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Why my writing workshop scored 100%

Write for Results

gilgamesh book
Yesterday I ran a rhetorica® writing workshop for the comms team of a British property business that has a presence in 60 cities and ten countries around the world. The delegates gave the day an overall rating of 5 out of 5, ie ‘Excellent’, or 100% satisfaction, with some flattering comments on the evaluation forms. 

What resonated with them to give the day that accolade?

It’s because we emphasised story telling. Not only how to tell a compelling story, but also how to unearth stories in the business — like ear-wigging canteen conversations where someone mentions what they’ve done in their day job that to them is prosaic, but to a writer is gold dust. We don’t tell enough stories in business, which is why most business writing is dull. Yet what better way is there to inform, evoke, entertain and persuade, all at once? From camp-fire to dinner table, humans are hard-wired to respond to good stories well told. We neglect them at our peril. 

In yesterday’s workshop I referred to chapter 9 of my book (rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques), ‘Tell Your Reader A Story’. In it I refer to the four elements of any story:

1) Protagonist (from ancient Greek theatre meaning ‘first actor’) or hero;

2) Predicament or challenge (that tests the hero and creates the drama);

3) Narrative, ie the plot, context and setting;

4) Resolution, ie how the hero overcomes their challenge, revealing their strengths and weaknesses.

From Gilgamesh — written on clay tablets in Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC — to the latest TV soap, business case study or pitch, all good stories embody these four elements.

At the end of the workshop — despite some initial resistance from them — I gave the delegates a broad brief: to find and write a story about something of interest in their business. And they had less than an hour to do it.

What came back was remarkable: a fairy story about a refurbished church that blended magic with realism; a description of a hilarious but high-risk April Fool’s Day prank played on the CEO and chairman; a content-rich piece on the challenges of place-making with garden villages; a historical take on the business coming of age in terms of its culture, style and place in the world.

Where the writing samples they’d sent me before the workshop had been dry and lifeless, these stories leapt off the page — vivid, vibrant, confident, authentic and powerful. In one day, in a small way, I’d helped them find their voice.

‘Cos that’s what I do: I help organisations, teams and individuals find their writing voice.

Let me know if you’d like the same for you or your team:

9/11 poem

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A strange thing happened today.


Out of the blue

A ladder of light came down from Heaven

And with it a firefighter from 9/11.

The new day was dawning

— sunlight glinting on his helmet and boots, fresh with Heaven’s dew —

Just as it did that perfect, Eden morning.

His face was old but his eyes sparkled, like a new sun.

He brought us news.


“Down by the Hudson did I weep

At the slurry wall that stops the river’s seep,

My pain as wide as it was deep.


At our twin temples we fed Mammon, fast and loud

Capitalism unfettered, unshackled, unbowed.

Everything made by man that had been made,

Vaulting ambition, two soaring towers of trade.


Suddenly, from that perfect sky, silver birds flew into our temples

And threw them to the ground.

A wound so deep, so profound

That our nation shook.

Terror clamped our hearts, like a mortal mist

As the towers sheared off from the Manhattan schist.


All in Ladder 3 were killed,

Our bodies crushed, our hearts stilled.

We were crushed, reduced, pulverised

Scattered, splintered, a.t.o.m.i.s.e.d.

Jumpers shattering on the sidewalk — that terrible sound —

Rang like a rattle through my soul.


Then silence.


A gentle cloak of dust covered all

Like grey snow or Belsen ash, a ghostly pall.

Ground Zero.


That was then.

Time has marched on, for you at least.


Now there are twin pools to collect your tears

Cascading, trident-shaped, down sixteen years

Runnelling your sorrow and your fears

Into the marbled earth.


And I am free.


Now I dance among the spheres and stars:

Electrons, protons, Jupiter and Mars.

Here, now and forever, time and space don’t exist.

Despite the awful human cost

Nothing is wasted, nothing is lost.

Go figure!

We are all energy re-configured.


I am light among the atoms

I ride the particles and waves,

I plumb the depths and fathoms

I feel the music of the staves.


And know this.


We all are loved.

Even the pilots of the silver birds

Who twisted the message, the love unheard.

We all are loved, make no mistake.

We choose to love; we choose to hate.


Beyond the lives and loves undone

The daily round of work and play

The weft and warp of life unspun

The passage of clouds on a summer’s day.

Beyond all that grows under the moon and sun

Beyond the binary of all or none

Beyond what’s ended or begun —

We are all one.”


And so be it.

7 writing tips from RHETORICA® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques

Write for Results

People often ask me to summarise my top tips for improving their writing. What are the shortcuts that can transform it fast?


I tried to keep it to five, but in the end identified seven that take writing to the next level.

Here are the top 7 writing tips from my book rhetorica® — a toolkit of 21 everyday writing techniques:

TOP TIP #1: Write for your reader

TOP TIP #2: Honour the three steps of the writing process

TOP TIP #3: Set time aside to plan

TOP TIP #4: Nail your objective

TOP TIP #5: How to write concisely

TOP TIP #6: Write plain English

TOP TIP #7: Read your writing out loud (R.O.L.)

To read the book in full, you can purchase it from Amazon here.

I hope you found my tips useful. I also came across an article, Technical Writing Tools: The Ultimate Choice of 83 Experts by Ferry Vermeulen, which shares the technical writing tools that are favoured most by 80 experts. Give it a read.

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.

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!


How Hillary trashed Trump with 6th-grader language

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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:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 08.32.38

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.”

Wordplay (paranomasia):

“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.”

Personal story/disclosure:

“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:

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 12.41.24


What now?

If you’d like to improve your or your team’s writing skills, then book a slot to speak to me: Let’s have a relaxed, introductory chat about what you want to get out of the written word.

Trashing Trump — how ‘The Economist’ does it

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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: Speak to you soon.

The Three Word Wars: the War for Trust

Write for Results

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.

The bottom-line

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: Speak to you soon.

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