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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.’
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 (email@example.com) if you want to know more.
I regularly attend business networking events where people get 60 seconds to present themselves and what they do. Over the years I’ve heard 100s of these ‘elevator pitches’. Sadly, I can count on the fingers of two hands (I’m being generous) those that were clear, concise and compelling.
This is shocking.
With 5.2m SMEs in the UK alone, if these businesses are truly the engine room of our economy, when communicating what they do and the value they offer they need to up their game —especially if they want to compete globally. The tragedy is that good people and businesses are not doing themselves justice.
Here’s my take on the seven elevator pitch mistakes I see time and again:
MISTAKE #1: Premature ejaculation.
The pitcher starts talking before they and the group are ready.
They launch into their pitch as they get up from their seat, as they’re pushing their chair away, or worst of all, as they walk to the pitch spot with their back to the group. This creates two problems:
- The first thing they’re likely to say is their name (and the name of their company/role). But if they’re looking down or away as they do so, they’re not projecting their voice to us, so we may not catch their name. When I miss someone’s name, I disengage.
- The second problem is loss of focus — both theirs and ours. They can’t focus on us while they’re faffing with the furniture, and we can’t focus on them while they’re dealing with personal logistics. I call this neglecting the ‘choreography’ of the pitch.
MISTAKE #2: Poor posture.
Contorted body parts choke energy and breath.
We’ve all seen it, or variations of it, in nervous or inexperienced presenters: perched on one leg like The Karate Kid. Or the ‘Houdini Twist’ — arms crossed and legs entwined like braided sausages. Or ‘The Rocking Chair’, where the body rocks from side to side or front to back.
Poor posture results from being ungrounded. But the root cause is emotional: it’s not wanting to be there. They’d rather stick hot needles in their eyes than present to a room full of strangers. We feel their pain, but are powerless to help them.
MISTAKE #3: Vocal impotence.
Our voice reflects what’s going on inside.
So if we’re full of angst, this manifests as a thin, reedy or squeaky voice, with our breath coming from our upper chest and throat, rather than from our belly (known as diaphragmatic breathing).
This vocal constriction often creates a vicious circle: the speaker panics when their voice goes ‘thin’, so they start forcing the voice out of the throat, which strains the vocal chords…and hey presto, the problem gets worse.
I can relate to this syndrome: when I get tense, the first thing that goes is my voice. But I’ve learnt to manage that by practising my pitch, doing some deep breathing and, if I have time to pop to the loo beforehand, some gentle stretching.
MISTAKE #4: Muddled message.
Working hard on creating a clear, concise, compelling pitch pays off when the pressure’s on.
Within a few seconds of hearing a pitch, I know whether it’s been crafted, refined and practised, or whether the speaker is making it up as they go along. This ‘thinking on your feet’ approach is unprofessional: you risk missing key points, not using the right words or repeating an unhelpful phrase.
I know from my own experience the effort required to nail your elevator pitch, which most people under-estimate. At the heart of your pitch sits your core message. That’s the 15- to 30-second ‘sound bite’ that captures the essence of what you do, your USP, the DNA of your brand.
My sound bite is
‘My name’s Scott Keyser and I’m a writer and a writing skills trainer who shows professionals how to use language for impact and results — whether that’s to win a bid, sell an idea, attract investment or change someone’s mind.’ (16 seconds)
I trot that message out where I have limited time to introduce myself to a person or a group; it works in most scenarios.
(If what I’ve said so far has resonated with you and you’d like to know more, pls click here to book a slot for us to speak: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91/15min.)
MISTAKE #5: No hooks.
Memorable pitches contain a ‘hook’ — a phrase, label or ‘fame name’ that sticks in the mind.
I recently attended a networking event where I heard 50 1-minute elevator pitches one after the other. The few I remembered had a hook. One particular pitcher from Newcastle — who had some energy about him anyway — called himself ‘The Geordie Troubleshooter‘— which got a laugh and made him memorable.
