Important Trend: Storytelling for Business Writing

It was almost buried in the speaker’s content. In fact, I wasn’t sure I had even heard it: what Shane Show, Chief Creative Officer for Contently, calls “The Biggest Business Skill of the Next Five Years.” Here’s what the speaker said,

“To explain the abstract, or complex, we need to use stories.”

StorytellerAnd it hit me. That’s what we do with business writing all the time – we try to explain the abstract, or complex! But how often do we think about using a story to do it? Oh sure, we talk about telling stories, using testimonials, and getting quotes for marketing, sales, and advertising materials. And it works! Of course, that is business writing too – but for “regular” business writing? “Regular” business writing, like memos, instructions, reports?

I don’t think so – or at least not very often, if at all. Hardly ever. But why not?

And where to begin?

Where to begin? Have you ever had this experience: You are thinking very intensely about something – It could be an on-the-job challenge, a new software program, or even a paint color for your house. As you are thinking about it, you run into thoughts, ideas and comments about that “something” just about everywhere? Well that happened to me this morning. I flipped on the radio for the news, just to hear the tail end of an interview on who-knows-what subject. And the sentence I heard just before the sign-off was, “A story begins where you think it does.”

This will likely be best accomplished by tying into your reader’s needs, problems, or interests. And that will be the point where he or she starts to “hear” your story. The sooner you get to that point, the sooner you’ll pick up your reader, or your listener.

There has been quite a bit written about using stories in oral presentations, and for sales and marketing pieces. These longer three-part stories (setup/conflict/resolution, with your product, service, candidate, cause as hero) are frequently far more sophisticated than using a simple story in an instruction, a memo, or some other “regular” piece of business writing. But they are similar, in that each has a job. Each has a specific purpose to fulfill; a specific job to do. It may be the greatest story in the world. It may be your favorite party gambit. But in the business situation, it won’t fly unless it strongly and obviously supports the point you want to drive home.

So, day-to-day, how might you use stories in your regular business writing? Stories can be used for team building, to improve morale, to make an instruction clear, to get “buy-in” for a policy or process change, to gain trust, to enhance credibility, to relate with a customer issue, to connect in a positive way with the variety of contacts you have daily – the list goes on. Stories create a “tone” that can establish, or reinforce a relationship.

Here are four more specific story tactics you can use for your “regular” business writing.

Politicians use stories of people who have benefitted from their ideas, processes, or policies to gain votes. Sometimes these folks will tell their own stories, but more often, the politician tells the story – carefully crafted, of course! – for them. So can you.

You can let the reader “tell his or her own story” by starting a sentence with, “Has this ever happened to you…” or, “Do you remember a time when…” and letting the reader fill in the blanks, which is also effective to bring your point home.

Provide informal testimonials, or anecdotes, demonstrating a problem that was solved by the new policy, or maybe a process change, or by the new product, equipment, or software.

Tell a story about another employee, or perhaps better yet, your “reader as hero.” For example, for an instruction setup, or trouble-shooting section, this could be as simple as “You’re (describe process) when (describe problem – what happens) so you (describe action to take) and (describe result of their action).

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email gail@gailtycer.com

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Technical Writing: Will They Get It?

typingOnKeyboard200Strictly speaking, the purpose of technical writing is to provide technical information in a totally objective way. This type of technical writing is frequently written for professionals in a specific field who already  “speak the language,” and understand the general concepts. So what may look like unintelligible “jargon” to the non-technical reader may well be a timesaving “insider language” for the technical reader in that specific field.

It is important to make the distinction between this type of technical writing, and a second type – the type of technical writing most of us will most often be called upon to write: technical writing that is, by most (short) definitions, good business writing dealing with technical information.

Unless you are specifically employed as a specialized and highly-skilled technical writer in your organization, this second type of technical writing – writing technical information for the non-technical reader – is what most of us will be called on to do, and frequently just from time to time.

Understanding what this technical writing is, what it has to accomplish, and how to do it effectively is critical if it is to succeed.

Why? Two examples:

1. Writing technical information effectively for the non-technical reader could well be the “go/no go” difference when the non-technical reader is the one, or perhaps the group, who decides whether your project or process is likely to be viable – or not. Or when that individual reader – or sometimes the group – holds the power of the purse, and can decide whether or not to fund that project. Remember too, that often-overlooked, but critically important group – the influencers whose opinions strongly affect the decision makers.

2. Alternatively, your non-technical reader could be a technician who is unfamiliar with a process, or perhaps a purchaser who implements – or tries to implement – your technical instructions, for example, and may well determine whether the process, or the product “works” or not.

You must understand who your reader is, and how to write for that reader.

Where do you start?

  1. First, identify what you will be writing – an instruction, a proposal, a “sales sheet,” or…
  2. Understand your reader. Who is he or she, and what is his or her background, knowledge, experience with what you hope to communicate? What do you want him or her to do with this information – why are you writing it? How will he or she use it? What kind of words, terms, phrases will you use? How “technical” can you get – at what level will you best reach your reader(s)?

