Nope.” “How many times a week do you….” “I don’t.” She nodded her head as we worked down the list.
The nods began to come less frequently. She looked puzzled. She took my blood pressure for the third time; it was still normal. As she asked me questions, she glanced at my honey. He sat calmly, listening to my litany of negatives, smiling in agreement.
The questions continued. The negative answers persisted. A frown began to pucker the nurse’s brow. We reviewed the very short list of medicines I’m taking a second time. Had I forgotten anything? There wasn’t much there to examine, but she dove in with all the enthusiasm she could muster. Her disappointment deepened.
I didn’t know whether to be complimented or apologize. If you buy into the statistics, the number will suggest a woman somewhat younger than I am.
Maybe that explains the ads Google steers my way. I just don’t know where they got the idea I need “male medical enhancements.”
While we’re arguing about the immigrant caravan headed for our southern border, let me share a personal story. I originally posted this on Facebook when a different president was in charge. We were arguing about Syrian immigrants then. I’m sad to see how little has changed.
The love of my life wouldn’t be in my life, in the US, or even alive if his parents had not come here.
Fear and Loathing…
They were Russian/German Jews escaping Nazi Europe. They had to find someone to sponsor them, at the cost of $10,000 per visa. That’s a lot of money even by today’s standards. Good news: a wealthy family member paid the fees.
Then they had to fit into a quota that wasn’t already filled. More good news. Josef Stalin wasn’t letting anyone out of Russia and the Russian Jewish quota was wide open.
Once here, housing and a job were the top priority. That meant trips back and forth across the US chasing promises that fell through again and again and again. An accident on a snow-covered mountain destroyed most of their household goods. Help was hard to find, as were hotel rooms. Jews were–how do I say this politely–actively discriminated against.
…With a Happy Ending
My honey went on to found and run several successful start-ups, one of which helped define the PC industry. In fact, you might not be reading this on your
electronic device without his contributions. He raised two sets of happy, well-adjusted kids who turned into wonderful adults. He’s a proud grandfather to 14 kick-ass grandkids. And he’s been my anchor and support.
Before you say, “yeah, but he’s different,” no, he’s not. His family was one of the millions trying to escape war and persecution. They didn’t have much when they got here except for drive, perseverance, and pure grit–and a will to live a better life. Imagine you were the immigration officer that they met at Ellis Island. You would have seen a frightened couple from a despised minority who barely spoke English. Their terrified little boy hid behind his father, clutching a ragged teddy bear. Nothing special. Too many just like them.
When you claim immigrants shouldn’t be allowed to come into this country, you may want to think about the potential you are depriving us of. And while you’re using your computer–or phone or tablet–remember it would all be very different without him.
I’m fascinated by the power of the written word. I can spend hours immersed in a thesaurus, picking the precise word to express a thought. I analyze speeches, blogs, and news articles to understand how the choice of words and images can sway readers. Same thing with websites, billboards, flyers, advertisements, and social media posts. And that’s led me to a meditation on the ethics of good copywriting.
Good copywriters tell stories that make their clients happy. Websites get more attention, social media accounts get more followers, blog posts are read and quoted more often. Products and services are purchased, candidates win political offices. Clients are delighted; copywriters get more work.
What do you do when a client sells something or promotes a point of view that you find dangerous or offensive? Should you write great copy for a bad purpose? Maybe to sell a product you know is defective, or a service from someone you suspect is not ethical? Sounds pretty straightforward: don’t take the job. Or do, and you hold your nose while you sign the contract.
Here’s another example: should you write great copy for someone you don’t agree with? They’re not evil, they’re not out to do harm; they simply have a different viewpoint from yours. Maybe a diametrically opposing viewpoint. Maybe they’re for lower taxes and your cause is funding social services for the needy. Or they want to preserve a natural habitat but you’d like to see more jobs in the area. What do the ethics of good copywriting tell you?
Ah, that’s the problem, isn’t it?
Even More Challenges
With the panic over fake news and the social media echo chamber, copywriters can feel driven to shout over the crowd to be heard. We use more emotional words; the tone becomes more hysterical. We play up social divisiveness to drive clicks and views. Us vs. them is an easy way to get attention. Us is the righteous few; them is the great unwashed enemy. Boo hiss on they, them, the others. The not us.
Analytics count each mouse click and record it for posterity. Clients use those numbers to gauge success. Which words drive the stronger response, get more of whatever it is we’re measuring? Let’s push harder to get more of that. It’s like heroin. Our clients are addicted. We’re addicted.
