In a Crisis, Use the Language of Empathy, Not Legalese


Holding Hands

If your corporate policy is inflexible, cushion it with compassion.

In March, the federal government announced unprecedented news: It would give every American a stimulus payment of up to $1,200. Yet the check came with a catch: If you opted to have the money deposited into your bank account and your account is overdrawn, then your bank might keep part, or even all, of the payment to make up for your negative balance.

Leave aside, for the moment, whether this action is right or wrong. Instead, consider the diametrically different statements from two of the banks:

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Phone Calls Are a Crucible. Here’s How Not to Get Burned


How I learned to stop worrying and love phone calls.

Early in my career, I hated phone calls. They were time-consuming and inefficient. Why can’t you just email me, I’d often wonder?

My aversion was so acute that not only did I exclude my phone number from my email signature; I also recorded a message for my voice mail that said something like this: “I rarely check these messages; please email me.”

In short, I viewed Alexander Graham Bell’s invention as an unnecessary evil.

Today, I know better. I know the phone is not a burden but an opportunity. I recognize that for a relationship to thrive, you must do more than swap written words; you need to hear the other person’s voice.

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1 Simple Trick to Make Your Résumé Extraordinary


Transform your activities into achievements.

If you’re reading this, then I’m willing to wager that you have a résumé. Yet I’m also willing to wager that you’re making a critical mistake on this critical document. In short, I suspect that some of your bullet points cite activities rather than achievements.

That’s understandable. Achievements are tough to articulate, let alone accomplish. Yet if you want your résumé to stand out, then you absolutely need them. Specifically, you need to transform your day-to-day responsibilities into distinctive results.

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How Your Work Looks Can Be As Important As What It Says


The best writers are also designers.

As many of you know, I teach business writing at the University of Maryland. The first presentation I deliver each semester is short and simple; the whole deck is 11 slides.

What can I convey in such limited space? It’s a mantra I repeat throughout the course, which I suspect that most of my students can recall well afterward: How your work looks can be as important as what it says.

In other words: To excel at writing, you need to master both form and function, both style and substance. You need to think visually.

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Want to Close More Clients? Then You Need to Do This


Listen!

Always have a conversation before you provide your price.

Recently, a prospective client emailed me. The subject line of her message said it all: “Need a Media Trainer.”

As someone who delivers media-training workshops, I was delighted. So we scheduled a call.

Ten minutes into the conversation, however, it turned out that she didn’t want a workshop on how to talk with reporters. She wanted a workshop on how to talk with an audience. In other words, she wanted a presentation trainer.

To her, the difference was a mere nuance. To me, these were two entirely different topics. Sure, they were related and there was some overlap, but only in the same way that Fiat and Ferrari are both cars.

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Why You Should Always Write 2 Headlines


Don't Write for the Insider

One for human beings and laymen; the other for search engines and insiders.

One of the greatest daily struggles faced by every professional, in every field, is to resist the allure of argot. That is, we think it’s easier and quicker to use jargon than it is to spell out and explain what a familiar word means.

This idea is hard to argue with, especially when we’re writing for people who are as knowledgeable about the given topic as we are. Yet even in those esoteric cases, it’s often better to use plain language.

This principle is particularly important when it comes to headlines, or titles. In general, your headline should speak to the public; you want to avoid insiderism. Let me explain by way of an article from last week’s Time magazine.

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Most Ghostwriters Don’t Ask Their Clients This Question Until It’s Too Late


Every writer must also be a businessman. Here’s a simple trick to sharpen your savvy.

Seasoned ghostwriters know a secret: Writing is the easy part. It’s everything else — from researching to revising — which consumes most of our time.

And yet, the one thing that would dramatically reduce our labor is the one thing we’re often reluctant to do. Lest we be perceived as overly inquisitive or insufficiently independent, we hesitate to ask a critical question upfront: “How many people will need to approve this text”?

These nine simple words matter for one simple reason: The more people you need to please, the more your writing will become a game of Whac-a-Mole.

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4 Hard Truths Every Aspiring Freelancer Needs to Hear


Working From Home

Most freelancers fail. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.

For a freelancer, time is money, so let me be frank: Freelancing is tough.

It’s tough from a financial perspective: You’re always hustling, and you eat only what you kill.

It’s tough from a psychological perspective: You don’t get a paycheck every two weeks, nor do you get to socialize with colleagues in an office.

And it’s tough from a productivity perspective: You have to be maximally disciplined and organized without a boss holding you accountable.

Don’t get me wrong — working for yourself can be deeply fulfilling. But before you try to realize your long-deferred dream, ask yourself if any of these constraints is a deal-breaker?

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