And then what?

Now that we have a good starting point, over the next few weeks let’s take a look at how to

• ”Translate” technical information to improve non-technical reader understanding

• Make necessary and appropriate adjustments to strictly technical writing for your non-technical reader – and why it matters

• Use the basic grammar and usage of technical writing

• Select, edit, and organize your material

• Use graphics to enhance your message

Join me right here next week!

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog. 

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentationsexecutive coachingconsulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Hello 2014 – Fare Well, 2013!

Over last weekend, I’ll bet many of you, like me, were busy packing away ornaments, deciding which candles can be used again, and trying to find a youth organization to give our retired trees to for recycling. Or at least, again, like me – thinking about it!

And now it’s serious back-to-work time. Time to try something new. I’m not quite ready for 2014 yet – what happened to 2010, anyway? So, with a final salute, let’s wrap up 2013 with the Best of the Blog – a short collection of my top nineteen posts of that year, as judged by the number of “likes” each garnered. An “e-book” for want of a better name, and the first e-book I’ve ever done.

I’d like to give this compilation to you as a thought-starter. A new way of thinking about your writing. Or maybe as a way to address a New Year’s resolution to strengthen your on-the-job writing, making it faster, easier, and more effective. Totally free. Please email me (gail@gailtycer.com), and I’ll send you the free link.

We’ll talk about:

1. If You’ve Ever Said, “I Wasn’t Good at English in School…” Read This!

2. How to Say It When You Can’t Think of What to Say

3. Shorter, Fewer Emails

4. Strategic Email

5. Meeting Minutes

6. Writing a Successful Instruction

7. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Getting Started

8. Writing a Powerful Presentation – Finishing Strong

9. How to Write a Business Thank You Note

10. Nine Places to Find Ideas for Your Blog Post

11. “Spin”

12. Hide, Hedge, Mask, and Cloud?

13. How to Offend, Anger, or Frustrate Without Realizing It

14. How Many Common Writing Errors Do You Make?

15. Stronger, More Powerful Sentences

16. What Was That Again?

17. Words That Create Mix-Ups

18. Words, Words, Words…

19. Fatigue-Reducing, Confidence-Building Phrases

We’ll also include a few of our weekly Quick Tips, answering some of those pesky grammar questions.

So here’s to 2013, wrapped up with a bow – and on to a great new year: 2014. Let me know how I can help you to achieve your business writing goals this year. I’m totally committed to helping you write less, say more – and get results in 2014.

If you like what you’re reading, we invite you to subscribe to our blog.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, or email gail@gailtycer.com

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

How to Write Comfortably About Yourself

Among the top challenges in business writing is how to be comfortable writing about yourself. Especially good – no, excellent – no, superlative! things about yourself for that promotional piece, certain portions of that resume (many, these days, are fill-out-the-form), or that requesting-an-interview letter, on paper, or online. Here’s the secret: Don’t focus on yourself. You are only incidental to focusing on the reader, and what you can do to help that reader.

So, as the saying goes, “get over yourself.” And as a client told me years ago, “If I’m not for me, who is? And if not now, when?” But the focus is on your reader!

Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

More About the Business Writing Trend: Short!

Last week, we said that “short” is not what we really want, when we are looking for clearer, faster communication; when we want the reader to “get it” and to act on it now. TwoBusinessPeople175

What we are looking for is “concise.” “Short” can cause you a lot of problems, cost you more time, and result in lost productivity. You need to anticipate the questions you must answer for your reader before he or she can do what you are asking him or her to do. “Concise” – providing the information your reader needs, in as short a space as possible – greatly increases the odds that you will get what you need at all, and probably much sooner.

The second part of this is to make your writing faster and easier to read.

We already talked about alternate formats, cover letters, and whether to pass along this information at all. See last week’s post here.

Here are three more things you can do:

Continue reading

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

You May Be Good – But Why Take Your Word for It?

One of the keys to writing less and saying more can be summed up in one word: specificity. Be specific.

ShakingHands175There is too much communication at every level today, and on every subject. How can you stand out, help your reader “get it” quickly, and make every word count? Be specific. Become aware of the words and phrases that are vague, general, and mean nothing. Words and phrases that are used so often, that are so trite your reader reads right past them – or not at all. For example:

What do you mean by

• Highest quality? Who says so? How can you prove it? Everyone says they are, so this phrase gives you no advantage; at best you only become a part of the self-proclaimed “highest quality” group. Where is your competitive edge? Support your claim. Give your reader a reason to believe you.

• Strict quality control?  What steps do you take? What is your process? Your certification? What does that mean in terms of your reader?

• Lowest prices? Compared to what? How do you know? How is the quality affected? How will lower prices today affect productivity in the months and years ahead? What kind of an investment will this be?

• Best (name) on the market today?  Back it up. Prove it. Where are the numbers, the endorsements, the case histories, the detail? And what do you mean by “best”?

