Issue No. 200 of Your Weekly Staff Meeting (brief pause for a 200-eraser salute…) asks whether we’re dusting off our word choice enough—because words matter. Thanks to all my readers, especially those who check in occasionally. This list has grown to 1,400. Amazing. And special thanks to my son, Jason Pearson of CrossSection, who faithfully does the graphic design for each issue. (The gift is in the mail.) Thanks also to our wonderful eNews sponsor, Christian Community Credit Union.
And this reminder, check out my Management Buckets website with dozens of resources and downloadable worksheets for your staff meetings.
Words matter. Or, as Bill Hybels says in his nifty book on axioms, “Language Matters.”
If that’s the case, then what gem-of-a-book should I put on display to celebrate the 200th edition of this eNews? I have a five-foot stack of prospects behind my office door. More choices than a Baskin-Robbins megastore.
I decided that words matter—so the winner is a book to empower my writing (maybe yours too). After 200 book reviews, I fear my color commentaries are growing stale. I needed new juice—and Stephen Wilbers’ Keys to Great Writing quenched that thirst.
Wilbers writes a syndicated newspaper column on effective writing. Those weekly insights were my guarantee that his book held promise. It met my test: fast-moving, creative, 50 or more underlined pages. In a word: buried treasure. (Oops. Two words.)
Much of the writing we endure today is shockingly bad: website grammar and typos (it’s versus its), rushed emails, smudged business letters, boring “From the CEO” columns, news reports with no news—is there no shame?
Wilbers begins with a self-assessment on your writing expectations. Set a goal:
Level 1: Basic Competence
Level 2: Above-Average Competence
Level 3: Exceptional Competence
Level 4: Extraordinary Competence
Before you check Number 4, here’s the standard: “To write with such extraordinary insight and beauty that people will be reading what I have written one hundred years from now.” (How about…a week from now?)
His five keys to great writing will surprise you: Economy, Precision, Action, Music and Personality. Hum along: “One of the most important things you can do to sharpen your style is to reawaken yourself to the sound of your words, to tune your ears to the rhythm and cadence and flow of your language. It is in this context that you should ask, How can I make this music more pleasing to my readers? What techniques can I learn from accomplished writers? What techniques can I discover on my own?”
Trust me—no decent book on great writing would dare bore you. This book informs and inspires: how to avoid three common patterns of monotonous sentence structure; why you should follow a long sentence with a short, snappy one; don’t stack nouns. And when writing a letter of apology—there’s one cardinal rule: “Don’t bury your apology.”
This Minnesota-based writing coach (check out his columns and the “Better Writing in Six Weeks” email course) adds, “Think of the last part of a sentence as a punch line to a joke: It counts more than the beginning and the middle. Your success—both as a writer and a comedian—depends on it.”
He tackles business writing by helping you wrestle with the six basic purposes for writing, including “to persuade your reader” (think board reports, donor letters and requests for raises). Then (and this is refreshingly on target) think about your audience: Who are they? What do they know? What do they feel? And how can you motivate them? (Four cheers from the Customer Bucket!).
Words matter. In The Wall Street Journal’s Saturday column, “Word Craft,” a new contributor is featured each week on the art of writing and speaking. Hmmm. Must be important to business leaders. (Boring? Not! A recent column by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams was hilarious. Notice that I wrote “hilarious,” preferable to the worn-out “LOL.”)
To order this book from Amazon, click on the graphic below: Keys to Great Writing, by Stephen Wilbers.
Your Weekly Staff Meeting Questions:
1) In The Wall Street Journal’s “Word Craft” column, Alexander McCall Smith (author of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series) comments on the art of writing: “The real aim, of course, is conciseness. Concise prose knows what it wants to say, and says it. It does not embellish, except occasionally, and then for dramatic effect. It is sparing in its use of metaphor. And it is certainly careful in its use of adjectives. Look at the King James Bible, that magnificent repository of English at the height of its beauty. The language used to describe the creation of the world is so simple, so direct. ‘Let there be light, and there was light.’ That sentence has immense power precisely because there are no adjectives. If we fiddle about with it, we lose that. ‘Let there be light, and there was a sort of matutinal, glowing phenomenon that slowly transfused, etc.’ No, that doesn't work.” Where do you go for inspiration on effective writing?
2) Words matter. When is the last time you asked for feedback on your speaking and writing?
Verbal Fuzz - Insights from Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit
One of the big ideas in the Strategy Bucket, Chapter 3, in Mastering the Management Buckets is to discern why strategic planning is often a big fat failure. In “The Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan Workshop,” I list seven reasons why strategic plans fail—and then throw in a bonus idea:
Why Strategic Plans Fail - Bonus Reason #8: Verbal Fuzz
Strategic planning festers in a “verbal draft” purgatory, versus becoming a disciplined process that is both written and implemented. Fred Smith, author of Breakfast With Fred, wrote, “I learned to write to burn the fuzz off my thinking." (He also said, “Avoid the authors who are meringue chefs.”)
To download a hot-off-the-press four-page worksheet for your team (from my strategic planning workshop), on “7 Reasons Why Strategic Plans Fail,” visit the Strategy Bucket page on the Management Buckets website.
Mastering the Management Buckets Workshop
Nov. 16-17 – Orange County, Calif.
The Rolling 3-Year Strategic Plan Workshop
at Christian Community Credit Union, San Dimas, Calif.
Day 1 of 3: July 13, 2010
Day 2 of 3: Sept. 22, 2010
Day 3 of 3: Nov. 15, 2010