Low-Impact Statements Won’t Make You Any Friends

Everyone has that friend that makes a mountain out of a molehill.

“Ugh. It’s Monday and the train is running slow this morning. This is going to be a terrible week.” According to ‘that’ friend, a relatively small thing will impact the course of his or her entire week.

‘That’ friend may have positive things to say as well. “Just saw [insert D-list actor] walking down the street. My life is complete!!!”

These are low-impact statements dressed up as things people should care about. In marketing (as in life), there are ways to do this effectively. Hyperbolizing low-impact statements is not the correct route.

People may write low-impact statements because:

  • They don’t understand their audience (or don’t care)
  • The ideas they share are self-centered
  • The main theme or idea is unclear
  • They are drama queens

Not every sentence you write will land with the kind of impact you desire. But that’s okay. In business writing, everything should lead to the big picture. But, if you’re summing up a theme or message, the sentence must ring with impact. Hyperbole is transparent. How do you increase the impact of the statement without blowing it out of proportion?

  • Empathize with the reader by framing the pain-point, problem or situation. This requires a clear understanding of your audience.
  • Clearly demonstrate how your product, service or organization solves the problem. Do this simply but descriptively. Statements that resonate require clarity and relevance — not exclamation points, italics, editorializations or aggrandized concepts.
  • As I’ve mentioned before, shorter sentences often have a greater impact.

Keep these tips in mind and you’ll avoid becoming ‘that’ writer.

5 Weapons to Destroy Buzzwords

I promise you that this innovative, thought-provoking post will create a new level of synergy in your cutting-edge copy.

Alright, so this post is obligatory. But as a man driven to help your business communicate more authentically, I have decided it is a must.

Buzzwords have no place in a writer’s toolbox. Unfortunately, good writers tend to read a lot. As a result, these painful bastards might slip into your diction. It’s the price you’ll pay for competitive research or general goofing off on the internet.

Join me next week for my thoughts on bad puns.

Digital marketing demigod David Meerman Scott helped start the war against buzzwords back in 2007. (Here’s the updated 2009 version.) For the most part, Scott aims his sights at PR folks. And we all know how much I love PR folks. But PR reps aren’t the only ones guilty of using buzzwords. It could happen to you. A good offense is the best defense.

Check out my 5 weapons to destroy buzzwords.

1. If you have no proof, nuke that sucker. We’re often tempted to make outlandish claims about our companies or products. Where’s the harm in calling ourselves leading, cutting-edge, the best, the largest or premiere? In 9 out of 10 cases, you’re either lying or including no proof of your claim. You think you can get away with it by making the claim as generic as possible. I’m telling you right now: it slows down and sinks your point. Avoid these types of words.

2. If it isn’t specific and descriptive, get out the dynamite. Your company and product may be generic. Is that how you want to present it to people? And it’s catastrophic to write generically-worded copy if your product is outstanding. Forget words like unique, customer-centric, dynamic, flexible and revolutionary.  You should even erase award-winning from your vocab. If the award is relevant to the copy, you have better options, like…

3. If you’re telling instead of showing, let the cannons rip. This tip isn’t unique to business writing. Lively writing across any medium requires you to show, rather than tell. Words that tell are usually hollow, shallow and meaningless. Many of the words we’ve discussed so far fit the bill here. If you’re the best or the only, you better be prepared to back those assertions up by showing readers why they’re true.

4. If it’s cliche, give it a swift kick in the balls. FYI — don’t drink the kool-aid if you don’t have the bandwidth to accomodate low-hanging fruit coming down the pipeline. You have an email address, right? You probably hear these kinds of cliches daily. Please, for the love of all that is holy, do not replicate them.

5. If it says nothing, get medieval on its ass. Perhaps this assertion is a culmination of the rest. Still, it’s worth saying: putting words on the page doesn’t mean you’re saying anything. Business is all about communication. Make sure you get your point across. Avoid words that say nothing.

Do Shorter Sentences Hit Home Harder?

Crafting sentences is an art.

We don’t always think in sentences. Putting thoughts straight to paper usually results in stream-of-consciousness. It’s way easier to loose a reader that way.

Keep your readers. Write shorter sentences.

Let’s look at the contrast. Virginia Woolf is the master of stream-of-consciousness. But her writing exists in a medium drastically different from the business writer’s. As a result, she gets a pass. Everything else about her writing is so enthralling that we award her with artistic license.

Hemingway, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air for readers. His prose made it nearly impossible for readers to miss the point. And that’s one reason he’s lauded as one of the greatest storytellers of all time.

