K.I.S.S.: Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Look right and read “IN THE NEWS.”
I’ll wait for you.
What was hotshot federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald thinking? In December 2008 he crowed that Blago was nabbed “in the middle of what we can only describe as a public corruption crime spree. The conduct would make Lincoln roll over in his grave.” For the prosecution, it should have been a slam-dunk conviction of charges that included bribery, extortion, racketeering, conspiracy and lying under oath.
The verdict: guilty of one count out of 24.
A Failure of Salesmanship
Fitzgerald’s team spent months untangling evidence and apparently bollixed it up into an incomprehensible mess. The whole sordid saga may have been perfectly clear to the prosecutors, but they failed miserably when selling it to a jury made up of non-lawyers.
We Are All Authors
Whether creating a letter, memo, e-mail, legal brief, special report, proposal, press release, advertisement, article for publication or a full-blown book, we are all authors.
And being an author means being a salesman.
“What do you do?” a guy at a cocktail party was asked.
I’m a brain surgeon,” was the reply. “What do you do?”
I’m a writer.”
"Ah,” said the brain surgeon. “I’ve often thought that when I retire I’d like to try some writing.”
And when I retire,” said the writer, “I’m going to try a little brain surgery.”
'Life Is One Long Sales Pitch'
“In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create,” wrote advertising legend David Ogilvy. “Management cannot be expected to recognize a good idea unless it is presented to them by a good salesman.”
When words are committed to paper or to a computer screen and are meant for others―like it or not―we are selling.
What’s being sold is not insurance, computer supplies, jewelry, automobiles or trips to exotic lands.
Instead we are selling the reader on continuing on to the next word, next sentence, next paragraph and next page, all the way to the end.
I am personally terrified of boring or confusing my readers. When writers go off-message, self-indulgently show off with florid words that need looking up, employ horrendously long sentences and indecipherable syntax (the kind of crap found frequently in academia), they have no respect for the reader’s time.
This is especially true on the Internet, where the writer’s message is one mouse click away from oblivion.
I invite you to feel the disgust of the UK’s greatest living direct marketer, Drayton Bird, long-time associate of David Ogilvy:
So I read about a seminar in “power talking” and “communication skills” with great interest―especially when it said that 80% of people fail at work because they don’t “relate well” to other people ...“a clear case of failed communication.”
Well, the seminar was cheap, the course leader is practically a genius―“multi skilled as an Occupational Psychologist, Executive Mentor, Presenter and Counsellor”―and the subject is highly relevant.
But the copy put me off. As far as I or anyone else who cares for the English language might be concerned it was indeed a case of failed communication. It had more clichés and jargon in it than a politician’s speech.
I was promised “user-friendly, high-level skills” and “solution-focused communication techniques.” There was obsessive use of expressions based on the word “impact”―“impacts on,” “impactful,” “high-impact” and “positive impact.” And naturally that shop-soiled word "engage" popped up (why not "intrigue" or "interest"?)
If that's how people who teach communication write, it explains a lot of the mindless tripe we all have to plough though―in documents, on the Internet, in meetings: everywhere.
Every day you are trying to get colleagues, bosses, customers―maybe family―to do what you want. Whether you like it or not, life is one long sales pitch―and most of that selling is done in writing.