Here are some more. You’ve got the idea, so play with these phrases. Apply them to your company, to your service, to a specific product.

• Full service:

• Centrally located:

• Completely equipped:

Vague words and phrases surround us, cluttering our writing, and losing valuable opportunities daily to prove who we are, what we do, and how well we do it in every email, sales piece, or conversation.

Begin by thinking like your reader might think. First priority: benefits to your reader. What will he or she gain, achieve, become? What will he or she avoid, prevent, save? Be specific.

Look for those vague, mean-nothing words and phrases in your own writing.

Think about what you would like your reader to tell his or her purchasing agent, colleague, or friend if asked about you, or about what you have to offer; what you would like him or her to believe (and remember) about you. Think about the level of detail you need for this writing situation. Then give your reader a specific reason to believe you.

See you next week!

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

Your Most Cost-Effective Marketing Tool

Your day-to-day business writing could be – should be – your most cost-effective marketing tool, no matter what you’re writing. And you don’t have to be a marketing expert to use it this way!

First, ask yourself why you are writing. To inform? To persuade? No, really. Think about it. Much of the regular, routine information you pass along has a job to do, in addition to providing that information. When you provide the information, how do you want your reader to think about your organization? About you? Isn’t there a bit of persuasion there?

Pen and Paper“They seem to know what they’re doing,” might be one desirable judgment. “They sound like they’re easy to work with,” another. If, after reading your written communication, your reader were asked, “What do you think about (your organization)?” what do you want him or her to say? Isn’t there a bit of persuasion there?

So how do you write so that you get those opinions?

  1. Remember the most critical issue of all: If your reader doesn’t “get it” quickly, without spending some time with it, if your reader doesn’t “get it at a glance,” he or she may well decide you don’t know what you’re talking about!
  2. Where to start: Begin with the old basics: correct spelling; grammar: punctuation, sentence structure and all the rest; and of course, that secret strategy: tone, the relationship the writer sets up with the reader. Miss out on any of these, and it’s possible your reader may see you as somewhat careless, not quite so knowledgeable, and maybe not taking as much care as he or she might like you to do.
  3. Think about your reader. What is the best way to provide this information to him or to her? In person? On the phone? In writing – online, on paper? By a webinar, teleseminar, or in-person workshop? Through social media, or your own blog site, or comments on other blog sites?
  4. Think carefully about why you are writing. What is the result you want to achieve? To provide clear, accurate information to your reader? To persuade him or her to approve your proposal? To get that person to follow a new procedure?

What is the relationship your writing – if you decide the written word is the way to go – must set up with the reader? How will you word your piece? Then – it works best if you can give it a bit of time first – re-read your finished product, and ask yourself, “If I were the reader, how would I react (feel)? How would I respond (what would I be likely to do)?” And of course, “What questions would I have?”

Next time, we’ll talk about some of the words and phrases you might use to prove your case. See you then!

To receive your Business Writing Trends automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We’ll be happy to come to your organization. To discuss a workshop for your people at your location, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming meeting, email us at gail@gailtycer.com or give us a call at 503/292-9681. 

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube

The Email Charter

The Case for Concise

 “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”  Thomas Jefferson

 My good friend Alan sent me a worth-serious-consideration “Email Charter” from http://emailcharter.org/  This charter notes that ”We’re drowning in email,” and suggests 10 ways we can reverse the Email Spiral.

Excellent stuff – with one caveat: Think about why you are writing this email. Who you are writing it to – and what is his or her tolerance (or need) – for how much information. What is it you want to accomplish with this specific email?

Remember that business writing is a tool – a way to get a job done. Think about the tone – the relationship the writer sets up with the reader – you will use to accomplish your goals for this email. Only then do you put it all together and determine the content: what, and how much you must say.

In my business writing workshops across the country, the same themes crop up time and again: Write more concisely, and send your email only to those who truly need it; give enough background to bring the reader up to speed with where you are now, so he or she does not have to dig back through all the old emails to figure out what you are talking about and can answer easily; and let the reader know what he or she is supposed to do with, or about this email.

On the other hand, not all readers want “short and sweet” – believe it or not! That is why knowing your reader is so very important. Some of the participants in my workshops want a bit of friendliness – a “Hi, Mary. Hope you had a great weekend” sort of greeting to ease into the message. Others are totally put off by this “friendly” approach, and would rather just have the facts.

So ask yourself these questions:

  1. What must this email accomplish? What specific results do I need?
  2. Who am I writing it to? What, and how much information does this reader need?
  3. What is the relationship (tone) I need to set up, or reinforce, with this reader to get the results I need?
  4. What content should I use? What do I need to tell this reader to get the results I need?

If you find these tips helpful, why not bring Gail to your workplace or meeting for an onsite workshop or for a shorter presentation, one-on-one coaching, or consulting.

© 2013 Gail Tycer • www.GailTycer.com

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluslinkedinrssyoutube