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


Are You Getting the Most from Your Marketing Materials?

Materials GirlWhile we usually talk about writing strategies and techniques each week, this week let’s do a quick eyeball analysis of your online, print, and digital materials, and what else we might do with them.

In today’s tech-savvy world, there are many ways to evaluate – to get numbers showing what is working, and what isn’t. Extremely useful information, and readily available for online activity. Here’s another way to look at your materials to get the most from what you have.

Let’s say you’ve been in business for a while, or maybe you’re just starting out. In either case, you’ve produced some promotional materials online and off. Most likely a website to begin with, maybe an online newsletter, or blog site. Perhaps a brochure – online or in print – and certainly letterhead, also online or in print, or both. Envelopes, business cards, mailers, “one-sheets,” flyers, sales letters. All need to be reviewed regularly to make sure they are consistently working together, and that they will continue to do the job for you. But before we begin, here’s something you really need to know about penny-pinching marketing:

If the only thing wrong with your materials is that you’re getting tired of using the same old stuff, you cannot justify dumping it and starting over. Not if you’re a savvy penny-pinching marketer.

It could well be that the same old material you are tired of really is doing its job for you. And besides, it’s quite likely that this is the first time your prospects have seen at least some of it.

So print out your materials, and gather everything you have. Here’s what to look for:

  1. Do they have a “family look”? Are you using a consistent visual theme? Each piece should carry a unifying element – perhaps your logo, a photo, a slogan, a positioning statement – along with a consistent color scheme.
  2. Is the “look” of your pieces consistent with who you are? If you’re building an upscale position for your product or service, you’ll probably want to look upscale. On the other hand, some clients, who position themselves as a low-cost option, have told me they work against themselves by looking too high class
  3. Is the message consistent from one piece to the next? Will your readers, viewers, or listeners get the same message from each piece, or will they be confused about who you are, what you do, why they need what you offer, and what action they should take to secure the benefits you promise? Being consistent multiplies the effectiveness of your materials.
  4. Remember that it’s not about us – it’s about those individuals, or those organizations you have identified as your prospects. Consider, and write down the way you want them to think about you. Share this desired impression with everyone involved in producing your materials to consistently reinforce, and thereby multiply, the effectiveness of your every single effort.

Now that you’ve completed your first scan, let’s dig a little deeper. Which pieces are working best? What could you do to help the less successful pieces do better? What could you add or leave out? Which pieces is it cost-effective to keep, which should be eliminated? Are there pieces you really need, but don’t have?

Does each piece spell out strong benefits that really matter to your prospect – or have you focused more on how great you are. Each one of us – prospects included – acts from enlightened self-interest. How enlightening are your materials – for your prospects? Have you made it easy for your prospect to find you? To do business with you? Include a “call to action” in each piece, asking for their business, and making it easy for them to do what you are asking.

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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


“Let’s Keep in Touch!”

How often have we said that, and really, really meant it? And how often have we followed through? Keep in touch photo

How important is it to keep in touch?

I want to tell you about something terrific that happened just this morning. I’d finished the usual “get ready for the day” tasks, and was settling in to do some serious work when the phone rang. Much to my delight – and I have to admit, surprise – the woman on the other end of the line had been in one of my workshops probably 10 or 15 years ago, had found my website, and was calling to order some materials for her staff.

It just does not get any better than that!

Yet much as I like to provide helpful materials – and we are working on some new materials right now – the biggest thing to me was that she remembered me, looked me up, and called!

So what are some of the reasons some of us may fall a bit short in the “keeping in touch” area? And what can we do about them?

Well, for one thing, there is always so much to do on the job that keeping in touch, especially when there is nothing immediate or pressing, somehow falls to the bottom of the “to do now” stack. Too busy? Most of us are – I rarely hear from anyone who is looking for “something to do”!

Maybe it’s because we feel a little awkward, or nervous about our writing skills, worried that because of our writing skills, we might lower ourselves in this reader’s estimation if we were to email him or her, just to keep in touch. And perhaps we don’t want to telephone because we fear that the person on the other end of the line will think that any time we call we want something.

Or realistically, we may understand that the person we want to keep in touch with is just as busy as we are, and we don’t want to become a nuisance.

“Nuisance” can happen, as we all know. Rule of thumb: Communicate at a comfortable contact frequency level not only for your reader (or call recipient), but for yourself as well. Is that interval for keeping in touch once a year? Quarterly? Weekly? Daily? Clearly, we do not want to make pests of ourselves (and that’s another reason we don’t keep in touch, or get back in touch), but I am willing to bet that even if you have not been in touch for a year or more, that person will likely be pleased to hear from you, particularly when you have something of interest, or of value to share with him or with her.

How do you do it?

Here’s one way: From time to time, you’ve probably read an article, or a blog post that made you think of something you discussed at one point, maybe even years ago, with that person or persons. If you think it might be useful to him or her, attach it to an email, or clip and postal mail it with a quick note. The advantage of the email is that it is easy, takes very little time, and most people check their email fairly often. But will they open it? The advantage of postal mail is that it is rather unusual to get something from the letter carrier, which may enhance your chances of having it opened, especially if it neither looks like, nor is, an ad.

If your contact has been more recent, perhaps offering your blog posts or newsletters may be an unobtrusive way to keep in touch. Just be sure the receiver requests, and wants to receive this material from you, that the material could be of value to him or to her, and that you don’t confuse blog posts and newsletters with sales letters and advertising. Advertising, sales-oriented, and promotional materials and campaigns are a separate issue, and not an appropriate “keep in touch” device.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

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


Do You Run, or Leap? Crawl, or Creep?

MOuntain BikerLet’s talk about that old workhorse, that four-letter word, that indispensible element in every sentence: the verb.

So what is a verb, and how do you use it? Perhaps you remember your English teacher telling you, “A verb is a word that expresses action (throw, run, examine, read, write), or state of being (is, are, was, seem).”

In a typical sentence (not always the most useful, but certainly the most common), the verb comes between the subject and the object, e.g., Mary (subject) throws (verb) the ball (object). You can also think of it as who (subject) does what (verb) to what (object). This of course, is for an active sentence. More about that later.

While we could talk about the differences between types of verbs (there are about a dozen types), Let’s concentrate today on how to use verbs for effect.

1. To add spice, and enhance your writing with greater clarity, use specific verbs, verbs that go a long way to creating the picture you want your reader to “see.” Paint a picture for your reader.

You could, for example, say,

“Jerry went down the hill.”

To be a bit more specific, you could say,

“Jerry ran down the hill.”

A bit better, but let’s be even more specific,

“Jerry raced down the hill.”

2. You can paint an even clearer picture with a step-by-step description, adding additional “picture verbs,”

“Jerry raced down the hill, tripped, stumbled, caught himself, and kept running as if the devil himself were about to devour him.”

In this case, we’ve used a couple of words with verbs to help paint the picture – “himself” with caught, and “kept” with running, and then the “as if” phrase to complete our picture.

You’ll note that in the above example, we’ve added words as we paint the whole picture for the reader.

3. Frequently, just exchanging one verb for another (“ran” for “went,” and then “raced” for “ran” in the above example) works well, and is all that is needed to paint a sufficient picture for more concise business writing. For example, you could say:

George sat at his desk.


George slumped at his desk.

For tighter writing, you may want to avoid verbs like is, was, are, were…. E.g.,

MaryAnne is a person who plans for unexpected events.


MaryAnne plans for unexpected events.

4. You could use a verb that “shows”:

Barbara is taller than her co-workers.


Barbara towers over her co-workers.

5. Finally, that familiar grammar checker item: passive verbs. An active sentence is one where someone/something is, will, or has done something – an actor and an action, e.g., “Alex grasps the situation.” A passive sentence is one where someone/something is being done to, e.g., “The situation was grasped by Alex.”

Note that the active sentence in the above example contains four words, while the passive sentence must contain six words to provide the same information.

Passive sentences tend to be longer, slower moving, and impersonal. For better comprehension, easier reading, and fewer words, use active verbs to create active sentences.

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

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 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.

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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.