If things don’t work out quite right, if the results are unpleasant or unexpected, the reaction is to say, “I just write the stuff. I can’t control how people react to it.
In a word, bullshit.
What Can Copywriters Do?
Take ownership of and responsibility for your content. Don’t act like a tech bro: you are obliged to consider how people will use your work. You are being paid to stir emotions and drive specific reactions. You need to think the implications through.
Recognize that someone with a different viewpoint isn’t the enemy. Lots of us disagree with each other. Some people like chocolate, some like vanilla. Vive la difference. Broaden your mind a bit by working for the other side. You may even learn something.
Talk to your client and insist on honesty. So much content relies heavily on emotion-laden words and dog whistles. Don’t take that easy road; challenge yourself to make the point in other, better ways.
If you can’t, maybe you need to find a new client.
When I adopted Harley, he was a gangly 11-month-old teenager, all legs and big ears with a long, plumy tail. He was a White German Shepherd, with a bit of Siberian Husky and wolf mixed in. He’d spent the first nine months of his life chained to a doghouse. Other than screaming at him to stop making noise, his owners ignored him. One experienced rescuer called him a “project dog.” I have rescued all kinds of dogs, but I was unsure whether I’d ever be able to socialize Harley. In the end, he taught me how much words matter.
Harley joined my two Siberian Huskies, Reese (he-who-pees-on-snakes) and Brodie. Brodie was a handsome goofball, a muscular black and white husky who lived for food and held strong opinions about which he could be very vocal. He was not beyond chastising me if he thought it warranted as, for example, when dinner was five minutes late.
It turned out that Harley was indeed a “project dog.” Socializing him took months, and the ever-opinionated Brodie was a big help. The two became best friends. Whenever he faced something new, Harley would look to Brodie for guidance and reassurance. Brodie taught him that pigeons could be fun to chase, to be curious about new things, and to always welcome strangers.
Move Over, Dog Whisperer
Harley settled in. It was time to work on basic manners and I had a challenge. He wasn’t motivated by food and was still shy enough that praise might not work very well. With a flash of inspiration, I enlisted Brodie as my assistant. I figured as long as I kept the treats coming I’d have his complete cooperation.
One fine spring morning, I led the dogs out on the deck. I had a pocket full of treats and an optimistic frame of mind. We started with “come.” I issued the command, Brodie headed for the treat in my hand and received his reward. Harley watched, curious about this new ritual. I moved back 10 feet and said, “Brodie, Harley, come” a second time. Again Brodie trotted up to me and received his reward. Harley started to realize this might work to his advantage, so he strolled over and nuzzled my hand. I gave him the treat and praised him to the skies for being the smartest dog in the world.
Little did I know.
We progressed quickly to “sit” and “stay” over the next couple of days. Things were going very well indeed. Brodie watched me and the treats; Harley watched Brodie and imitated him. I started to think I was a world class dog trainer.
With “come,” “sit,” and “stay” mastered, it was time to work on “down,” as in “lie down.” I figured out my approach. I would Harley to sit then say “down” while holding a treat on the floor in front of him and praising him for doing the right thing. Like all the other lessons so far, it went very fast. Within a few days, Harley had all the basics well in hand. I was quite proud of myself.
Next step: test Harley’s learning without my chief assistant and crumb snatcher. We worked through the litany: stay, come, sit, down. Rinse and repeat: stay, come, sit down. One more time: stay, come, sit down. Harley executed the commands promptly, with a German Shepherd’s dedication to precision. I was starting to think Cesar Millan had nothing on me.
Then I tried mixing up the order of the commands.
“Harley, come.” Harley walked over to me. “Harley, down.” Harley lowered his front end, leaving his rear end up in the air while he proudly wagged his big, white plume of a tail. He was quite pleased with himself. I repeated “down,” a bit more firmly. Another enthusiastic tail wag. “Down, Harley.” Polite tail wag with somewhat less enthusiasm, “Harley. Down!” Barest of tail wags—he was running out of patience. He was doing precisely what I’d taught him to do. Sit was for the back end. Down was for the front end.
For the record, I did try to teach Harley a more conventional “lie down” several times over the years. He understood perfectly well what I was asking. And every time he’d lower his front end, wag his tail, and smile his big, toothy grin. My vet and the techs in his office got no end of laughs out of us.
Not the first dog to remind me I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. Or that words really do matter.
I started to wonder if this would apply to me, so I dug in and did a little research. Here’s what I found: