President Obama rarely speaks to an audience.
I’m not saying he doesn’t give many speeches. He does. Many, many speeches. Perhaps more than any president in US history. So what do I mean?
Watch him speak. These days (he did this much less while running for president), Obama keeps his gaze up during much of his speeches, as though he were talking to the stars — not to his audience. Sometimes I wonder where those teleprompters are. Built into the ceiling panels? And who’s he supposed to be talking to? The people in the auditorium with him? Astronauts working on the space station?
When you don’t make eye contact with your audience, it’s very hard to connect with them. In fact, you can’t do it.
Of course, Obama is president of the United States. He doesn’t have to care anymore.
But you’re not president. And I’m guessing that any public talk you have to give is more important to you than yet another fundraising speech is to Obama.
It’s a good idea to keep this in mind anytime you have to give a public talk of any kind — even simply standing up to share your department’s update at a staff meeting. Make eye contact. Let your gaze move around the room and spend a few seconds connecting with each person in your audience.
Speaking publicly is scary, no question. Which is why so many of us hide. That’s what we’re doing when we look down at our notes, or at the PowerPoint slide on the screen, or at some spot on the wall above our audience’s heads — anywhere but into the eyes of the people we’re supposed to be talking to.
If you don’t make eye contact with your audience — lots of it — you can’t give a good speech.
Donald Trump is still publicly suggesting he might run for president, claiming as one of his key qualifications that he cares about creating jobs. Isn’t this the same guy who tried to trademark the phrase, “You’re Fired!”?
It’s odd-language-factoid time…
A 2006 study by the folks at the Oxford English Dictionary concluded that “time” is the most commonly used noun in the English language.
Wow: 2006 was six years ago. Time flies.
Probably not, assuming you’re not deliberately pretending you wrote a passage that you’ve in fact stolen from another writer.
If you refer in your own writing to another author’s work to support a point or illustrate an example, and you properly cite that source (at minimum: author and book/essay/article title), you’ll be fine.
For example, always-insightful author Seth Godin tell us, in his recent blog post “Simple thoughts about fair use,” that you can quote hundreds of words from a book without having to obtain permission from the author or publisher. All you need to do is credit the source…. “According to David Ogilvy, in his great book Confessions of an Advertising Man….” That should do the trick.
For a very good definition of plagiarism, copyright law and related topics, visit plagiarism.org.
A common failure in our writing is that what we write is too abstract.
Know what I mean? Of course not. How could you? I’m being too abstract.
Let me give you an example.
Say you’re describing gravity, and you write, “The gravitational force between two objects in space obeys the inverse square law.” Huh? That statement is accurate but it doesn’t tell your readers anything because it’s not clear, not concrete. The best your readers can do is remember it — but you haven’t given them the tools to understand it.
So, what tools can you give your readers to help them understand new concepts? Examples.
The gravitational force between two objects in space obeys the inverse square law. For example, if you have two planets near each other, and you double their distance, the gravity remaining between them will be only 1/4 as strong as it was. Quadruple their distance, and their gravitational force will now be only 1/16 its original strength.
Whenever you introduce a new concept, especially one that’s even slightly abstract or technical or otherwise difficult to understand in concrete terms by itself, give examples.
Your writing will be much clearer, and your readers will be grateful.
You’re never done exercising, not permanently. You finish your workout, you go home, and tomorrow, repeat. Forever. No matter how fit you get, you’ll never stand up after a set of sit-ups and think, “Phew. Done with that. Finally, I’m in shape for the rest of my life.”
Writing is like that.
No matter how many documents you write, how many years you spend (professionally or on your own time) practicing, improving your craft, you can always make yourself a better writer.
That’s why the people most likely to buy books on writing… read magazine articles about writing… attend writing workshops… are talented, successful writers. They know better than anyone that there’s always something else to learn, some insight they might find to make them better writers.
So keep writing, and never stop working on your craft (or doing sit-ups).
Your speech or presentation is about your audience, not you.
Your document/memo/report/letter/blog post/email message is about your reader, not you.
Your news release/advertisement/press conference/radio interview is about your constituents, not your organization.
Focus on that single idea as you craft and deliver your communication (Is my audience getting something valuable out of this?) and almost everything else will fall nicely into place.
If you’re working as a freelance copywriter, here’s how I’d suggest you think about each of your client companies:
Everyone at the company is the CEO, and every writing assignment you take on is your first for that client.
Say you’re working as an outside freelance copywriter for a large company’s marketing team. One day you get a call from someone in the customer service department. She got your name from the marketing manager, who says you’re a great writer and easy to work with. Can you help her draft a short phone script for the customer service reps?
An inexperienced writer thinks: This project is a waste of time. It’ll probably take me less than an hour, so it won’t be worth more than a few bucks. Plus, I probably won’t ever speak to this customer service manager again. And besides, I’ve got other, more important work to do for this client (my real contacts in the marketing department). I’ll just dash something off in a hurry — doesn’t need to be perfect.
Your reputation as a freelance copywriter within this company — which will affect how much work they give you, and for how long they keep you around — could depend on what any employee in the company thinks and says about you. If your marketing department contacts all like working with you, but then the customer service manager tells them you didn’t take her project seriously or turned in shoddy work, that might make marketing re-evaluate you.
The lesson: Treat every person in your client’s company whom you do any work for as a copywriting critic, who’s going to write a “review” of your performance the next day in the company’s newsletter for everyone to read. Might never happen that way. But why risk it?
(And hey, be glad they think enough of you to recommend your services to their co-workers!)
If you value your clients… and want to continue doing good work for them… you’ll treat every assignment, from anyone in the company, as the great opportunity it is. That’s how copywriters become indispensable.
Don’t wait for an epiphany before you begin the work (whatever the work is). Just start.
Most of our best insights come after we’ve begun a project, gotten busy with the boring and unglamorous tasks like research, rehearsal, brainstorming, creating lists, making outlines.
Waiting for an epiphany is really a way to stall.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Strike first.
It wasn’t until I had written about 50 press releases that I became confident I knew how to write those things. Same with writing and publishing magazine articles (not until at least my 30th), PowerPoint presentations (it took dozens), web pages (hundreds) and on and on.
Whenever you gear up for something new, especially something that’s going to be difficult, like learning a new skill, you need to be honest with yourself about how much time, energy, stress, failure and frustration will be a necessary part of becoming good — let alone an expert — at it. And then you need to honestly assess whether or not you think it’ll be worth it.
It’s easy to get temporarily enthusiastic about a new venture. “I’ll spend the weekend learning HTML and how to build a blog and how to put a shopping cart on a website and how to record a video presentation with my computer…. Then I’ll create some video training programs and sell them online!” That’s why so many of us abandon projects just after we start them. After we’ve gotten a few hours (or days, or weeks) into them, it finally hits us: Oh, that’s what commitment to this project is going to mean. Thanks anyway!
I’ve heard that it takes about 1,000 hours of committed, hard work to become competent at a difficult skill (like public speaking, for example). About 5,000 hours to become great at it. (Figure you have about 2,000 hours in a year, if you’re putting in 40 hours a week.) A similar timeframe commitment is probably true of building a successful business.
So, are you really committed to that new thing?