My fame name is ‘The Writing Guy’. Not meant to be amusing like my Geordie friend, but it’s short, simple and easy to say, especially when I’m introducing myself on the ‘phone. (Other fame names include ‘The Branding Diva’ and ‘The Shape Trainer’). Attaching a pithy label to you or your business is an aide-memoire for an audience suffering from information overload.
MISTAKE #6: Vague request.
Closing your pitch with a clear referral request is your call to action.
Being clear about why you’re there and what you want out of the interaction is part of your proposition, particularly at a networking event. Too often I hear ‘I just want to meet people who want to meet me.’ Apart from sounding a bit desperate (never a good vibe), it’s too generic and shows they haven’t thought it through.
Mine is ‘I’m after introductions to team leaders in professional services firms who want to improve their team’s writing skills.’
Running over time is the single biggest clue that a pitch hasn’t been practised.
People who take this stuff seriously know to the nearest second not only how long their whole pitch is, but how long its various elements are. This means they can flex and adapt what they say, depending on the length of their slot and their audience. They control the experience, rather than it controlling them.
Taking your elevator pitch from good to great
If this all sounds a bit OCD and overkill to you, think again. The result of this approach is that you stand out, cut through the white noise of competition and attract people to you. Knowing your stuff this well shifts your focus from your own experience to your listeners’. And that emotional/energetic shift makes it easier to connect with your audience, which makes the difference between a good pitch and a great one.
How do I help people nail their elevator pitch?
I work with individuals and teams on three aspects of their pitch: Content, Delivery and Energy.
Content: together we articulate your value proposition (your offer to the market), looking at the seven Ps of your business (Product/service, People, Place, Pain, Price, Positioning, Personality). This is the DNA of your brand. This is the foundation of your core message/sound bite, your hook, and the 30-, 60- and 90-second versions of your elevator pitch.
Delivery: practice, practice, practice. You practise delivering your pitch alone, to me and in live scenarios, like a business networking event. Together we analyse your own observations and feedback from others, then fine-tune your pitch until you feel you’ve nailed it. This is about ‘internalisation’, when your pitch moves from working memory to muscle memory. And this is when the confidence kicks in: you know you can produce it in any situation or scenario at a moment’s notice, no matter how hungover or tired you may be!
Energy: this part of the programme looks at the soft skills, because what’s going on inside your body and your head dictates the impact of your pitch. So you’ll learn how to:
- warm up, strengthen and modulate your voice
- prepare your body for performance, including relaxation techniques that allow you to manage your energy levels
- control the logistics and choreography of your pitch
- get into the frame of mind that will produce your best pitch every time
- tune into the energy levels of your audience, listener or buyer
The net effect of working on Content, Delivery and Energy is pitch mastery.
Of course, mastering your pitch benefits all your communications with colleagues, prospects, partners, buyers and clients. When you stand up and talk, people listen. You look forward to sharing yourself with others, to connecting with them. When there’s no other place you’d rather be in that moment, you emanate the energy of attraction; you gain ‘presence’. You attract people to you: your composure, confidence and conviction become magnetic to others. And that’s a great platform for getting them to know, like and trust you.
If what I’ve said has resonated with you in any way and you’d like to know more, pls click here to book a slot to speak to me: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91/15min. This is a free, no-obligation chat.
Thanks for reading!
Last night Hillary Clinton accepted her nomination for President of the United States at the climax of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. She needed to unite her supporters, trash Trump, and close the Convention on a high. How well did she do, and how did she do it?
Here’s a quick look at the themes and language of her speech.
Theme #1: Unity vs Division
Clinton’s abiding theme was coming together as a nation. Positive and personal words like we, us, our, one, each other, together abound. And she contrasts this with Trump’s negative stance by using words like fear, hate, divide, wall, ban, zero and alone. Almost every reference to Trump is accompanied by a negative phrase or word, casting him as a danger to the nation.
Theme #2: Plans and answers vs No plans, no answers
Clinton lists what she will do in her first 100 days to improve healthcare, education, the economy, housing and jobs, contrasting that with ‘zero solutions or plans’ from Trump. She trashes his ‘America First’ slogan, using alliteration to ask us why he makes ‘suits in Mexico, not Michigan, Trump furniture in Turkey, not Ohio’. She turns ‘Trump’ into an insult.
Language and rhetorical devices
Here are the readability stats on the speech:
You can see she’s gone for simple words in short sentences.
Her ASL (Average Sentence Length) is 12.5 words; this is even lower than the recommended range of 15 to 20.
Her average number of characters per word is 4.4 (quite low, and lower than Trump’s own acceptance speech).
Only 3% of her sentences are in the passive voice. This is good news: the passive voice is writing’s carbon monoxide, the silent killer.
All of which takes her readability (the Flesch Reading Ease score, or FRE) to a soaring 73.1%, well within the realm of plain English, which starts at 60% FRE.
And this means that an average US 6th-grader, or 11-year old, could understand the speech.
As you might expect from a veteran politician and speaker, Clinton also peppered the speech with some classic rhetorical devices (the Greek term’s in italics):
Alliteration (repeating consonant sounds):
“He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.”
“When representatives from 13 unruly colonies met just down the road from here, some wanted to stick with the King. Some wanted to stick it to the king, and go their own way. The revolution hung in the balance.”
“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother…”
Juxtaposition/contrasting pairs (antithesis, underlined):
“My friends, we’ve come to Philadelphia — the birthplace of our nation — because what happened in this city 240 years ago still has something to teach us today.
“We will not build a wall. Instead, we will build an economy…”
“…love trumps hate.”
“Like so much else, I got this from my mother. She never let me back down from any challenge. When I tried to hide from a neighborhood bully, she literally blocked the door. “Go back out there,” she said.
And she was right. You have to stand up to bullies. You have to keep working to make things better, even when the odds are long and the opposition is fierce.
We lost my mother a few years ago. I miss her every day. And I still hear her voice urging me to keep working, keep fighting for right, no matter what.”
Humour, mockery and juxtaposition:
“And Bill, that conversation we started in the law library 45 years ago is still going strong. It’s lasted through good times that filled us with joy, and hard times that tested us. And I’ve even gotten a few words in along the way.”
“Now, you didn’t hear any of this from Donald Trump at his convention. He spoke for 70-odd minutes — and I do mean odd.”
Repetition, esp. repeating a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence (anaphora):
“If you believe that companies should share profits with their workers, not pad executive bonuses, join us.
If you believe the minimum wage should be a living wage… and no one working full time should have to raise their children in poverty… join us.
If you believe that every man, woman, and child in America has the right to affordable health care…join us.
If you believe that we should say “no” to unfair trade deals… that we should stand up to China… that we should support our steelworkers and autoworkers and home-grown manufacturers…join us.”
The power of three (tricolon):
“Our country needs your ideas, energy and passion.”
“And so my friends, it is with humility, determination and boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for President of the United States.”
Climax (auxesis: the grand finale, full of inflated language and big concepts):
“Let our legacy be about ‘planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.’ That’s why we’re here…not just in this hall, but on this Earth. The Founders showed us that. And so have many others since. They were drawn together by love of country, and the selfless passion to build something better for all who follow. That is the story of America. And we begin a new chapter tonight. Yes, the world is watching what we do. Yes, America’s destiny is ours to choose.”
Readability stats for this blog:
If you’d like to improve your or your team’s writing skills, then book a slot to speak to me: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91. Let’s have a relaxed, introductory chat about what you want to get out of the written word.
In its criticism of Donald Trump, the leader article of the current issue (7-13 May) of The Economist shows us five ways to write with power: a strong opening statement; tricola (the plural of tricolon); varied sentence length; alliteration; starting sentences with And and But.
For fear of infringing copyright, however, I’m afraid I’m not going to reproduce the original text. So you can either buy a copy (they should pay me commission) or take it on trust…
A strong opener with a tricolon and varied sentences
How we open any document is vital, as it sets the tone and expectations for the rest of the communication.
The leader opens with a tricolon — a set of three units of speech in a row — that lists three major achievements of the Republican Party in a 31-word sentence. You might think that’s a turgid way of opening, but what follows is a pointed, 9-word sentence that refers to the next six months of Trump campaigning as not being so ‘glorious’.
A staple of oratory, lists of three have been used for millennia, as they relate to how we process information. We recognise and respond to patterns, and three is the smallest number of elements needed to create a pattern. A well-known tricolon is a remark attributed to Julius Caesar after invading Britain in the 1st century BC: Veni, vidi, vici — ‘I came, I saw, I conquered.’
Alliteration — repeating consonant sounds
As Sam Leith says in You Talkin’ To Me? (Profile Books, 2011) alliteration is a way of wiring words and ideas together.
Alliteration abounds in The Economist leader, when it links the words Trump, triumph and tragedy in one sentence, and refers to the risk of the fractious Republican Party fracturing.
(I guess when you use three alliterations in one sentence you could call it a ‘tricoliteration’. Have I just invented a new rhetorical figure?)
Beginning a sentence with And and But
The cause of much horror, heckling and harrumphing in my writing workshops, you can do this — despite what you had drummed into you at school.
You were probably told: ‘Never begin sentences with a conjunction (a joining word) like And or But.’ But sometimes they’re the perfect way to switch from one topic to another. And you can do that efficiently by using a single word.
Separating the two clauses that And or But would normally join together calls attention to the new sentence created and spikes the reader’s interest.
So The Economist leader lists the reasons that Trump will probably lose this election, but might win the next one. Then — opening a new paragraph with And (shock horror!) — it reminds us that, given Hillary Clinton’s unpopularity, he might just win this time.
As for But, the leader uses it to herald a change in tone and content. After discussing the unlikelihood of Trump becoming President in November, But introduces the idea of this being scant comfort as his nomination as candidate has already divided American society.
Here’s what Webster’s Dictionary of English has to say about But:
Part of the folklore of usage is the belief that there is something wrong in beginning a sentence with ‘But’: many of us were taught that no sentence should begin with ‘But’. If that’s what you learned, unlearn it — there is no stronger word at the start. It announces total contrast with what has gone before, and the reader is primed for the change.
I like that idea: a simple word priming the reader for a change in tone, content or concept. As exemplified by The Economist, week in, week out.
If you’d like to know more about RHETORICA®, my 1-day writing workshop, then book a 15-minute slot to speak to me. Together we can assess the state of your people’s writing skills and I’ll share some new writing tips with you — whether or not we end up working together. (The only thing I ask is that you complete a short questionnaire, to make sure we’re the right fit and that I can help you; hope that’s OK with you. Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/B2K8P7X.) Speak to you soon.
Three wars are raging in business: a war for attention, a war for trust and a war for ideas.
If you’re not aware of this, you’re already losing.
The War for Trust
Trusting someone means believing they’re honest and mean us no harm, so that we can deal openly with them; it’s safe to work with them. Confidence and faith are bed fellows of trust: confidence is from the Latin, meaning ‘with faith’, and faith is belief in the unseen. When we trust someone, we don’t demand constant proof that they’re alright.
Millennia ago, when a strange tribe appeared at dawn on the brow of a hill, our default was not to trust them; doing anything else jeopardised our very survival. These days, thankfully, it’s less about life and death, although trusting the wrong people can still hurt us.
How do we build trust through the written word? In two ways: mindset and style.
The trust-forming mindset
Whether you’re writing a blog, article, post, bid or thought leadership piece, you need to adopt a mindset of giving, not getting.
Your aim should be to add as much value as you can to the reader — freely, unconditionally.
You may be thinking ‘But if I do that, I’ll have nothing left to say and they’ll probably run off with my best ideas anyway.’
If you’re an expert in your field, have strong views and confidence in your expertise, you’ll never run out of stuff to say. And, yes, a few readers may nick your ideas and parade them as their own, but my 30-year experience of business tells me that’s rare.
The likelier reader reaction is ‘Wow! If they’re willing to give that much away, how much more do they know?!’
The more value you give your reader, the more they’ll trust you and look out for your words. You’ll become both a source and a destination.
Give vs Get. A simple (but not always easy) shift in mindset.
The trust-forming writing style
One of the biggest hurdles in business/corporate writing is overly formal language. In linguistics this is known as ‘register’, the scale of formality of your writing.
Let’s take ‘money’ as an example.
Synonyms for money put words like dosh, dough, bucks, cheddar, plastic, wonga, lucre, LVs (not luncheon vouchers, but lager vouchers) and spondooliks at the bottom of the register. Words like emolument, remuneration, consideration, legal tender, funds and proceeds sit at the top, while plain English words like pay and cash sit in the middle.
As we move up the register, the words get longer and harder to spell; they also get less concrete and more abstract. We can’t pocket remuneration in the same way that we might trouser a wadge of cash. Abstract concepts demand more processing power from the reader and make them work harder. Formal, high-register words tend to be more solemn and less emotive than their lower register cousins. They’re also more dull. The result is distance between you and your reader.
Mid-register plain English, on the other hand, is vivid, visual, conversational language. In Ronseal terms, it does what it says on the tin. Everyone gets it immediately. We all know what cash is and what it does; it creates a mental image in a way that remuneration doesn’t. Mid-register words have more energy, too: consider the difference between negatively impact and crush, wreck, ruin, hurt, hammer, damage or destroy. Can you hear and feel the difference?
Plain English is connective language; it builds rapport with the reader, brings them in close.
To avoid sounding like a corporate drone or a propagandist, we need to adopt an authentic tone of voice; we need to write more as we speak. Gone are the days of ‘B2B’ or ‘B2C’ copy. Now we’re writing ‘H2H’ — human to human. Sounding like a human being will make your reader feel more connected to you, and connection builds trust.
Combine a giving mindset, loads of valuable content and an authentic tone of voice to start winning the War for Trust.
Next week: the War for Ideas.
If you’d like to know more about RHETORICA®, my writing workshop that will weaponise your words, then book a 15-minute slot to speak to me. Together we can assess the state of your people’s writing skills and I’ll share some new writing tips with you — whether or not we end up working together. (The only thing I ask is that you complete a short questionnaire, to make sure we’re the right fit and that I can help you; hope that’s OK with you. Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/B2K8P7X.) Speak to you soon.
And here are the readability stats for this blog:
Three wars are raging in business: a war for attention, a war for trust and a war for ideas.
If you’re not aware of this, you’re already losing.
The War for Attention
Attention is the first thing we need from our reader or listener. In Zag: The #1 Strategy of High-Performance Brands, Marty Neumeier claims that every single day we’re bombarded by 3,000 marketing messages, yet our ability to pay attention hasn’t changed a jot. If anything —thanks to the tsunami of competing demands on us — it’s declined.
And the clue’s in the language: pay attention. Giving something our attention incurs a cost to us, which is why we expect a return on our investment of time and energy. So a challenge in this war is to at once grab someone’s attention and convince them that it will be worth their while heeding us.
This is to do with communication devices, like headlines and opening statements, but it also involves reputation, branding, positioning and perception. Taking a genuinely distinctive or ballsy stance on a topic — in other words, taking a risk — is one way of doing it.
Marketers talk about ‘brand positioning’, ie influencing how the market perceives you. But to do that you must take a position on something that matters; you have to have a point of view. And the bolder that point of view, the more you (or your organisation) will get noticed. This is about being ‘remarkable’. You communicate so strongly that other people talk about you and actively seek out your views; they become your upaid PR agency.
‘Marketing is the price we pay for being unremarkable’ (not my words, sadly).
Be remarkable and you’ll start winning the War for Attention.
Next week: the War for Trust.
