Updated 27 January 2022
I wasted time and money recently when I went to a talk by an expert whose topic interested me. She had over 20 years of experience. But other than scribbling down a few phrases before she got up to speak, she appeared completely unprepared.
She didn’t seem to have a purpose or plan, despite the program description. She had no handout, list of tips, impressive data, pointed questions, or poignant stories for us. She had no humorous or attention-getting opening and no memorable close. All she had was 20+ years of experience and a pleasant manner.
Experience is not enough. She needed to do the work of preparing for us.
The same is true of business writers. It’s not enough to have taken classes in writing and editing or to have gotten a degree in communications. And it’s not sufficient to have a proud writing portfolio. Each assignment, each message, requires the work of planning, writing, editing, and proofreading.
1. Plan by answering these questions: Who is the audience? What do they need? What do you want them to do in response to your message?
2. Write by answering the likely questions of your audience. In the case of the disappointing presentation, my questions were:
- What do I need to know about your topic?
- Which stories or anecdotes can help me embrace and remember your message?
- How can I do my job better (or live my life better) if I understand and apply what you have shared?
- Where do I start for a quick success and ongoing growth?
- Where are additional resources available?
3. Edit by taking these steps:
- Cut extra words and unnecessary content.
- Break up long, complex sentences.
- Get to the point. Make sure content flows to meet readers’ needs.
- Format for quick understanding and access.
- Clean up unclear language.
- Check for a positive, professional tone.
4. Proofread by printing the piece and reading it aloud.
I felt cheated by the presenter’s lack of preparation, and I left with little new information about her topic. Yet she reminded me of an important lesson: My experience and expertise are not enough. I have to do the work of writing every time.
How do you feel about doing the work of writing or presenting? I welcome your views.
To be sure your writing communicates value to your readers, take my online course Business Writing Tune-Up.