Business Writing … Tip the Scale in Your Favor … Write to Influence!
Guest post Carla D. Bass, Colonel, USAF (Ret) published by business2community.com
“Time is money”… especially in a competitive world. Imprecise communication wastes it and torpedoes opportunity. From a business perspective, trudging through correspondence filled with bureaucratic blather is time consuming, frustrating, and counterproductive. For the individual, you might be the most qualified candidate, but if the competition is better at presenting a case … you lose.
Conversely, powerful writing tips the balance between success and failure. It opens doors to opportunity – personal and professional – such as promotion, internship, and other selective career-broadening possibilities; grants; contract bids; award nominations; and other business applications. Need to provide input for your performance review? Yes, it applies here, too!
So, how does one write to influence? Simple! Master the principle of time and space: The reader’s attention is fleeting, measured in seconds and physical space is often restricted (e.g., word limits, above-the-fold on a web page, or demarcated areas on a form). The individual who best leverages time and space often wins. Mark Amtower, host of “Amtower off Center” on Federal News Network, nailed it with this podcast “Learning to Write – Brevity Wins!” … especially in career-related situations!
Strategies to Craft a Compelling Message:
1. Know your audience. This is the cardinal rule for communication. What is the audience’s familiarity with the subject—expert, novice, or somewhere in between? What do they need or expect from your message? What are their business values, goals, and objectives? Who are their customers? How does the audience define success in the context of their own missions? How does your message relate to them? What do you hope to gain from the audience?
2. Outline your message. This constitutes your roadmap enabling you to maximize time and space. The outline helps you strategize the content by identifying the opening premise and key points that lead to the conclusion. It also helps you cross-check the completed draft to ensure you addressed all intended points and didn’t stray off course with tangential information.
3. Make each word count. I refer to this as “Word Sculpting.” Review your completed draft sentence by sentence to purge useless words, words that hog space, redundancies, gibberish, and other forms of bureaucratic blather. Imprecise writing smothers your message and encumbers the reader, who may simply decide to disengage. Your goal – a concisely worded product that makes every second of the reader’s time play to your advantage.
4. Write with empathy. You’ve received cumbersome reports, email, and other communication. Strive not to inflict this type of writing on others. Ensure your product easy to read, understandable, and unambiguous. Today’s challenge – readers lack the time and patience to wade through your “long” business communique. You want them to listen? Compose so they will hear.
5. Include detail. Detail adds dimension, depth, and context; it provides the reader a mental yardstick to understand the significance of your message. “Named Employee of the Quarter” conveys greater significance when more fully stated as, “Named Employee of the Quarter from a 78-person staff, third time this year.”
6. Revise, edit, and proofread. Yes, you’ve heard this previously. However, I’m amazed by “final” products that didn’t benefit from these three, distinct steps. Failure here will lose the audience no matter how captivating your content. Therefore, complete the initial draft, then set it aside for a while. Return with a fresh perspective and ensure the draft:
- Is logical and fact-based, and flows smoothly from the opening to the conclusion
- Addresses all key points identified in the outline
- Is honed (purged of bureaucratic blather), error free (e.g., grammar, punctuation, and spelling), and meets stipulated requirements for length and format
Powerful Writing Correlates to Success
Employers diligently seek individuals who can write with focused precision. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Extend your influence – Win contract bids or expand alliances with other organizations to leverage their connections, assets, and influence in a common cause. Persuade others to join your endeavor
2. Defend your castle – Resources are tight … make the case to preclude cuts and retain your assets
3. Expand your empire – No one deserves additional resources for new business more than you … make that case
4. Attract talented employees – Pitch your organization in terms appealing to coveted applicants
5. Retain and develop in-house talent – Compose powerful, effective appraisals to advance careers of deserving people
6. Compete in award programs – Win accolades and other recognition for your company and people
7. Leverage good news – Trumpet achievements via articles, blogs, press releases, newsletters, and other marketing materials, etc.
8. Defend the boss’ signature and reputation – Only quality products should bear his/her name. This applies to defending your own good name, too.
9. Brief the boss or other executives – Seconds and words count – Your reputation and project are on the line
10. Work the occasional miracle – “They” say, “It can’t be done.” Prove them wrong!
Powerful Writing Changes Lives!
That is my battle cry! Your words can tip the balance between success and failure. I once transformed a 480-person Air Force unit from the most losing in state-wide, professional quarterly and annual awards … into the one to beat. How? I developed my writing methodology and taught them to compose winning nominations.
Writing skills are integral to successful careers, especially those in scientific, engineering, and other specialized fields. Why? Decisions to fund programs are often made by individuals of varied expertise: administration, civil service, a related industry, or a general science background. For that reason, the proponent must present a clear, concise, and compelling proposal in terms that resonate with all decision makers.
Writing powerfully is a life skill – plain and simple – applicable to high school seniors facing the college application essay through professionals ensconced in the workplace. Leveraging the power of your own written word really does open doors to opportunity.
My call to action? You spent years (and significant funds) developing expertise in your chosen specialty. Invest a small fraction of that time to strengthen your writing skills and become more competitive in that area! Oh, the opportunities that await!
About the Author:
Carla D Bass, Colonel, USAF (Retired), authored the award-winning book … “Write to Influence!” … and now gives engaging, interactive workshops tailored for professionals in the workforce to students from high school through graduate school. During her 30-year career, she taught professional writing to thousands of people – to rave reviews.