“I don’t always drink beer, but when I do…I drink an entire case in one sitting.”

Consider this slightly-altered quote from The Sun Also Rises:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that because you lose the taste.

This isn’t the original quote. But what if it had been? Worse yet, what if Hemingway wrote the entire book in that style?

Thank the modern literary gods that he didn’t. Here’s the statement as it originally appears:

You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.

Clearly, this is a cause-and-effect statement. But consider how much more impact the thought has when the concepts are separated by a stop.

For professional writers, long sentences are usually the result of combining multiple thoughts. In good literature, to contrast, we excuse long sentences. Exhaustive description is usually the culprit in lengthy diatribes.

But your audience probably won’t read your writing for fun. They want the point. Short sentences lead to clearer points. The. End.

If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Say Something Constructive

There’s no curing the epidemic of negativity on social networks. You, however, can gain immunity. An apple a day and such.

Your social networks are jam-packed with negativity and passive-aggressive content. It leaks into the blogosphere, too. As a reader, you can sniff out negativity. It usually doesn’t sit so well.

I get email updates every now again from a prominent blog in its space. But I just can’t bring myself to read it anymore. Every post details something you shouldn’t do. It tears down some company or individual who is doing the wrong thing. It reeks of self-importance and a downright negative perspective. There’s nothing attractive there anymore, so I delete the update almost every morning. (I stay subscribed because every now and again, he shares an interesting nugget of information.)

Negativity will naturally seep into your writing sometimes, especially when you’re inspired by a conflicting opinion. Unless it’s done with purpose (for humor, a one-off or a direct response), it may be killing the reader’s will to live.

“I disagree with him, Mr. Trump. Your hair looks like a live muskrat today, not a dead one.”

The real problem with negativity is how it affects the overall tone. You can be snarky without being negative. Sarcasm is more difficult to pull off.

Guess what? There’s a cure for negativity. It’s called being constructive. Remember that short fiction class you took in college? Of course you don’t; you were stoned. The first rule of that class was to always contribute constructive feedback. Use that every single day when you sit down to write. The process is kind of like laundering money: take that negative energy and invest it in a related, constructive concept. It comes out clean on the other side with your point intact.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Five Reasons Mitt Romney Sucks Ass” becomes “Five Ways Mitt Romney Can Improve His Campaign”
  • “I hate everything about the Jersey Shore” becomes “Jersey Shore may be the downfall of America, but here’s what we can do to stop it.”
  • “Someone should punch Donald Trump in the dick” stays the way it is. There’s just no getting around how much that guy sucks.

Now fly, my minions, and spread some positive thinking!

All I Do Is Write, Write, Write No Matter What

In the past, there was writer’s block. Now, there’s Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs and…writer’s block.

You have a million excuses not to put words to paper. Are you going to let that stop you?

Writer’s block is an honest-to-god condition. In its simplest form, it manifests itself as a subconscious rebellion against creativity. At its worst, it causes anxiety and insecurities about your occupation as a whole.

This guy had writer’s block. So did the creators of this movie. All went on to do great, strange things.

Only fiction writers, authors creating from scratch, should experience the latter form. But the former can creep up on anyone at anytime. There’s always Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs.

Take a step away from the blank page for a moment and think rationally. If you have content in some form, you shouldn’t let writer’s block get the best of you. If you have no content to write about, then you’re missing a step in the writing process.

Starting content varies from interview notes to research to knowledge trapped inside your head. Here are a few tricks I use to get ink on the page. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

  • Work directly from your notes: When I interview someone, my notes are scattered phrases and sentences. If you’re good at interviewing, they may end up on the page in a linear fashion. Either way, find important snippets of notes and turn them into assertions. The supporting material will flow more naturally.
  • Put snippets of thoughts down as they come to you: Working from a blank slate? Don’t fret. Throw out any semblance of narrative and start writing thoughts as they come to you. When you have something beginning to resemble a piece, go back and reorganize the thoughts and add information where necessary.
  • Put audience in perspective: Sometimes, we get stuck because we’re not sure what best appeals to the reader. Start writing about your audience and trying to gain a little perspective on their needs and motivations. When you begin identifying knowledge gaps, you may be surprised how quickly you find a place to start.
  • See what other people are saying: This looks like a cheap one at first glance. Just to clarify: don’t steal other people’s shit. But reading about the topic may spark ideas. Some of your best stuff will come from points of contention you find in other articles.