So, whatever you might think of the Space Cowboy, Jeff Bezos, he put a brilliant practice in place when he ran Amazon. And it provides some clues as to why you should improve your writing skills right now.
First, he banned PowerPoint. Instead, when there’s an important decision or a new product idea, a team is often assigned to write a 6-page “narrative memo.”
On the day of the meeting, everyone receives a copy of the memo and sits quietly and reads it for 20 minutes. Bezos says it’s like study hall.
Among the items covered in the memo are a press release for the product’s launch, an FAQ, and a manual. In addition, considerable emphasis placed on the customer experience. Imagine how this speeds up the decision-making process and provides the writers and readers with clarity on what’s being proposed?
This story illustrates the power of writing and offers some important hints about how we can become more effective writers.
For one thing, the narrative memo is purposeful. Focused writing clarifies your thinking. To write clearly, you have to think clearly. This alone is a great reason to write intentionally.
Your writing can help others think. The “narrative memo” provides a valuable service for the readers, because good writing is like windshield wipers for the mind. It enables readers to see the topic, and its implications.
Effective writing also helps you demonstrate competence and authority. People do business with those they know, like, and trust. Competence and authority builds trust.
Why is it so important to improve writing skills right now?
First, we’re all inundated with information. That’s 34 gigabytes of it every day, according to experts.
Enough to crash your laptop in a week.
You too will be doing your customers a valuable service by writing in a way that helps them process all the information and data flooding their lives. We tend to scan more than we read because we are trying to surf the wave of information.
To manage the data deluge we’re all experiencing; we’ve become adept at scanning rather than reading. When you make your writing easy to process, you invite the reader to slow down and dig a bit deeper.
So, if you want to stand amidst all the noise, improve your writing skills right now.
Second, we’re all writers now.
People are writing more than ever, but the verdict is mixed about whether they’re writing better. The research suggests we write more efficiently but not necessarily more effective.
The problem: writing is difficult.
If you struggle with writing, it could mean you’re probably already a pretty good writer. Most people don’t write well because they don’t embrace the difficulty – the struggle of time and effort spent thinking about the content.
And understanding the oxford comma is not what makes it difficult.
At Platform Creator, we often have to tell clients their website homepage, press release, or sales page is unclear and hard to understand. Unfortunately, this is usually a blind spot – they don’t see the assumption gap.
This is one of the biggest mistakes we make with our writing; we assume:
The reader knows what we mean.
Agrees that there’s a problem
And understands our solution or product.
The best writing is slippery
That is, the reader’s eyes slide down the page effortlessly, moving from one point to the next.
The brain doesn’t like to burn excess calories when reading. Instead, it wants content that gets to the point and answers questions, concerns, or objections clearly and effectively.
For example, when you land on one of our client’s homepages, we have about 3 seconds to get your attention.
The headline or title needs to quickly identify you and your problem.
Once you know it’s specifically for you and your unique problem, the next thing you’ll look for is a simple, persuasive description of the solution.
If we do this well, the reader’s brain begins asking questions like, “ok – how hard is it to implement this solution?”
Those are the questions to be answered in the next section in the form of testimonials or social proof.
And so it goes, effortlessly, all the way down the page.
The key is to join the conversation that’s already taking place in the reader’s mind.
The process doesn’t just apply to websites
You can do the same thing with your next presentation, or email, or social media post.
Yes, you can do this. It just takes a little time and some creative empathy.
And if my guess is correct, about now you’re wondering, “Ok, how can I do that?”
Three crystal-habit clarity questions that will improve your writing immediately
Before you begin writing your following email, proposal, or any other significant piece of content, ask yourself these three questions.
A great way to begin is to write a sentence or two at the top of the page as a summary answer to the three questions.
After reading this post, the reader will know or understand [the subject of the post] and be motivated to do or be [the action you want them to take] and start by doing [the next step].
As you write, keep this statement front and center.
From there, it’s a matter of answering the three questions clearly and persuasively.
These are the questions we typically don’t answer clearly and succinctly when we write. They may be in the back of our minds, but often the answers are assumed.
Who’s it for?
Take the “who” question: the most important question of all.
We assume it’s for the entrepreneur, but we need to ask who it’s really for. For example, it may be for the entrepreneur who’s trying to cut transportation costs.
It’s for a specific person with a peculiar problem.
Is it for the boss? Or, for the boss’s boss? What’s it like in their world? Running between meetings? Will they read it on their phone?
The empathy exercise:
Try this the next time you open an email. Notice the questions you immediately begin to ask yourself:
Who is this from?
Is it for me? Why does it matter?
Do I need to do anything about it? If so, what?
Use this insight to write your next email in a way that answers the three questions clearly and plainly.
The next question:
What’s it for?
Get to the point quickly.
Use the SWIFT acronym. “SWIFT” as in Show Them What’s In It For Them. Show them early and show them often.
If it’s important, there’s a problem to solve. Whether it’s growing profit margins or cutting costs, you’re the one on the white horse, showing up with a solution.
Define the stakes and define your solution clearly.
Finally, tell them what you want them to do next? What’s the decision or next action?
This is where I see our clients become bashful. Don’t!
If the service, or idea, or product you’re offering is helpful – and it is helpful, or we wouldn’t be going through all of this, right? – you must make that very clear to them. Spell it out and then tell them exactly what to do next.
Make it specific and straightforward.
What are they to do about this critical piece of content you’ve given them?
Answer these three questions effectively, and your writing will instantly get better.
Now, here’s what’s next for you – some more ways to improve your writing.
Be interested. Read to get ideas and make your writing more interesting. It doesn’t just have to be business books. Thanks to the web, you have the knowledge of the world at your fingertips.
Become a collector of compelling ideas.
Also, pay attention to what grabs your attention. When you read an article or email you enjoy, ask yourself:
- How did they start the article?
- How did they get your attention?
- When did you drift off?
Write in public:
This is one of the fastest ways to improve your writing skills right now. When you write for others, use the three questions and the empathy exercise. Put yourself in their shoes.
Also, ask yourself what other questions the reader may be asking themselves about your piece of content. Write down at least three if it’s an email. If it’s a blog post, write more.
The more thinking you do early on, the easier it will be later.
When you write in public, be bold. Make assertions about what you see happening and what you think will happen next.
Be willing to put yourself on the hook to produce consistent content. Our experience is that when you’re on the hook, it’s uncomfortable, but that’s also where the magic happens. There’s no telling where your writing will take you if you’re willing to leap.
You don’t have to wait months or years to become a better writer. Using the questions above, you can improve your writing right now. So, get started and get better!
Some helpful references:
How to write a great blog post
Article about Amazon narrative memo
How to double your writing speed (outlining)