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November 2016

Post-election review: ‘rhetoric’

Write for Results

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

Write for Results

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

Write for Results

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

Write for Results

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

Write for Results

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.)



The elevator pitch: the 7 most common mistakes

Write for Results

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

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.’

MISTAKE#7: Over-running.

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: This is a free, no-obligation chat.

Thanks for reading!