"Do you make these mistakes in English?"​

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Fear can act as a persuasive motivator—especially the fear of seeming inept or ignorant. In the 1920s and ‘30s, the headline “Do you make these mistakes in English?” frightened more than 150,000 Americans into buying a correspondence course to improve their language skills. The ad for the course is widely considered one of the greatest pieces of copy writing of all time.

As a writing coach, however, I cringe every time I see a new version of the famous headline. So many blog posts and magazine …

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Managers need to unlearn their writing skills so they can teach others

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About seven years ago, I suddenly stopped cooking. One day I just realized that my usual round of chores felt somehow lighter, as if a heavy knapsack I’d been carrying a long time had gradually slipped off my shoulders.

I remember when this happened because at the time my daughter was just starting to get interested in cooking. And because I was no longer cooking, I had a hard time helping her learn how to fend for herself in the kitchen.

For years, I’d thought of “cooking” as a scientific pro…

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Great ideas start with great conversation

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Although I’ve been in the business world for many years, I still refer to myself as a “recovering academic.” I feel I'll never quite leave the halls of the ivory tower behind me because I still have to fight daily against the urge to complexify, not simplify, language and ideas.

I also have to remind myself frequently that writing isn't the only tool for promoting deep thinking. That’s not easy to do because I came of age in the era of an educational movement called Writing Across the Curriculu…

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Avoid these eight ways you could be sabotaging your technical proposals

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Most technical proposals don’t flop because they’re not precise enough about technical matters. They fail because the writers self-sabotage by focusing on themselves rather than on their readers.

 Here are eight common pitfalls to avoid the next time you write a proposal:

 1. Showing off your enthusiasm

 Icons  Elements (2) The pitfall: You write at length about how pleased, honoured, thrilled, excited, and so on you are to have the opportunity to submit a proposal for such an awesome opportunity.

Icons  Elements (3) Why it’s da…

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Are you afraid of your own writing voice?

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When you invite an improv actor into your communications class, you have to be ready for anything. Thank goodness, my class was alone in the basement of the business school that evening.

I'd asked my actor friend, Chris, to give my students some coaching to help with oral presentations. We started with a few vocal warmup exercises and some practice with delivery stance. So far, so tame. And then, Chris asked everyone in the room to stand up and project their voice--not at public speaking volume…

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Get rid of the writing distractions in your open office

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Is there any worse place to write than a modern office? Open-concept offices may create the illusion of team togetherness, but they're so noisy and distracting that it may be easier to concentrate in a subway station. 

Researchers are finally validating the complaints open-office employees have been making for years. Working without privacy and quiet undercuts productivity by up to 15%, increases physical and emotional stress, and correlates with high rates of absenteeism. (For a startling summ…

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Why I never write killer proposals

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Stand-up comedy is a brutal career choice. Not only do you have to work late nights in seedy venues, but you also have to “kill” your audience, night after night. A successful comedian boasts, “I knocked ‘em dead tonight, man! I totally slayed them.”

Unfortunately, many business writers tend to approach persuasive writing with the same violent mind-set. For example, I was once asked to design a course called “Killer Writing.” The executive championing the project described himself as “a big gam…

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My fool-proof process for taking live training online

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If you’re trying to “convert” live training to online training, let me stop you right there.

With so many amazing technical resources now at our disposal, it’s tempting to think that switching to online delivery is as easy as clicking a button. But you need more than technology to take your training online—you need a fool-proof design process.

Few live training sessions lend themselves to simple “conversion” from speech to text or video. Although the quickest way to produce an online alternati…

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Five signs your messaging isn’t connecting with non-experts

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  1. Your document or presentation generates no questions.

Someone who has genuinely understood the messaging about your innovative product or service should be bursting with questions. 

They should react to your words the way an audience reacts to a David Copperfield show, with amazement and curiosity. You should hear questions like these:

Wow! How did you do this?

Can it really do everything you say it will? How?

Will it truly solve my problem?

If the only reaction is silence, then your …

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If I can overcome my dog phobia, you can overcome your writing apprehension

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As a child, I was terrified of dogs. For me, encountering a beagle on a leash was like meeting a wolf in the wild. 

Big or small, curly-haired or sleek, unicoloured or brindled, dogs of any kind petrified me. Just meeting a dog on the street could take my breath away and give me nightmares for weeks.

I think this fear had something to do with a visit to a relative’s farm when I was nine or 10 years old. I entered the horse barn already nervous around dogs, and I came out feeling lucky to be al…

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