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Has remote working changed business writing skills?

Write for Results

business writing skills scott keyser

A couple of weeks ago I delivered a Lunch ‘n Learn session about business writing skills at a property client. The session was called — perhaps prematurely — ‘How to write Human in a post-COVID world’. (The attendees still gave it a satisfaction rating of 96%.) One of the things I asserted was that b2b communications have changed as a result of the pandemic. People are being forced to work from home. Seems to me that the line between ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ has blurred, which is a good thing if we want to improve our writing skills.

What do you think?

Business writing, unfiltered

A couple of years ago I was speaking to Laura, a client who was creating a training course in proposals best practice. In the opening section of the course she mocks the honking proposal cliché. You know the one, where the bidder thanks the client profusely in the covering letter for giving them the opportunity to bid. She refers to this as ‘the grovelling opening’.

This really made me laugh, because it’s exactly what bidders do: ‘We are ever so grateful for the opportunity to bid for this esteemed piece of work…’ or some such rubbish. (Clients don’t care how you feel. They don’t care how pathetically grateful you are for being allowed to sweat blood to respond to their onerous tender. They just want you to get to the point.)

But my client — having lambasted ‘the grovelling opening’ — then blew it by saying she’d probably have to get it ‘professionalised’ by my manager.

In the nicest possible way, I hit the roof.

The left-field opener that Laura was considering in her training course is exactly what I mean by ‘personality’ in written comms. It’s that slightly cheeky, light-hearted, real, human tone that gives business writing its flair. Calling out that honking great cliché — rather than towing the party line — would have made her training course stand out.

The remote-working effect

And that’s got me thinking about the Lunch ‘n Learn session I delivered for the property client. For the past 18 months, many of us have been working from home under lockdown. We’re all zooming or MS Teaming with colleagues and clients, trading sharp suits for tracksuits, T shirts or, in some cases, cleverly disguised pyjamas. I wonder if people are more forgiving of — maybe even reassured by — this enforced informality. Is remote working altering how we perceive each other and how we communicate?

Picture the scene: your baby wakes up and starts crying when you’re on a Zoom call. Or your dog’s barking in the middle of a Facebook Live (which has happened to me more than once!). Maybe your teenagers are fighting over the PlayStation. Or the washing machine is pinging because its cycle has finished.

In those circumstances, can you really, in all honesty and with a straight face, write with MBA-itis? Like ‘We are a partner-led, full-service law firm with 35 offices and 17,000 staff around the world, offering unrivalled best-in-breed advice on a wide range of multi-jurisdictional, pan-regulatory, anti-competition issues for our global clients’?

Can you really get away with that business jargon or management-speak?

We’re now operating in a setting where the personal and the ‘professional’ have merged like never before. Those lines are fuzzy. It was always a false distinction anyway. People actually realise that by bringing their whole personal selves to work — even if it’s at the kitchen table — everyone benefits.

Business writing skills are personal

I’m reminded of the mastermind I joined last year run by Penny and Thomas Power, which was called ‘Business is Personal’, because to me it is. If you don’t bring your whole person, your whole personality to your work, to your business, to your writing, your words won’t land. You won’t make that connection with the reader.

Remember that live BBC interview with the American Professor Robert Kelly, who was talking about South Korean politics?

If you recall, he’s answering the interviewer’s questions, with gravitas and erudition. Then his four-year old daughter, Marian, sashays in unannounced and stands behind him. He’s trying to push her away while keeping a straight face. Clearly, he’s agonising over whether to ignore or acknowledge her while responding to the interviewer’s questions. Trouble is, now the door to his office is wide open. Suddenly his nine-month old son, James, trundles in in his baby stroller to join his big sister. He doesn’t want to miss out on the fun.

business writing skills scott keyser

Enter Character #4, stage left. The Professor’s Korean wife hurtles in to the office, crouched low to stay out of the camera shot but in full view of millions of viewers. She grabs the kids and pulls them out of the office. But she’s left the door open so, with one arm lassoed around her kids, she hyper-extends the other arm to the door handle and pulls it shut. You can only imagine how many of the Professor’s synapses were firing as this farce unfolded.

The video went viral (more than 44 million views on YouTube to date). I’ve just watched it again: it makes me laugh every time. My point is that we accidentally got a hysterical insight into the Prof and his life. That he’s a regular, normal, loving, family guy, husband and father made people see him as just another human. Suddenly, he’s just as vulnerable as the rest of us. People fell in love with him. Now he’s famous…just not for South Korean politics.

