All posts by Scott Keyser

‘Commitment’ and the epidemic of jargon

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“As a premium supplier in healthcare products, our commitment to the highest standards of safety is unparalleled.” [Yeah, right.]

“We are committed to providing you with world-class service…” [Prove it.]

“I am committed to losing two kilos by Easter” [But you probably won’t…]

Forgive my square bracketed cynicism…

January air is thick with words like ‘resolution’, ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ as we gird our New Year loins to be better human beings — or just lose weight. And hard on the heels of this aspirational language is the ever-present ‘commit’.

Let’s look at this abused, over-used word.

‘Commit’ goes way back. Six hundred years, actually.

From the Latin committere, to join, unite or connect, it originally meant to ‘charge in trust, to entrust a task to someone’s care’. This is about giving someone a duty with scant freedom of action. To commit is to make a binding pledge — to ourselves or to others — to a cause, course of action or set of values. It’s an obligation.

When you’re truly committed, there’s no turning back.

From that we get the idea of literally consigning someone to prison or a mental institution, or a body to the earth (‘committal’), or figuratively, as in ‘commit to memory/paper/writing’. We also have the idea of perpetration, as in ‘commit a sin/crime’ or ‘commit suicide’.

So ‘commit’ is not some flippant, fly-by-night, flibbertigibbet of a word. It’s serious, charged with centuries of obligation and responsibility. Let’s not cheapen it and trivialise it by turning it into business jargon to flog products or services.

If your service is genuinely world-class, your customers will be screaming it from the digital rooftops. And if it’s not, stop telling us you want it to be. Here endeth the lesson.

Post script. This is my favourite quote on commitment, from WH Murray, the celebrated mountaineer, author and soldier:

Until one is committed there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative or creation, there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans…that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves. too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have believed would have come his way.

Whatever you think you can do or believe you can, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it. Begin it now.”

rhetorica ® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

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Although my book on persuasive writing is now available on Amazon, I’m launching the Kindle version end March for £0.99/$0.99, with all proceeds going to my two designated charities: Blind Veterans UK and the Type Archive, a globally unique collection of type, typefaces and historic printing presses. Both organisations do amazing work and need all the help they can get. I’ll remind you of the Kindle launch nearer the time.

If you just want to dip a toe into the limpid pool of my book, check out these three chapters.

If you do buy a copy and like what you see, then pls post a review. A few kind souls have already left 5-star reviews, but for the end March launch I want to have amassed dozens. Apparently Amazon promotes books that get a certain number of positive reviews.

The cover of rhetorica ® — which I’m thrilled with and which gets lots of positive comments — was designed by Professor Phil Cleaver. Phil instantly ‘got’ my desire to make rhetorica ® a covetable object. Besides running a design studio in Oxford, Phil is an expert in typesetting, typography and typographic history, and introduced me to the Type Archive. He’s the best designer I’ve ever worked with.

New Write for Results branding: coming full circle (even though it’s a diamond)

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I’ve ditched the bland ‘SJK Consultants’ — it never really did it for me — and gone back to my original brand of Write for Results (W4R), but with a new logo.

I co-founded W4R in 2004 with Andy Maslen, a top copywriter, and for eight happy years we trained several blue-chip clients in writing skills, including staff of The Economist Group. In 2012 Andy decided to devote himself to his copywriting (and latterly novel writing), leaving me with the company.

Phil Cleaver and his team at et al design created and typeset the new diamond-shaped logo.

Next sales writing & design open course: 23/24 February 2017

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This is a new take on my annual writing skills open course for professionals: I’ve added a design element. Run in the City of London in collaboration with Top Consultant, a management consultancy recruiter, this 1½-day workshop will show you how to write with power and persuasion, then lay out your words so that people want to read them.

Day 1 features my rhetorica ® writing techniques, complete with exercises, debriefs and wide-ranging discussions about writing. The following morning, Professor Phil Cleaver, my book designer, will cover topics like What is type?, a brief history of type, some do’s & don’ts of typesetting, examples of good and bad layout and, for the truly brave, a (gentle) critique of delegates’ document samples for everyone to learn from.

As Prof. Phil says, ‘There’s no point writing the most persuasive words if they’re so badly laid out they’re not inviting to read’.

Here’s the link to find out more.

Post-election review: ‘rhetoric’

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As the world holds a post-mortem on Trump’s post-truth victory, I’d like to put the word ‘rhetoric’ on the slab. Not because it’s dead, but because it needs reviving.

Bandied about by politicians and pundits both sides of The Pond, it’s become a dirty word, implying exaggerated, hyperbolic language of half-truths designed to manipulate people.

That is one definition of ‘rhetoric’.

The flip-side is ‘the art of using speech or writing to persuade or influence’ (Collins English Dictionary). While both definitions overlap, of course, this second one is often misunderstood, so I’m going to shed some light on it.

When we step into the garden of rhetoric, what do we see?

We see tall trees, and tiny flowers.

The trees are the planks of this vast subject, ie the art of arguing, proving, inventing, memorising and delivery. The flowers are what we call the figures of speech.

These are literary devices created by the Ancient Greeks, added to by the Romans (and plundered mercilessly by Shakespeare) that influence listeners and readers. They have a dramatic effect; they work.

These devices range from the familiar alliteration, assonance, hyperbole and rhetorical question to the more obscure epizeuxis, catachresis and polyptoton, taking in tricolon, anaphora and anadiplosis on the way — to name a few.

Now, in case you think I’m showing off, this is what the Greeks and Romans called these devices. To use a phrase invented by Shakespeare, don’t dismiss them with ‘It’s Greek to me’, because they surround us every day; we just don’t know them well enough to recognise them. They’re in political speeches (Obama was a master of rhetoric; the jury’s out on Trump); they’re in the ads we read in the underground as we go to work; they’re in the leader articles of The Economist. (That’s a tricolon — grouping things in threes — by the way.)

They work because they’re invisible; they sneak in under the radar of our intellect, because they instinctively resonate with us. In the case of the tricolon, for instance, lists of three have been used in the earliest human communications, as they relate to how we process information. We recognise and respond to patterns, and three is the smallest number of elements needed for a pattern. So ‘blood, sweat and tears’ has entered the lexicon, as well as Julius Caesar’s ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’. Maybe divinity’s at work here, too, at least in western civilisation: the Holy Trinity has been a pillar of Christian belief for millennia.

As for alliteration — repeating consonant sounds — you’ll recognise that from poetry and Shakespeare (‘Full fathom five thy father lies’, from Ariel’s song in The Tempest). But alliteration abounds (there I go again) in ads and everyday language, too.

Instead of saying ‘death-avoiding’, ‘death-defying’ sounds better. Instead of ‘furniture made to look old’, we say ‘shabby chic’. Rather than ‘cowardly’, we might say ‘lily-livered’. And so on. Alliteration wires words and concepts together, because the patterns of consonant repetition sound better on the ear.

A final example is anaphora — starting each sentence with the same words.

When Winston Churchill spoke to Parliament in June 1940 about defiance in defeat, he said:

We shall fight on the beaches

We shall fight on the landing grounds

We shall fight in the fields and in the streets…

And Martin Luther King nailed anaphora in his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech in August 1963. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech ends on a peroration (another rhetorical figure), launching each new point with ‘I have a dream’. This is the 21-gun salute, the climax, where King cranks things up, tears down injustice with his words and moves us with his vision of a just and equal society.

So, good writing is not the preserve of rare geniuses. We can write well by using the devices that have been around for 2,500 years. That’s why in my recent book I say that ‘writing well is neither a black art nor an innate gift, but a learnable skill.’

Nail your pitch in 2017

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We are living in crazily uncertain times. Things change at warp speed. Markets are unstable, the future unpredictable.

Entrepreneurial minds will see opportunity in this turbulence, while others will hunker down.

It’s never been more important for business owners and corporate team leaders to stand out in their marketplace, to exploit those opportunities. But I see too many SMEs and corporate leaders who haven’t nailed the main plank of their marketing communications — their elevator pitch.

When asked ‘What do you do?’ at an event or a meeting, they gabble something forgettable on the spur of the moment. These days, that’s just not good enough.

Work with me to craft and hone a compelling 20-second sound bite and 60-second elevator pitch — in one day (plus a bit of pre-work). Email me ( if you want to know more.

rhetorica ® open course, 23/24 February 2017

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Following the 1-day open course I ran in March in London in conjunction with Top Consultant, specialists in management consulting recruitment, I’m running another one. But this one’s a bit different.

23/2/17 is a 1-day workshop on my 21 rhetorica ® writing techniques, but on the morning of 24/2/17 Professor Phil Cleaver will treat us to a brief explanation of type and its history, plus some top tips on page layout, document design and typesetting. Then he’ll do a gentle critique of sample documents submitted by delegates that we can all learn from.

As Prof. Phil says, ‘There’s no point writing the most persuasive words if they’re so badly laid out they’re not inviting to read’.

A multi-award winning designer, Phil is Professor in the Creative Industries at Middlesex University and has worked with some of the world’s top graphic artists and typographers. (Surpassing all that, of course is the fact he designed the cover of my book and is doing my re-branding. Only kidding.)

You can attend either day or both days of the open course. Click here for more details.

rhetorica ® Online

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February also sees the launch of the first modules of my online writing skills programme, which builds on the 21 persuasive writing techniques of the book. You don’t have to have read the book, but it will help (I would say that, though, wouldn’t I?)

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for details of the February launch of rhetorica ® the book and the online programme.

If you would like a reminder nearer the time, leave a reply below.

rhetorica ® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

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My book on persuasive writing is finished and ready for its February 2017 launch — but you can have a sneak-peek.  Click on the picture of the book to go to the Amazon page. If you want to buy a copy now (and post a review on Amazon), you can do that, too.

For two days at the start of February I plan to offer the Kindle version for 99p, with all proceeds going to two charities: Blind Veterans UK and The Type Archive.

My book features the story of Lance Bombardier Rob Long, who was blinded by an IED in Afghanistan, and who is turning his life around with the help of Blind Veterans UK.

The Type Archive houses the National Typefounding Collection, the largest and most valuable collection of type in Britain; it also promotes literacy around the country. Staffed solely by volunteers, it hangs by a financial thread, so it needs help. (I’m tithing my annual profits to both these organisations, too.)