Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day 3 – Wordsmith Wednesday

For 2009 I encourage you to join the legion of followers who partake in a little something I invented called Wordsmith Wednesday.

The reason I invented Wordsmith Wednesday is twofold. First, I hate jargon and there is way too much jargon in organizational communications these days, whether you are with a corporation, government agency or non-profit. Writing with organizational jargon is sometimes easier and faster than writing in a way that the rest of the world can understand. So the first purpose of Wordsmith Wednesday is for you to set time aside to write well and to re-write much of the crap that currently passes for communications.

Secondly, because most organizations have a calendar system that allows co-workers to invite you to meetings, your calendar is constantly filled with unproductive meetings that keep you from getting your work done. Wordsmith Wednesday allows you to mark your calendar to reserve every Wednesday afternoon from noon until 5 p.m. as your time to write. You simply go into your calendar system and block it out beginning this Wednesday and then tell your calendar to repeat it every Wednesday for the next 20 years. That way, when colleagues check your calendar to invite you to a meeting, they’ll see that you are already booked on Wednesday afternoon. Clever, huh?

Now let’s talk about how to spend your time. Writing, especially good writing, is something we all need to do more of. Good writing equals good communications and bad writing equals bad communications.

Good communications should be measured by how well your audience understands what your are trying to say and whether they behave the way you want them to. When I say, your audience, I mean any and everyone who could come to your company to buy your products and services and not just your employees.

When I visit an organization’s website, for example, I often have no idea what the company does because the text contains so much jargon. Usually I find myself asking, “What Does That Mean?” Websites are meant to communicate in a glance.

Jargon filled writing on websites is so bad that it affects your search engine optimization. For example, in a recent writing workshop I was teaching, I went live to and typed in the word Car. None of the major car companies showed up among the top pages. That’s because they sell vehicles and the word vehicle is found all throughout their sites. Folks at home… customers… don’t talk like that. When was the last time you said, “Honey, let’s go get that new vehicle you’ve been wanting.” Believe it or not, vehicles counts as corporate jargon. Try the same test by searching for the word gas. The major oil companies don’t show up in your search because they are energy companies. If my car is low on gasoline, I don’t tell my wife, “Honey, I’m going to get energy for the vehicle.”

Writers get sucked into the corporate jargon machine way too quickly. And we haven’t even touched on all the stupid acronyms. For a full article called, “What Does That Mean?” visit

To improve your writing, forget everything you know about your organization and try something I call Genesis Writing… as in, Genesis in the Bible, where it starts with the phrase, “In the beginning…”

Go back to the roots of your organization and what it does and start with a large, umbrella statement that covers not just the division you work for, but the entire organization.

To begin, fill in the blanks to this sentence: At (blank) our goal is to (blank).

In the first blank you put the name of your employer. Then, in the big picture of helping humanity, determine what your organization does for the greater good, and fill in the second blank. This is your task for your first Wordsmith Wednesday.

The second blank can’t be filled with jargon. It needs to be less tactical and more lofty. For example, a U.S. company that produces oil, gas and electricity might say, at ABC Company, out goal is to power a stronger America.

I’ve seen organizations debate for up to four hours over what goes in the second blank. Take your time. You have all Wednesday afternoon to decide.

Once this sentence is perfected, you’ll find it is the perfect first sentence for your website home page, the first sentence for newsletter articles, the opening line for every speech and media interview. It becomes your defining statement. It points to your vision, value, mission and belief. It becomes your promise statement. And, with some modification, it can become an important tool in search engine optimization for your website.

On your second Wordsmith Wednesday of 2009, I want you to write a second sentence. To write the second sentence, make a list of the 3 most important, biggest profit or service areas of your organization. In addition, think of poster child examples of these. As an example, if we reference back to the ABC Company, we might say, “At ABC Company, our goal is to power a stronger America. Whether you are fueling your car with the oil from our refineries, heating your home with our natural gas, or lighting your home or business with our electricity, each day we work to be here when you need us.”

So your task is to write that second sentence that gives 3 poster child examples of what you do. The sentence needs to be jargon free and focused on your external benefits to society and not your internal goals. Many of the phrases your CEO uses every day will not work in these sentences. If that is the case, your goal is to write new words for your CEO.

I ask you to limit the second sentence to the 3 most important areas because I want you to be able to use these two sentences as the opening statement in a media interview. In media interviews the spokesperson and the listener/reader remember everything better when clustered in 3s. Think of your 3 issues as 3 branches of a large tree.

The following Wednesday, you can delve into more detail by expanding your thoughts and statements about each of the branches. This is the writing technique I teach in my Kick-Butt Key Messages seminars and writing classes, as well as in my workshops on Writing for Search Engine Optimization. I can only teach a small portion here in this forum, so if you have questions just call me at 985-624-9976.

On other Wordsmith Wednesdays you may wish to tackle strategic tasks, such as writing templates for your crisis communications plan. I believe the best way to prepare for a crisis is to write your plan on a clear sunny day without being in the throes of panic and emotion associated with a crisis. In the plans I write, every possible crisis scenario has a pre-written template. That means there is a template for workplace violence, one for pandemic, one for terrorism, one for executive misbehavior, etc.

Much of what you say in the early hours of a crisis is generic, benign information. If you write it out on a calm day you will be able to communicate faster on the day of your crisis because about 75% of what you need to say is already in a word document. Create fill-in-the-blank spaces for information that can only be added on the day of a crisis. Most of the crisis communications plans I help organizations write have 50 to 100 such templates. Each template takes 2-3 hours to write. That should keep you busy for a year or two.

Writing is like love. Your spouse or children shouldn’t get what’s left over at the end of the day; they should get your attention first. Likewise, writing isn’t something that you cram in between all of your other meetings and projects. It is something that you should dedicate quality time to.

For 2009, I suggest you dedicate time to writing on Wordsmith Wednesday.

In our final 2 lessons, we’ll explore my tips for how you should deal with Social Media in 2009.