How to improve business writing skills

What does all that mean for us as writers? How do we use that to improve our writing?

It’s about giving ourselves permission to be human, warts ‘n all. To get over the myth of ‘professionalism’, which forces many unintentional business writers to leave their personality at the door, or at the top of the page. World-class writing combines great content with personality. To do this takes courage.

Take heart. Your business writing skills will be transformed.

~~~

Scott is The Writing Guy, helping smart professionals find their voice, write Human and get the results they want from the words they write. In other words, to help you improve your business writing skills.

Listen to the podcast episode 152 related to this topic, ‘Has working from home changed how we write?‘. Then subscribe to The Writing Guy podcast to learn more about business writing skills and how to improve your writing.

How to improve writing skills with Verbitis

Write for Results

Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with a friend called Vicky Ross, a talented coach, therapist and NLP Master Practitioner. We were talking about language, its fascinating patterns…and of course, that led me to thinking about how to improve writing skills.

Vicky helped me to better understand the idea of Nounitis. I’ve spoken about Nounitis in the past. It’s the overuse of nouns, particularly abstract ones.

To take you back to school with a quick reminder, a noun is a naming word, and the cure for Nounitis is Verbitis, or using more verbs than nouns. Verbs are words of action and doing.

Nounitis is rife in B2B communications. Someone might say “She has responsibility for the implementation of the project.” What the hell does that mean?

“Implementation” can mean so many different things. It’s a vague, abstract term.

I want to take you through a little exercise. I’m going to give you a series of words and I want you to observe how your brain computes those words. There will be three different types of words:

  • tangible, concrete, common nouns (things you could put in a wheelbarrow)
  • abstract nouns (adjectives or verbs that have turned into nouns)
  • verbs (action words)

Are you ready?

Learn how to improve writing skills:  an exercise

how to improve writing skills scott keyser

For each of the three types of words, I want you to observe what happens in your brain. Notice, too, how your body reacts.

First, the common nouns:

  • bed
  • chair
  • apple
  • pen
  • book
  • computer

Just observe how your brain deals with those.

Now for some abstract nouns:

  • freedom
  • democracy
  • liberty
  • consideration
  • implementation
  • responsibility

That’s the second list. Again, notice how you reacted to them.

And for the third list, verbs:

  • running
  • writing
  • speaking
  • jumping
  • walking

There you have three very different types of words.

What did you observe happening to your body when you read them?

When Vicky and I did this mini-exercise, I looked up to the right when she recited the abstract nouns. That’s how my body responded when trying to make sense of those words. The verbs seemed easier for me. I looked straight ahead or slightly to the left.

The point I’m making is that the common nouns are things we can see and touch. The abstract nouns are much harder to compute because they’re intellectual, abstract concepts and demand more processing power from the human brain. Since verbs are words of doing and action, they have movement attached to them.

Neither type of noun had movement. They were static. They didn’t go anywhere. There was no energy to them. In contrast, the verbs had energy — but you would expect that.

The benefits of Verbitis

There are two benefits when using more verbs than nouns. how to improve writing skills scott keyserFirst, they literally give your writing more energy. Second, verbs conjure mental images in our brains, with little or no effort.

With abstract nouns, the brain has to work to associate some kind of image from our own experiences. That’s why verbs, Verbitis and curing Nounitis are so important if we want to improve our writing skills.

There’s one more point: the relationship between movement/motion and emotion. Static, abstract nouns — for me, at least — have no emotion attached to them. There’s neither motion nor emotion. Whereas the verbs lend themselves to emotion.

For example, if I gave you the abstract phrase, “freedom from slavery,” (two abstract nouns, “freedom” and “slavery”) I can say that I agree with that concept. Like most decent people, I don’t agree with slavery or servitude. Contrast the impact of that with the sentence, “The plantation owner unchained the slave and freed him.” I’m using more words, but I’m also using two verbs (“unchained” and “freed”). Clearly, I’m creating a picture, depicting a scene.

You might say we’re losing brevity — and of course we are — but I know which type of writing I’d prefer to read.

How to improve writing skills for better results

Using verbs and simple language while leavening and scaling down the amount of abstract language you use is going to improve your writing.

I hope this was useful information and that it will lead you to new ideas on how to improve your writing skills. I know it’s spurred me to learn more about NLP and patterns of language — particularly ‘nominalisation’, or turning words into nouns.

If you’re interested in learning more about my Big Five writing techniques, including Verbitis, connect with me on LinkedIn and join us for my LinkedIn webinar on the Big Five, on the 28th of July 2021. 

Persuasive writing begins with the end

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

