Last week at the end of a business writing class in California, one of the attendees mentioned something he had learned in class: Executives are just another audience.
Earlier he had been concerned about how to impress executives. He was using sophisticated language and long, complex sentences to come across intelligently. And he was skeptical about my suggestion that executives would be more impressed with his use of the simplest precise word in the shortest clear sentences that conveyed his brilliant ideas.
But executives are just another audience. Like other business readers, they want great ideas and plans presented clearly, concisely, and simply. Unnecessary complexity gets in the way of the message, for them as for people at every organizational level.
The best book I have read on this topic is Why Business People Speak Like Idiots, by Brian Fugere, Chelsea Hardaway, and Jon Warshawsky, published in 2005. The book shares examples from famous executives, politicians, and others that illustrate terrible and terrific writing.
As an example of terrific writing, the authors offer Jack Welch's crisp "We will be number one or two in every business we're in, or we will fix it, close it or sell it," a sentence written at an 8th grade level. But what if the former CEO of General Electric had instead written the snoozer below at the 21st grade level? Would we remember it–and him?
"We will be ranked among the top companies in our industry, unless there are unforeseen changes in the competitive landscape that affect our competitive capabilities related to strategic investments, acquisitions, or strategic execution. . . . " (From Why Business People Speak Like Idiots)
Clarity, conciseness, and simplicity–that's what we want in the business messages and documents we read. And that's what executives want too.
If you have a thought or a story about writing for executives, please share it.
P.S. Do you want to write better? The May 10 Better Business Writing class near Seattle has just 8 seats available. Find out more.