Five favourite thoughts on fantastic writing – from a business development writing workshop (2015)

Posted on: March 18, 2015

I thank my lucky stars for days like today. I spent the morning with bright marketers from the professions, honing our writing skills and sharing ideas. Whilst I can’t convey the fun and energy at the business development writing workshop, I can share some of our favourite thoughts.

After considering writing basics and good grammar, we worked in groups to explore different writing situations and challenges:

Pitches and tenders

  1. Invest time – There is so much pressure to turn things around quickly that we often “make do” rather than excel. Great writing eats time. Take time out to do the research and finesse the writing that transforms an adequate pitch into something extraordinary. This might also prevent partners coming to us at the eleventh hour in the hope that we can create a midnight masterpiece.
  2. Do more than titivate – Sometimes we are given a done deal and asked to “make it pretty”. Help them appreciate that the structure, content and proposition needs our attention.
  3. Show, don’t tell – This is a rule of writing that we can apply to educating the partners. Rather that telling them that we can produce better pitches, why don’t we just show them what good really looks like? Success sells.
  4. Focus – Well, we could request more resources or we can prioritise. Rather than turning out 50 mediocre pitches, how about we focus on crafting 10 astonishing ones?
  5. Use psychology and science – There’s plenty of material around on the science of persuasion. Learn it and use it.

Newsletters and alerts

  1. Engage the reader – Shift the perspective from what the writer wants to say to what the reader wants to see. Or hear. Or feel. Deploy the frameworks and knowledge we have to entertain and engage.
  2. Respect the reader – Rather than deluge the audience with information on our agenda and our schedule, we should write what they want, in the way they want it at a frequency that suits them. And if we don’t know what the readers want, then do the research. Turn your content management plans inside out. Avoid internally-focused self-indulgent disclosure – ban the use of “We”.
  3. Keep it short – Attention spans are short. Scrolling is a pain. It takes more effort to be concise. Sentences are the new paragraphs. Remember Winston Churchill’s “I’m going to make a long speech because I’ve not had the time to prepare a short one”?
  4. Signpost – Use subtitles, pull outs, quotes, bullets and other devices to break up blocks of text. Make content scannable.
  5. Be active and prompt action – Make your words active. Create an alluring call to action.

Web sites

  1. Start with the end in mind – Think about the external reader and how you want them to think and act. What outcome is required?
  2. Be consistent – Where there are multiple content creators and contributors, ensure consistency (e.g. use brand and personality guidelines)
  3. Tell a story – Facts and figures are dull. Human beings are wired for stories. Create a scene. Evoke an emotion. Make the reader the leading character. Generate tension.
  4. Remember SEO – Balance great content and writing with skilful SEO. Think about those key words and links.
  5. Avoid jargon – Jargon jars. Jargon confuses. Don’t assume readers’ knowledge. The best experts know how to keep it simple. And resist meddling – prevent idiosyncratic or pointless editing.

Social media (Twitter)

  1. Pay attention to timing Delays for sign-offs. Audiences in different time zones. Can you piggyback on a topical tide?
  2. Share and converse Avoid broadcasting. Take time to balance your content with liking, commenting upon and sharing others’ content. Join the conversation.
  3. Mix up your media Some generations prefer text. Others prefer images. And audio. And video. Great writing is needed in all media.
  4. Balance professional and personal Brand values, team values, individual values. Be consistent but balance and blend styles.
  5. Use creativity, surprise and curiosity Don’t follow the herd. Find an unusual angle. Be bold. Pique their curiosity.

And remember that in The Economist Style Guide, the following words were included in the horrible and emetic list: facilitate, governance, guesstimate, prestigious and proactive!.

Details of future writing workshops and other courses are shown on the Professional Marketing Forum site: http://www.pmforum.co.uk/training/

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