Would you agree there’s too much information about persuasive writing out there? That when it’s time to learn something that will build your brand, it takes longer to sift through bad information than it does to actually learn the skill — especially if it’s about improving your writing?

That’s why I’m thrilled to be part of Brand Builders TV, where an impressive array of professionals, experts and proven entrepreneurs from the Brand Builders Club come together to freely share what they’ve learnt over their careers.

In the episode Nail the Nasty Nine Writing Issues, you’ll not only learn the names of the nine writing problems that stop us connecting with our readers. You’ll also get an up-close look at the first three.

#1 is about ‘We-‘ing all over the reader, which the article ‘Write to Persuade and Convert’ expands on. The second, about non-existent planning, is explained in the article ‘Powerful Written Communication’. And finally, here we are at article #3 in the series, which will teach you why it’s important to know where your written content will end — before you even begin.

The other six writing issues will be forthcoming, but for now, why not go back and read those first two articles? Then you’ll be sure to miss nothing on your journey to bringing more and more customers and clients onboard.

If you’re more of a digital learner, you can view the entire recorded Brand Builders TV episode here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdLSJrXQ2fU

Your writing is about to get a lot more persuasive.

Persuasive writing knows where it’s going

As writers, when we’re not clear about where we’re going or what we’re trying to achieve, we run the risk of producing something that rambles and meanders. It’s going to drive the reader mad! It’s more effective and efficient to know where we’re going. We must identify our destination.

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

Persuasive Writing does not have a vague message or objective

The training I deliver to people around the world has little to do with pretty words or mellifluous, musical cadences (we get into that at mastery level).

What I’m talking about here is the sheer mechanics of great writing, and part of that is being really clear about our destination. It’s less about prettiness, more about behaviour change. We’re seeking, through the written word, to change the reader’s behaviour. That’s why this issue is one of the Nasty Nine.

Facts. Feelings. Actions.

What can we do about vague writing? Nail, define and articulate our purpose or objective. For this, I use a three-letter acronym: F.F.A. — Facts. Feelings. Action.

Imagine a three-column table. The first is Facts, or what you want your reader to know. The second is what you want them to feel. The last one is the action you want them to take as a result of reading your words.

For the first column, there are probably a lot of things you want your reader to know. Generally, provided you know your subject, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Now jump over to the right-hand column, Action. Typically, in any communication, there’s one thing you want your reader to do. To instruct you, give you a mandate, engage you or hire you, agree to meet with you, give you some information, send you a document…that’s usually pretty straightforward.

But where persuasive writing gets interesting is in the middle column, Feelings. What emotions do you want to evoke in your reader to drive the action? These emotions might include, but are not limited to:

Fear

You might want to scare them about something…like being laid off,  losing market share, missing out on an opportunity, their program failing, catching Covid, missing out on promotion.

Greed

What do they want more of? What are they greedy for? Money, time, information, power, control, influence, reputation, social media engagement.

Motivation

Use your words to motivate them to take action, energise them to pursue a particular course of action.

Anger

Get your reader angry about injustices in the world, to raise awareness and galvanise action.

Excitement

Get their pulse racing by describing attractive results, outcomes and benefits.

Brand Builders TV Scott Keyser Persuasive Writing

When you do F.F.A. properly, you break the back of your document. You’re cooking with gas. What do you want your reader to know? What do you want them to feel? And what action do you want them to take as a result of that knowledge and emotion?

Emotion matters in persuasive writing

What’s the role of emotion in persuasion? Why does emotion matter in persuasive writing? The answer lies 2,500 years ago, in the 4th century B.C., when Aristotle nailed the topic of rhetoric. He identified three persuasive ‘appeals’: Logos (logic); Ethos (credibility, character, reputation); Pathos (passion, emotion). He said all three were equally important, meaning that if we leave emotion out of our writing, we’re missing out. Logic makes people think, but emotion makes them act.

What’s your objective?

I hope you’re feeling more confident about your ability to improve your writing skills. What will you do with this new knowledge?

If persuasive writing for bids, tenders, sales pages, blogs, webpages and articles is something you’d like to learn more about, then subscribe to the Brand Builders TV YouTube channel for more episodes. Or, go straight to my second video, Nail The Nasty Nine Writing Issues, Part Two, which expands on issues 4 to 6.

My time in the Brand Builders Club has not only helped me to build my brand as The Writing Guy. It’s given me invaluable feedback, accountability and networking opportunities. Why not join us? Your registration comes with no commitment, and no risk — just growth.