Powerful oration is scripted and pre-planned.
It’s unusual to meet people with a natural talent for off-the-cuff conversation that rouses your emotions and inspires you to take action.
Presidents have speechwriters.
Exceptional after-dinner speakers diligently practice phrasing and delivery.
Debate candidates prepare responses for a number of possible challenges.
All to achieve that sweet spot of memorable communication.
Which is why, when writing content for your business you should be wary of the advice:
Conversation Is Dull
Common advice when writing content is to “write how you talk.”
This is misleading.
What we really mean is:
“Don’t write like a pompous ass.”
You know the kind. An average of 4 syllables per word and lengthy paragraphs where 1 sentence would do.
When you’re being advised to write content in a conversational tone, it means in a way that is easy to understand.
So why should you not write “how you talk”?
Because if you did, your copy would be pretty awful. Regular conversation is rarely powerful or compelling. You may find the odd nugget of gold, but you’d have to wade through a heck of a lot of fluff first.
Let’s say you’re advertising your acupuncture practice and you decide to write content “how you speak.” It would look like this:
“Well my business is kind of acupuncture, but also a little bit of holistic wellness, maybe that’s what you’d call it. I sort of ah…work with people who uhhh, really err, are really stressed, or maybe rushed off their feet and tired, and I uhhh, see the thing is with acupuncture is it’s really surprising how much people get out of it because ahh… it can errr, do so much… like”
And okay – you know you’d never write content like that on a real “About Page” – it’s exaggerated for illustration.
But here’s the thing – sometimes how you speak creeps in too much to your writing and weakens your copy.
Give Your Content A Presidential Voice
So… I heard there was a bit of an election somewhere recently… 🙂
I’ll be looking in more detail at Obama’s acceptance speech on the blog as an excellent example of powerful rhetoric that uses straight-talking language.
Before then, let’s take advice from one of the other compelling presidential figures of the last decade.
“No adjectives, no flowery language, I lost a friend today.”
-Matt Santos, President of the United States (West Wing, Season Seven)
The other night I was catching up on the final season of the West Wing (it’s taken me a while…) I heard this quote from Matt Santos to his speechwriter about writing a statement dealing with the death of a friend.
Which gives us this excellent starting point:
ONE: Cut the adjectives
Your copy should be regal.
Your copy should be bold.
One of the fastest ways to tighten fluffy copy is to strike through your adjectives. Particularly if they are tautological (last time I visited my English teacher he told me off for tautological language use. It means saying the same thing with different words such as – “reverse backwards”)
“What’s really interesting about this new product…”
If the product is interesting, it’s interesting. If it’s more than interesting, choose another word to better reflect this. Fascinating perhaps, perplexing maybe.
“When choosing software it’s highly important to…”
“Important” is enough here. It’s a powerful word.
By giving it “highly” as a sidekick, you reduce its impact and knock its confidence.
It’s like your boss giving you an assistant to do a task you can do alone. Your efforts are diluted and no-one takes you seriously.
Don’t inflict that pain on your words.
TWO: Cut the conversational crap
There are phrases we have developed in our language that are there for padding. When chatting, we use these phrases a lot. On their own, they don’t mean much, but we use them in speech because they’re easy to remember, and they fill in the gap from one thought to the next so that no-one interrupts us… 🙂
The beauty of writing copy is that you don’t need to provide something to fill in the gap. In fact less is much more powerful and presidential.
Here are 2 common offenders:
In order to
“In order to ensure the local children get an education…”
“To ensure local children get an education”.
So that [we / you / they] can
“So that you can get the most from this training”
“To get the most from this training”
Also watch out for “that” which can also clog up your sentences:
“The thing is that, when we want to redecorate rooms it’s difficult to…”
The sentences don’t lose their meaning by cutting out these phrases. If anything, the meaning is enhanced because we’re presenting a firmer, punchier message.
THREE: Stand up for yourself
Okay. I want you to take a deep breath and get used to this one. To add gravity to your copy, when you voice an opinion, you need to do it confidently.
As a sensitive business owner, you appreciate that other people have different opinions to you. That is okay.
You can leave room for these, but avoid doing this in a way that leaves you sounding unsure of yourself:
So instead of writing:
“I think maybe one of the most effective productivity methods I’ve seen for corporate executives working from home is to maybe only answer email 2-3 times a day. Having said that, I know other executives who don’t do this, but I’m not sure if they’re really getting as much done”
Stand up for yourself and write:
“Corporate executives: ignoring email is THE most productive way to work at home. Read on to find out why:”
You can then explain your research or experience that brought you to that conclusion.
By taking a side, you show confidence as well as inviting discussion to your content. Polarising opinion isn’t a bad thing. It works well to gain exposure if you take a common belief and take the opposite stance. Like saying the necessity of a Unique Selling Point is bunkum.
What do you think? Have you noticed some of these softer touches in your own copy? Are there other ways you can make your copy more presidential?
Let me know in the comments, and stay tuned as I go through Obama’s acceptance speech and show you what made it powerful.