35 Writing and Speaking Tips From Capitol Hill’s Best
We do it every day as communicators, marketers and PR pros. We write emails, press releases, pitches, blog posts, briefs, social media posts and IMs.
Before, during or after writing, we’re speaking to our colleagues, to our bosses, to industry peers, to clients and to prospects. Being able to communicate ideas clearly and effectively is the number one skill professionals in the industry need to have!
But, the age of the Internet and tech may be making it harder for some: do I write in AP style? Is it okay to abbreviate this? Am I being too wordy?
Planning a Speech
1) Tell a story that has a beginning, middle and end, relatable characters and momentum.
We’re hearing daily that storytelling is the new marketing. Use storytelling techniques to captivate your audience and keep their attention.
2) Make an argument that’s filled with consequences, opponents and the element of surprise.
Debates get people more involved in conversation, especially on the web.
3) Have an answer to “so what?”
If you don’t answer the “so what?” you won’t get people to read or care, let alone come back.
4) Look for a big metaphor.
met·a·phor [met–uh-fawr, -fer] (noun) A figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.
Ex: Marketing is like dating. Don’t talk all about yourself on the first date (or any date, ever).
5) Beg, borrow and steal (with credit, of course).
Creating new content can be hard. Borrow and curate from other intelligent resources, but always give attribution.
Writing Your First Draft
6) Don’t start writing until you’re ready.
Forcing the writing process without inspiration or an end goal will result in wasted time and, ultimately, crap.
7) Talk about benefits, not features to answer the “so what?” question.
Make an argument instead of rattling off a description to better illustrate the benefits. Put people at the center of your story, instead of meaningless numbers.
8) Reward knowledge without punishing ignorance.
Don’t be a know-it-all. The Internet has enough trolls!
9) Always park on the downhill.
Think about the momentum of a conversation or piece of copy before you stop writing it. Be sure you’re addressed everything you need to address to avoid more work in FAQs later.
10) Kill your babies.
We all have them (not real life-babies): that one idea that we think is brilliant, genius, the one. In the famous words of Mark Cuban on Shark Tank, “you have an idea, not a business” – so be sure to look at your initiatives objectively and have others give feedback before you devote time, energy and resources.
11) Only quote if you can’t beat the words or the speaker’s credibility.
12) Being funny is not equal to telling jokes.
Humor is great in writing and in speech, but only if it’s really funny or resonates with the audience. Avoid awkward crickets by testing your funnies on others first.
The Six Rules of Grammar
13) Sentences = subjects and verbs and then maybe other stuff.
14) Active voice > passive voice.
Active voice: “I love marketing.”
Passive voice: “Marketing is loved by me.” ß Ew.
15) Don’t dangle modifiers.
Wrong: “Hoping to garner favor, my prospect was sadly unimpressed by the gift.”
Right: “Hoping to garner favor, I bought my prospect a gift that sadly unimpressed them.”
16) A better noun > adjective.
17) A better verb > adverb.
18) Grammar rules aren’t laws, they’re recipes.
Editing: Where Actual Writing Happens
19) The most important key = DELETE
Just because you’ve already included something in copy doesn’t mean that it’s great. The delete key is often your best friend.
20) 130 words = 1 minute
When timing a presentation or speech, 130 words will equal about one minute.
21) Any paragraph that you start with “By the way…” is probably one you don’t need.
22) Three is enough, four is too many.
When giving examples or a case study, stick with three to avoid run-ons.
23) Read with ears, not just eyes.
Reading copy out loud helps you catch errors that eyes gloss over.
24) Absence makes the edit stronger.
If you’re feeling stuck, quit writing for a few and do something else – coming back to a piece of content with a fresh mind will help you get through it.
25) Have someone read it to you.
Even though reading a piece of content out loud yourself can help, it’s still susceptible to errors. Have someone else read it to you.
Preparing for Delivery
26) Pronouncers for proper nouns.
It happens – we mispronounce things when speaking aloud or running through things quickly. Write out the pronunciation of difficult words so you say them properly when delivering.
27) Markings for emphasis.
Using *stars*, bold or italic helps you remember where to give a little emphasis in a presentation.
28) No orphaned paragraphs.
This lends itself to number 19: If you find content that’s simply in there because you wrote it and don’t want to throw it out, you need to delete it! Not doing so risks losing continuity or structure in your copy.
29) Waste the bottom 1/3 page.
30) Make a “set list” on cards.
A set list is an outline of songs or acts a performer does in order. Make a set list of topics to keep your presentation in order.
31) Where to look.
Distribute your eye contact across the entire audience. Up front, way in the back, and left to right.
32) Pick one person per section to make eye contact with.
33) Don’t strangle the podium.
34) Slow down, pause more.
Pace is important when making a presentation or speech. Slowing down allows people to understand you easier, and pausing allows people to have a thought about your last sentence and break the monotony of a talk.
The Single Most Important Thing to Remember
35) Believe what you’re saying and the audience will too.
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