In the meantime, if you’d like to know more about RHETORICA®, my writing workshop that will weaponise your words, then book a 15-minute slot to speak to me. Together we can assess the state of your people’s writing skills and I’ll share some new writing tips with you — whether or not we end up working together. (The only thing I ask is that you complete an über-short questionnaire, to make sure we’re the right fit and that I can help you; hope that’s OK with you. Here’s the link: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/B2K8P7X.) Speak to you soon.
I would like to thank those of you that attended my RHETORICA 1-day writing workshop last Friday. I really enjoyed meeting you all and hope that you got what you needed from the day to achieve better results from your writing.
If you couldn’t make it, make sure you keep an eye out for our next workshop. During the day I share practical, powerful techniques across the three steps of the writing process (planning, drafting, editing). The day is designed specifically to help you and your business win more work, sell an idea or simply change someone’s mind.
Here’s a taste of some of the feedback I received from delegates.
“Scott Keyser’s ‘persuasive writing for business’ course is full of insights and new information for both the aspiring and experienced business writer. I gained great illumination from the in-depth analysis he gave of a report I had actually read and remembered from a year earlier. The day was well-organised in a state-of-the-art, central London conference complex and the course material was very well-presented. Although fast-paced, there was plenty of time to absorb the information given and discuss delegate’s questions. His intelligent, full day’s presentation will help me to improve my writing immediately. This very practical course for serious business writing is unique and I look forward to his next seminar.”
JA, Business Owner
If you would like to find out more about how you and your business can get better results from your writing, contact me today on +44 (0)20 7183 8086 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this series of tips on persuasive writing, I’ve stressed the importance of talking more about the reader than yourself. Instead of describing what you’re going to do, describe what the reader gets as a result. Instead of talking about the features of your product or service, talk about the benefits to the reader.
If benefits are the way to go, let’s clarify three key terms:
A feature is a characteristic, attribute or property of your product or service. The reader may or may not value it.
An advantage is what your product/service does that others don’t do, ie what differentiates it from the rest.
A benefit is how your product/service makes someone’s life better in a way that they will value. It’s about the recipient getting a desirable, positive outcome, resulting in more persuasive writing. Example benefits include a well-behaved puppy, a good night’s sleep, a sizzling sex life, an ROI improved by 20%, staff turnover cut by 42%, twice as many leads converted into sales.
Too many writers confuse benefits and features, or simply list features without converting them into reader benefits. There are three ways to make that conversion:
- ‘So what?’
- ‘This means that you…’
- ‘This gives you…’
Persuasive writing, example 1:
Feature: Our firm has 3,000 competition lawyers in 20 jurisdictions around the world.
Benefit: You get relevant, practical and current advice on competition law from local people who know the latest regulations and, in some cases, even know the regulators. What that means for you is insight into which of your new branded products will best satisfy the law in each particular jurisdiction and which ones carry the greatest risks in terms of anti-competitive activity.
Persuasive writing, example 2:
Feature: Our journal is peer-reviewed.
Benefit: This means that you can rely on the content, currency and intellectual rigour of every academic paper in our journal. Not only has it been written by an expert in that particular field, it’s been reviewed by one. Authors know that their work will only be published when approved by our review panel. So when you subscribe to BioGenetics Gazette, you know you’re reading scientific papers of the highest quality.
Persuasive writing, example 3:
Feature: We only publish the results of double-blind, randomised, controlled trials (RCT) of medical products.
Benefit: An RCT is considered the gold standard of clinical trials. This gives you the most objective test results, with minimal bias, that you can reliably base critical clinical and business decisions on.
The bottom-line on persuasive writing: when we talk about features, the predominant words are we and our. Yet when we talk about benefits, the predominant words are you and your. Using these magic words in your writing shows that your mindset has shifted to being reader-centric — another reason to major on benefits.
Scott’s book on persuasive writing — RHETORICA: persuasive writing for the 21st century, published by ReThink Press — is due out summer 2016, but you can get a sneak peek at his 18 March open course in central London (http://bit.ly/1Tenw6G). And if you’d like a 15-minute consultation with Scott, to assess your/your team’s writing and get three insights into how to improve it, click here to book a slot: https://calendly.com/scottkeyser91/15min.