Can Writing Be More Than Just “Writing”?

Man interested in business writingThe other day, we were talking about the richness and fullness of our language, from formal to informal, from slang to regional words and phrases. And once again shared the joy of words.

Someone brought up the word “take,” and how many ways it could be said. Our southern friends suggested “carry,” and “tote.” The difference, of course, is that you “carry” a person (as in “Can I carry you to town?”) while you “tote” a bundle – maybe even “toting” the groceries into the kitchen for the person you carried to town to buy them.

At that point one of the group asked, “Just what is the difference between “toting” groceries “into” the kitchen, or toting groceries “in” the kitchen? The AP Stylebook tells us that “in” is location, as in “She was in the kitchen.” On the other hand, “into” implies motion, as in “She toted the groceries into the kitchen.” Of course, you could change that meaning by saying “She toted the groceries in the kitchen,” which could mean either that she carried the groceries that were in the kitchen to somewhere else, or that she moved the groceries from one place to another in the kitchen. Whew!

At this point, you may be wondering what all of this has to do with business writing.

The point is that just as there are many ways of expressing one’s thoughts, ideas, and plans, there are many different types of writing, designed to accomplish various results. Business writing is one of them.

Although the writing “rules,” tools, and words may be similar, it’s how they are used, how they are put together, and what they are meant to achieve that makes the difference. Business writing is a special type of writing, totally different from writing a term paper, thesis, or dissertation, which our academic writing classes were designed to teach us, so we could progress in the academic environment. If our business writing begins to sound like a term paper, we may be mis-applying the excellent academic writing skills we were taught – skills that could be so useful when adapted for the business situation.

Business writing is a tool, meant to achieve a specific result, and different from poetry – where the joy of the words, and the emotions evoked are the main point. Different from the novel, with its intricate plots and skillful character development – designed to create an experience for the reader. And different from strictly technical writing – the type of writing that technical writers in a variety of fields use to communicate technical information to technical readers.

For that matter, what most readers consider to be technical writing is likely to be good business writing that deals with technical information.

Critical to good business writing is a strategy that focuses on results. It begins with determining whether writing is the best way to get the desired results. Then, consider the most effective type of writing (e.g., informal email, formal email letter, postal mail letter, handwritten note, and so on). Consider the reader, and the best way to approach that reader. Decide whether this piece should inform or persuade. Have a very clear, very focused statement as to what you are informing the reader about, or what you want to persuade the reader to do. Now, and only after you have determined what you want this piece to accomplish, you are ready to decide what to say.

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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


Business Writing Tip of the Week: Writing a Powerful Presentation – Part 4: The Strong Ending

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye…” may come to mind as you think about how to bid adieu to your listeners. Sadly, most of us lack the skill to reproduce the musical escape scene from the classic The Sound of Music to conclude our business presentations, and so must resort to other means.

So how do you wrap it up when the time comes to say goodbye?ClappingBusinessPeople175

First of all, it’s time to end when you’ve said what you have to say, in the time allowed. No additional material; stick with what you’ve prepared. Then, be brief and to the point. Long farewells are hard on everyone – and especially on your audience.

You’ve used one or more of the techniques suggested in the previous three blogs on writing a powerful presentation for your business audience – people to whom you will be providing instruction; or presenting information to a board or council; or representing your organization at a meeting – or maybe even making a “real” speech.

In essence, you’ve used the tried and true formula in one way or another: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and now it’s time to tell them what you told them.” Here are some ideas:

  1. It’s probably more interesting for your business audience if you are willing to handle questions during the course of the presentation or training as they come up, rather than to make them wait to ask questions at the end, as is so frequently done. The understanding and retention level will generally increase as well.
  2. Alert your listeners that you are about to finish. And then get to getting finished.
  3. Reinforce the points you want your audience to remember – and especially “the takeaway” – that central message you want them to remember. If someone were to ask your listener afterwards what you said, how do you want him or her to answer? That is your central message, the takeaway.
  4. If you want to motivate an action, repeat specifically what your listener needs to do, and exactly how to do it.
  5. Almost there! It’s almost over: Pause. Make eye contact with everyone in your audience (remember the back and sides of the room) and express your pleasure in having had this time with them (if this is the case, and we sincerely hope it will be!) Perhaps you could mention something good that happened, or compliment them for something they did surpassingly well. Above all, you must be honest; you must be genuine. No made up fake stuff here.
  6. Then close strong. You could use a strong, simple quotation that is “spot on”; make reference to a story you told earlier, perhaps even telling “the rest of the story,” which – best case – could even have a surprise ending; provide a call to action; or summarize what you said (“tell them what you told them”), reinforcing the takeaway.
  7. Many other ideas will come to you as you work with your material. Think about each. Maybe even do a quick draft of that thought. Last words should last. Your conclusion should leave your audience thinking about what you said; should reinforce, and make your points crystal clear. And most of all, those enduring last words should move them.

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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.


Business Writing Tip of the Week: Writing a Powerful Presentation – Part 2: Grab ‘Em With Your Strong Beginning

Think back to the last business presentation you’ve heard. A business presentation does not always involve a rapt audience, podium with microphone, and multimedia presentation.BusinessCommunications175

In fact, almost never. We will be thinking staff meeting; training for implementing a new process or procedure; a report to the board or council; representing your organization at a gathering. In the business situation, your presentation opportunities cover a lot of ground.

So what was it about that last presentation? How long did it take you to decide that you wanted to give the speaker your 100% attention, or whether to multi-task and get something else done while “listening”?  Probably within the first 30 seconds? Certainly within the first minute, for the typical listener. That’s where the speaker either “grabs you,” or…

So, after you have greeted your audience (step 1), what do you say next; how do you begin? How do you get their attention (step 2)? Here are one dozen thought-starters for your first 30 seconds:

1. Straight information. Here’s the typical speech-class introduction, and it still works just fine. Tell your audience what you are going to tell them in a straightforward manner, using the who-what-when-where-how-why formula for clarity, and to set expectations.

2. Quotation. Start with a grabber. Find a quotation that sums up succinctly what they may look forward to hearing about. You may quote a well-known and respected authority – or, if the point is well made, someone no one has ever heard of. In the latter case, it could be useful to describe his or her background to provide credibility for having made that statement.

3. New information, perhaps a startling fact your audience has never heard, or may not know.

4. Evoke emotion. This can be done with words – a story is particularly useful here – or with an action. The breaking of his dearly-beloved dead father’s precious gold watch onstage at the beginning of his speech was the hallmark of a particularly emotion-arousing evangelist of the 1920’s. And this sort of drama can be used even today – almost a century later. (You’ve already figured out, I’m sure, that the watches he used were the cheapest ones from the dime store, and that his father may not have had a watch at all, nor been particularly beloved!)

5. Start with an activity. Get your audience up out of their seats and have them do something. Or have them discuss a specific point with the person next to them. Or give them the tool you will be teaching them to use, and ask them to start doing something with it immediately. Get them physically involved right away in the first 30 seconds.

6. Tell a story.  A particularly good way to have people identify with the subject, or with you, immediately. Also an excellent technique for evoking emotion. Telling your own story can also be the perfect way to establish your credibility (step 3).

7. Self-interest. What good thing will happen for your audience members if…. People make decisions based on enlightened self-interest. If you use this technique, be certain you can deliver, and that what you are saying will work as promised. For example, “By using the new technique I will show you, you can cut the time it takes to install this ABC product by 50%!”

8. Statistics. Should also be used effectively to back up the startling fact, or new information beginning. Using numbers builds believability, because the point you are making is specific, and can be checked out (not that most people will very often!)

9.  Challenge the listener. Here are two examples: (1) Are you the one person in this room who…” or (2) “Today I am going to ask you to put your courage, your dedication, and every bit of skill you possess on the line. I am going to ask you, beg you, plead with you to….”

10. Start with a testimonial. It can be your own personal story, or that of another, demonstrating the good that will result if….

11. Refer to current news. And relate it to your “take-away point.”

12. A performance piece. Most often used to begin an entertainment presentation, this technique can be adapted to the business audience as well. Unlike the entertainer who sings a song, or reads a poem, Perhaps the speaker performs some physical activity with a piece of equipment being introduced to the sales team to demonstrate the equipment’s benefits, differences from the competition, and ease of use.

