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

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Get Local With Your SEO

This week’s blog entry is provided by guest blogger Alan Taylor, owner of Alpine Technical Group

There are many, many ways to make sure your website is visible and attractive to Google – meaning that when Google takes a look at your website, it sees information that is relevant and useful to potential visitors to your site. From keywords to citations, meta tags to site indexes, there’s enough to keep a person pretty busy. Even more so, there are tools and features outside of your website that can have a big impact on its visibility. One of those features that is especially important for local and regional businesses is Google Places.

When you perform a search in Google, say “Wallpaper near Walla Walla, Washington,” you get the search results shown below. The Google Places listings in this image are the ones denoted by the teardrop-shaped pointers.

wallpaperSearch

By ensuring your Google Places listing is accurate, you too can be a red point on the map and a listing at the top of the search results (of course not for “wallpaper” but for your own business and location). The process in short:

  • Go to the Google Places page. Either search for “Google Places” or use the URL here: http://www.google.com/business/placesforbusiness/.
  • Sign into Google (or create a new account).
  • Find your business (usually by providing a telephone number).
  • Claim your business and provide information about your business (hours, specials, etc.)
  • Verify your business listing via telephone or postcard.

This process is usually fairly straightforward. If you are one location in a large business office or have an auto answer with a phone tree for your main phone number, your only choice for verification is to have a letter/postcard sent to your mailing address. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. If you haven’t received a card in 10 days you can go back into Google Places and request another card. Eventually one will get to you and you can verify your listing.

Also important is to edit your Google Places listing on a regular basis – once every other month or so. Add more information, list a current special or similar. This gives Google new information on your business and helps keep you at the top of the heap.

Our guest blogger, Alan Taylor of Alpine Technical Group, has been providing web presence and marketing consulting for longer than he cares to admit. He loves his job, enjoys his clients and happily keeps abreast of the ever-changing world of web marketing.

Subscribe to our blog – and we’ll see you next week!

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

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

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Thanksgiving “Thank You’s”

Thank You Card

This is traditionally the week when the traditional Thanksgiving thank you letters and notes are carefully addressed, and – hopefully – postal mailed to our favorite customers and clients. A good idea?  How are they most likely to be received?

The idea of a Thanksgiving “thank you” is indeed a good one if you are really sincere. If you really mean it to be just that – a genuine thank you to the people who make our businesses possible. Thanksgiving is the time we set aside yearly for each of us to be thankful for the many gifts we enjoy every day. Thanksgiving is indeed the appropriate time to say thank you.

So what can go wrong with that?

To begin with, most readers seem to have an incredible “phony detector.” They can tell.

The first two things that come to mind are, to begin with, those smarmy sales letters, and next, Thanksgiving Sale letters, each carefully disguised as letters of appreciation. These kinds of letters are not worth your time to write, nor the postage to mail them.

To be effective, a sales letter should be just that: a carefully-constructed sales letter, sent to a carefully-selected list of readers, and specifically designed to show those readers how a product or service can solve a knotty problem common to many, if not most of the people on the list.

The function of a Thanksgiving Sale letter is to let an appropriate list of readers know about special pricing, terms, or bonuses available only during this holiday period.

These kinds of letters are often sent as the email equivalent of non-personalized bulk mail. When they are sent by postal mail, they frequently are sent bulk mail, and usually come across that way.

A far cry from a sincere thank you.

This is not to say that a “Happy Thanksgiving” added to an email is not a good idea. It definitely is, so do it. But these kinds of good wishes are quite different from a specific “thank you” message.

A sincere, appreciative thank you should be personalized to each individual reader as much as possible, and certainly should never look like a bulk mail promotion. A card or a letter sent by first-class postal mail, hand addressed, and with a personal hand-written added note will help. This will take a bit of extra time, of course, but if you really mean it, do it!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Subscribe to our blog – and we’ll see you next week!

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

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

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Proofreading Tips, Tactics & Techniques

Get Ready:

 

1. Start the easy way. Use your spell checker—remember, it will “OK” any word that is correctly spelled, whether or not it’s correctly used

2. Use the grammar checker. Make sure you understand what it’s trying to tell you.

3. Leave some time between inputting the material and proofreading it. Overnight is good. When possible, try to schedule proofreading when you’re fresh, and there are the fewest distractions.

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