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What to Leave Out: Tips from a Writing Pro – a guest blog by Don Heymann

 

Welcome to First Thursday! On the first Thursday of each month, Corporate Speech Solutions features an expert who has a skill or expertise that will enhance your professional skill set. Today, we’re joined by Don Heymann, a veteran writer and communications consultant, who shares his expertise on writing. Sometimes what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say in professional communication. Read on and learn what to avoid in your speech and writing for clearer, more effective, communications.


It’s challenging enough to decide what to put into your written work, but good writing, or at least better writing, may be the result of what you leave out, according to one of the most experienced business writers – me.
Here are two useful tips:

Avoid modifers (adjectives/adverbs) as much as possible

It can be a struggle, but we should try to stop using modifiers like “very” or “really.” Choosing simple, bold words to describe actions and objects makes it easy for your audience to understand – and remember – what you’re saying, whether spoken or printed.

Examples:

  • “Famished” is much more descriptive than “very hungry.”
  • When she “stabs” a straw into her drink, we can see the action, but when she “quickly pokes” the straw into her drink, it’s not as sharp.
  • When he “meanders” or “strolls” down Fifth Avenue, it’s more accurate than merely “walking slowly.”

By using too many modifiers – and not reaching for a stronger verb or noun – we encourage readers (often subconsciously) to skim or skip passages. Words that don’t clearly convey meaning can erode interest. In fact, using simpler and clearer words builds trust.

Avoid weak words in presentations

You’ll find the same challenge – and solution – in your spoken presentations. Short, crisp descriptions and stories are essential for winning over an audience, especially today when people are so distracted. Certain weak words and phrases should be avoided, as well.

Examples:

  • A little bit.“I’d like to talk a little bit about . . .” This phrase waters down your content. “Let’s discuss the industry trends we need to consider.” Much stronger.
  • I just want to say. Compare “I just want to say that I think we face some problems” with “Listen! — Our backs are up against a wall about profit margins.” Is there any question, which is stronger?
  • Talk about.  “First, I’ll talk about our challenges. Then I’ll talk about our new strategy. Then, I’ll talk about our new marketing initiatives.” Rather than tell people what you’re going to talk about, just jump in! “Our challenges have been difficult, but we have worked hard to develop a new strategy and marketing initiatives that will help us succeed. Here’s how we did it…”
  • I know this slide is really busy. Here, you’re apologizing for making a PowerPoint slide incomprehensible! If a presenter can’t address everything on a slide, the slide IS too busy, and it needs to be broken up into more than one slide or at least presented with builds.
  • I’d like to start with a story.A story is one of the best ways to open a speech or presentation. But its effect is considerably weakened if you announce that you’re about to tell a story. It’s called “introducing the Introduction.” Just tell it! “When I was hiking in the Sahara, I learned an important life lesson…”
  • Moving right along . . .Saying this is a clear indication that you don’t know how to transition to your next point. A transition should be a logical guide to your audience about what’s coming next and how it relates to your key messages. “The challenges to the consumer products market are significant. But what caused them? Fundamental changes in our personal behaviors and our family life…”

Good writing is about making the best word choices you can, and it may take some extra thought. Whether you work for a corporation, a bank, an accounting firm or a marketing agency, the word choices you make can determine how effective you will be as a writer and presenter. Leaving out unnecessary or weak words will serve you well.


Don Heymann has been an independent writer and strategist for 30 years, with deep experience as a speechwriter and presentation content coach. Clients range from multinational corporations, like Pfizer, PepsiCo and GE, to leading non-profit, such as The Nature Conservancy, The Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Lupus Research Alliance. Don is also an adjunct instructor at NYU’s School of Professional Studies.

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