There you have them – a dozen ways to get started with your powerful presentation! How to tell them what you are going to tell them. Next week, how to write the body beautiful of your presentation: how to tell them.

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We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.


Business Writing Tip of the Week: Writing a Powerful Presentation – Part 1

For many, speaking – what, in front of all those people?!! – is right up there, just above having a root canal, on the list of what we would most like not to do!


Visions of standing there, totally innocent of any coherent thought, palms sweating, vision blurring, and voice unwilling to be heard beyond the tiniest of squeaks, if we even managed to coax it into cooperation at all –  flash through our thoughts in dizzying display. At that moment, a dead faint seems a lovely outcome of the entire thing. As you stand there, your brain flashes on and off: “What was I thinking when I said I would do this?”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is a secret: Be well prepared. Have great material. Know that material thoroughly. Concentrate on your audience and on getting across to them the information they need. Information they need so they can do what? That’s the whole point: You must know, and concentrate on what they will know, or be able to do, as a result of what you choose to tell them. Your entire presentation will be built around this one critical element. If what you choose to tell them does not build, support, or enhance this critical point, leave it out.

So where to start?

1. To begin with, think about your own personal style. Being the “real you” is important. The way you prepare your material to support that “real you” is vital to your success. How do you like to present your information? Are you a memorizer? Do you feel more secure speaking from notes? Are you most comfortable reading a prepared script? Do you like to know your information thoroughly, and then present it, seemingly ad-libbing it, following a sequence your audience understands? PowerPoint can be helpful here, but please, please, please do not tell me your personal style is reading PowerPoint slides to your audience!

PowerPoint slides can be very helpful to keep you on track, and to keep your audience with you. In many types of business presentations, they are even expected, and members of your audience may feel uncomfortable with no screen to look at. But do not insult your readers by reading either those PowerPoint slides, or a prepared speech they will have a copy of.

You may want to consider providing handouts for your audience, using the handouts to support your point, and to keep your audience with you.

2. Once you have identified your own personal style, and how, and what materials you will prepare to support that style, ask yourself, “When I hear a presentation, what do I want to hear? What do I want the speaker to do, to be?

3. Think about what you want to say. Who is your audience? What is the one main point you want to make: What is the “takeaway” you want your listeners to remember? Why should this point matter to this audience? Once you’ve identified your main point, what are the subpoints you will use to support, or enhance it?

Stop right here. If you cannot answer point 3., you are not ready to select new, or modify existing, content.

Who might your audiences be in the business situation? You may be reporting at a staff meeting; explaining a new process; informing the board or council; leading a committee meeting; advising senior management; coaching an employee; or representing your organization to any of a number of groups, from citizen-involved open meetings, to senior citizens; to civic or business groups. In the business situation, it’s most likely we will just be doing our jobs, not traveling with two truckloads full of expensive multi-media equipment and a staff to set it all up!

You may already have a standard, prepared presentation, ready to pick up, and go out the door with, to deliver to every audience. And there is a lot to be said about using tested, familiar material. But have you ever had it receive an enthusiastic, appreciative response from one audience and totally bomb with another?

Why does this happen?

Because you need to adjust your tried-and-true, tested content to reflect, and to answer, the needs of your audience. Every time. Every audience. So use that prepared speech, and tailor it – perhaps only slightly, or to whatever level is necessary, to today’s audience. Show them how your content solves a problem for them. How it makes their life better, easier in some way. Showing them, with case studies, projections, testimonials and success stories is far more effective than just “telling” them. Put a picture in their minds, and I promise you they will be far more likely to try the solution you put forward.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to write the three parts of your presentation: the introduction that grabs them; the body beautiful that informs them; and the strong close that moves them.

To receive your Business Writing Tip of the Week automatically every week, please subscribe to our newsletter.

We appreciate your recommending a Gail Tycer business writing workshop for your workplace, or a shorter presentation on Powerful Presentations for an upcoming professional meeting. Thank you.