Tag Archives: Writing

Stop Being Interesting!

21 Nov

I’ve developed an extreme dislike for the word “interesting”.  It’s the word that leads off the dullest blog posts, and the most auto-pilot link sharing on Twitter.  Everything’s an ‘interesting take…interesting read…interesting article…interesting meeting…interesting link…’ Interesting isn’t it? Not really.

If it were truly of interest, couldn’t we find a better word, like “Intriguing”, “Fascinating”, “Spellbinding”, “Educational”, “Enlightening”, “Hilarious”, “Gut-busting”, “Wrong-headed”, “Spot-on”…need I go on?

Better yet, doesn’t the fact that you posted it presume that you found something of interest in it? That you thought we, your audience, would react to it? If so, could you not  simply describe it, and let your audience decide if it’s interesting?

The good writing principle is “Show, Don’t Tell.” Calling something “interesting” should live in the category of phrases where, “if you have to say it, it’s probably not.”

A breakfast story about professionalism, parenting and keeping an open mind

8 Apr

I woke with dry, teary eyes and greeted the morning pollen dust with elephantine sneezes.  It was the first day back to school for the kids after the long break.   Time to make the lunches.  I cream-cheese and bag two bagels, and add two apple sauces for kids one and three, then pack up a yogurt and grapes for kid two, who doesn’t like bread in his lunch.  I poured three bowls of cereal, and, satisfied, rub my eyes.

Kid three, running late, on his way down the stairs, is hoping there’s a bagel for his breakfast. No, say I, there’s a bagel in your lunch.  How about some cereal for breakfast?  No, says he, how ’bout we “exchange” the bagel in lunch for something else.  My wife says to give him the bagel. I whine, feeling beset on all sides, emotional momentum halted on the way to the shower: “But I was DONE!”

Being “done” is a relative thing. Early in my public relations agency career I was in charge of assembling 50 press kits — a blizzard of paper to be stuffed into folders and shipped to a trade show in Hannover, Germany.  Or was it “Hanover”?  A good hour of angst led to the conclusion that while there are multiple acceptable ways to refer to the city in northern Germany, the datelines on the press releases were  wrong. Holding a standard of professionalism against the noble sacrifice of the trees, I tossed the the press kit and reprinted every page, forever proud that I did right by the client, my own standards and those of my agency.

This morning, we gave kid three his bagel and cleverly repackaged his cereal as “lunch”.  And it struck me that I should make myself some breakfast, a big cup of coffee and an allergy pill, and face the day with a little more of an open mind.

Which communications matter most?

7 Apr

Do some communications matter more than others?  Well…yes.

There’s the big speech by the CEO to the industry group that positions you as a leader.

The message to employees that cutbacks are coming, but we need to continue to focus on the mission.

The blog series explaining your position on emerging industry standards.

The news release that expresses how this technology will change the market.

The employee magazine article on the new line of business…that has to inspire without disheartening those that work on the old stuff.

The customer letter announcing elimination of support for discontinued SKUs.

The whitepaper for the technology crowd.

The email to the disgruntled customer.

The conversations with reporter and bloggers on your latest news.

The online app that you hope goes viral.

The response to the Twitter user who wonders why no one is picking up your phones.

The quarterly earnings report.

The answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

The invitation to join a user group.

The letter that closes a plant, or cuts back on the health plan.

The words that guide and inspire visitors to the new website.

The email to the latest potential “whale” of a prospect.

The product ad.

The investor presentation on your startup as the ‘next big thing’.

The analyst interview.

The how-to tips for the weekly podcast.

The copy on the packaging…

Maybe a better question would be, “Which communications don’t matter?”

Happy New Years Ago

31 Dec

Let us leave 2009 with the wisdom of some folks steeped in the new media of their own times.

On the need for great writing:

“The newest computer can merely compound, at speed, the oldest problem in the relations between human beings, and in the end the communicator will be confronted with the old problem, of what to say and how to say it.”

– Edward R. Murrow, in 1964

On the need to invest in ‘how to say it’:

If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

– Woodrow Wilson, 1856-1924

On the need for measurement…and listening:

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.

