Writers could learn a lot about being effective from great public speakers

“You do not have to explain every single drop of water contained in a rain barrel. You have to explain one drop—H2O. The reader will get it.”
—George Singleton

Concise writing is an art. Hopefully someday, marketers, advertisers and copy writers will all converge on this ideal. It starts, but then we get drawn back to the ‘proven research’ that long copy sells better by getting the reader to invest so heavily before the price or punch line is revealed, they’re more inclined to buy. Hence the ten page direct mail pieces and more recently, the electronic sales pitches (with obnoxious font choices, tons of headlines, pages of horrid drivel and red ink throughout). What they don’t tell you is a 1-3% conversation rate is considered a resounding success. Most of us can’t afford to play with such dismal numbers – let alone alienate so many along the way.

Write to sell

Those who aspire to be great writers should take lessons from compelling public speakers. Photo courtesy of uncledave981 via Flickr.

If you’re writing, you’re selling. Whether it’s personal outreach, promotional copy for a client product or service, encouraging others to support a charity cause or creative prose you put out there for others to enjoy, what you say and the way you say it will cause people to read or leave. Learning to make your message tight takes time. So does the editing process to make it so.

Not surprisingly, new writers tend to believe more words make a better product. In school, we struggle to add content to meet a word count for term papers and other writing assignments rather than focus on paring down to improve and polish. Magazines tend to pay more for longer articles (if real talent and time was being measured, the shorter ones that express the same points should be paid the premium price). It’s a lot easier (and faster) to scribe an e-mail, article, letter or other missive that’s stream of consciousness vs. reviewed and enhanced through careful consideration for the reader’s experience. Speakers often get paid more for longer presentations (the best ones I’ve witnessed are less than 20 minutes).

Great public speakers are artful writers – and researchers

I was wowed in 1999 when I witnessed Bill Bradley in a live presentation. I’ve never seen a better speaker prior or since. He presented at the University of Rochester to a college student, staff and alumni crowd. Presidential candidate Bradley took the time to get to know his audience prior to crafting his words and presented a speech that was so informed, humble and engaging he made every attendee feel he was speaking to them – all while telling stories and personal history challenges that left everyone in the audience feeling like this was a guy you’d want to call friend. This was accomplished in about 15 minutes. The lessons I learned from witnessing this masterful public speaker have stayed with me ever since – not only from a public speaking standpoint, but a writing one too.

Great speakers who can win you over in moments provide a super model for writers to mimic. Keep it short. Make it personal. Be real. Know your audience and craft comments that demonstrate you identify with them. Use stories relevant to your audience issues and perspectives to illustrate your points. Research and edit to show you relate to your reader and respect their time by keeping it tight.

4 responses to “Writers could learn a lot about being effective from great public speakers”

      • Hey, Nanette I retired from 20 years of cointmmcauions work, and I’d like to reframe what Facebook is in a way that you might find more appealing. While some folks do write about mundane things, I think you’ll find that most especially the business related sites do not. Think of it this way. If you want your horse’s attention you choose to interact with him specifically. You don’t go on and on about it, just give a cue and give him space for the results.Facebook works that way with people. It is NOT designed to be passive, however. It is designed to facilitate interactions among people. It is admittedly often used randomly, but it can be set up to provide a story arc, ideally with daily posts of some sort. Your opportunity for interaction comes as people comment or ask questions or post their own pictures.The story arc notion can be very simple. Ask yourself what would I like to have happen as a result of people repeatedly visiting my Facebook site. Would that be signing up for your newsletter? Doing more research on horse care? Sharing their own information? Come back to the site? Recommend your work?Whatever that is, the types of posts you put up can simultaneously provide enticing information and encourage the behavior you want just like horse training. So if you think of it that way, it will be easier and at least a bit more fun!You might think about recurring posts a weekly cartoon, for example. (My brother is a firefighter who does fire prevention presentations using cartoons he also did a poster for fire safety (or emergency safety) at your barn that was just wonderful. If you and three other people consistently supplied microfeatures of this sort (think a horse photo contest editor, a horse trails review person, a barnsmanship feature, or whatever), you’d have a very active site that (with a bit of additional FREE cross promotion could make your newsletter pretty glitzy!)Tuners, White Horse and I wish you the best of good luck!

  1. […] Interestingly, one of the best public speakers I’ve ever seen was Bill Bradley (he was running for President of the United States at the time). This guy was so personable, humble and prepared, I was awestruck. This was an event at a local university with about 5000 attendees comprised primarily of students, alumni and staff. Not your typical massive, star-studded audience. He took the time (unlike most of the other big-name speakers at this four-day event) to uncover some facts about the college and the accomplishments of those connected with it to incorporate into his speech. Wow! How important that made every person in the audience feel. I wrote a bit about it in this blog post. […]

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