Organize Your Business Writing or Presentation with a Strategy You Can Count On

April 6, 2008

Have you ever had the task of engaging people with differing needs in the same message?  Do you wonder how to address executives and technical specialists with the same message?  Here’s a strategy you can count on.

At first, provide the material as an overview.  In presentations, use a short description, perhaps illustrated by an uncluttered slide.  In documents, discipline yourself to provide an executive summary (even if there are no executives involved).   Make this overview both concise and complete, so that if a person receives only this piece, it will provide the essential information or argument.

Follow the overview with a deeper layer.  Use the skeleton of the overview, but add supporting explanations, examples, flow charts, or statistics, as needed.  In a document, this layer follows the executive summary. In a presentation, this layer is the heart of your message. 

When finished with the second layer, summarize the skeleton of the overview.  Reiterate the importance of the information or the action you request.  End with power and action.

As take-away material, provide a detailed handout, an appendix, or a link to in-depth content a skeptic or a technical specialist will require.

This strategy allows the listener or reader to grasp key concepts quickly and to process supporting material with the bigger picture in mind.  It allows the receiver to make an initial judgment about the priority or feasibility of your information.  It provides the detail needed, but allows the receiver to access that material on his or her own terms.

Use this strategy to shape your next message.  You’ll engage the executives, technical specialists, and the folks in between.

© 2008 by Bonnie Budzowski, InCredible Messages, LP

I invite you to download a free “before and after” of a persuasive business document at http://www.inCredibleMessages.com . You’ll find lots of free articles on powerful presentations as well.

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Need Concise Business Writing? Consult Your Suitcase

February 5, 2008

“How can I write concisely?”  This is one of the top questions people ask me about business letters and business writing.  In one of my recent business writing workshops, a participant shared an analogy that provides a good answer.

Lee Casher told us about a rule her daughter learned when packing for a trip overseas.  Lee’s daughter was traveling with a group to Israel, where she would have to carry her own luggage. In the instructions for packing, group members were told the following, “Pack your suitcase with the things you think you will need.  Then unpack the suitcase and remove 1/3 of the items from the suitcase.  At that point, you’ll have just the right amount.  People always pack more than they need.”

This rule holds true for business writing.  When we first put down our thoughts, we use extra words and even extra sentences—because we are still formulating what we want to say.  If we go back and review what we’ve written from the reader’s perspective, we can easily remove 1/3 of what we’ve written, making the writing more concise and more focused. 

Believe it or not, I’ve tested this rule over a long period of time, with many writers.  Years ago, I read a book called Revising Prose by Richard Lanham.  Lanham maintains that almost all writing has a 30% “lard factor” that he can easily revise out.  This seemed like a challenge to me, so I gave it a try.  I found I can routinely reduce my own word count by 30%.  I can often cut an even higher percentage in other people’s writing.

The suitcase rule works.  One nice feature is that this process allows you to “dump” your thoughts or make a quick and sloppy first draft of a business letter or e-mail.  Professional writers know it’s more efficient to write a quick first draft and then revise it than to try to write concisely the first time, before you are even sure exactly what you want to say.

Try the suitcase rule with your next e-mail or letter—pack, unpack, and discard one third.  It really works!