George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950

Looking forward to accomplishing communications with you next year!

Great Writing Isn’t Always Less Writing

8 Dec

Even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline. And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

This month, I’m curling up with the kids many evenings to read Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows.  The story opens with the Mole in his dark hole thinking that it’s about time he ventures out into the wide world. So he digs his way to the surface, rubs his eyes, and sets off for adventure, soon meeting a true friend in the Water Rat and becoming our window to seeing the beauty of nature and friendship and, well, life with new eyes.

We’re just three chapters in and it’s clear that this is not a book for those whose attention span lives in 140 character bursts.  Here, a passage from chapter three, about the stories of spring and summer the animals told each other to forget, for a while, winter’s chill:

“Such a rich chapter it had been, when one came to look back on it all! With illustrations so numerous and so very highly coloured! The pageant of the river bank had marched steadily along, unfolding itself in scene-pictures that succeeded each other in stately procession. Purple loosestrife arrived early, shaking luxuriant tangled locks along the edge of the mirror whence its own face laughed back at it. Willow-herb, tender and wistful, like a pink sunset cloud, was not slow to follow. Comfrey, the purple hand-in-hand with the white, crept forth to take its place in the line; and at last one morning the diffident and delaying dog-rose stepped delicately on the stage, and one knew, as if string-music had announced it in stately chords that strayed into a gavotte, that June at last was here. One member of the company was still awaited; the shepherd-boy for the nymphs to woo, the knight for whom the ladies waited at the window, the prince that was to kiss the sleeping summer back to life and love. But when meadow-sweet, debonair and odorous in amber jerkin, moved graciously to his place in the group, then the play was ready to begin.”

I don’t know these flowers and trees and herbs, but I can’t help but to be moved by the pictures Grahame paints of each blossom marking days of spring and summer like acts in a play or floats in a parade.  That’s what I love about this book – it takes the time we need to be transported into this lovely world in the English countryside.

We all know that business writing doesn’t have this kind of time.  But reading Grahame reminds me that even in our do-more-with-less, 24-hour business life, that there are some stories need space to be told, and some audiences that seek more depth than a headline.

And when stories are well told, they’ll find one another.

Storytelling, Corporate Communications and Brand

16 Jul

There’s a funny dynamic in my business these days. I’m starting to see it as a push and pull between my business as “communications consulting” and “writing”.

In my mind, I’ve always seen it as the same thing. A consultant is inherently a communicator — a writer — who must advocate his own ideas, analysis and strategy, and outfit the client do the same.

And a writer is a consultant. To do more than skim the surface of business story, you need to bring more than simply curiosity and a way with words.  You need an ability to recognize both what makes a good story, and what that story has to do for the organization — the goals the story has to support for the organization to be successful.

There’s a reason that I (and others) use ‘storytelling’ to describe the heart my business.  First, I like the word. It evokes something basic and simple that hearkens back to childhood – sitting in the circle listening to lessons and fables and stories of enchanted kingdoms and plucky young Jacks and princes and foxes and rabbits.  And storytelling perfectly encapsulates the art and action of communications – the creation of ‘story’ – or message or brand – and the ‘telling’ of it – the strategic and pragmatic task of finding people who want to hear a story and pass it on to their friends.

On the other hand, these days we like to say that brands don’t “tell” their audience anything – they have conversations. They listen and they communicate and they respond and they act.

Sure. But a brand isn’t simply the creation of the crowd, or even its customers.

And have you ever heard a good storyteller? I mean a really good one. The kind that holds the rapt attention of a gaggle of unruly kids? The kind that hears the unscripted shout from kid in the the back with glasses and the attitude and makes him part of the narrative? The sort that listens to the beat of story as it is spoken and can quickly take up new rhythms from the night and the audience as inspiration and slip them into the story as casual as you would in your backyard lawn chair over lemonade and beer?

That’s the dynamic I see in corporate communications and marketing today: You want to create a space where you can sit in the center of the circle with the people inside and outside the organization who make it go.  Telling, asserting, advocating — expressing your vision – and listening, adapting, and moving.  And setting them free to tell the story to their circles – letting it grow stronger in each retelling.

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