Archives for the month of: June, 2011

How much is it worth to tell your story so well that it grips people? What’s the return on that investment?

Imagine, instead, the cost of not doing it.

Think of what sickness, such as the flu, brings: lost work days, pain and suffering, hospital stays — even death, for some. No wonder people get vaccinated. But what is the ROI of prevention? (Many consultants and others have devised calculations. Even more seem to be trying to nail down the ROI of PR.) But that’s a fuzzier number than, say, the ROI of a new machine or more energy-efficient lightbulbs. Still, preventing the flu makes sense. So does good PR or messaging.

Investing in the talent and infrastructure to tell your story well (which can bring more credibility, awareness, funders and business) might be a tougher sell to the board than, say, a more efficient machine. Or, than holding a flu shot clinic on-site this fall.

But telling your story well and managing your message, and being strategic about that, clearly brings value. In that way, it also maintains, or even restores, health — figuratively and literally.

What’s the return on that investment? Priceless.

So you’re on deadline with a proposal, report or other written piece and you’re truly stuck. What to say next? How to say it?
Try taking a break from putting words on paper.

Here are 5 things to do, instead of writing, to improve your written work:

1. Research.
Maybe you’re stuck because you really don’t have enough material to keep fueling your writing. Going blank can be a sign that you haven’t done all of the legwork and need to do more fact finding before you can make your points articulately. One giveaway? You lack solid examples or specifics that really tell the story you’re trying to get across.

2. Talk.
Tell a trusted friend/colleague/mentor what you want to say. Voicing your points — in plain language, out loud — sometimes frees up the brain. Explaining, verbally, what you want to say, can flush out the clog that sometimes prevents people from explaining, in writing, what they ought to say. Then you can make the case better when you’re conveying your thoughts on paper.

3. Walk.
Take your thoughts and writer’s block, strap on some running shoes and move. Here’s the trick to this one: Allow yourself to think about the writing and the project as you walk. Picture what you want to accomplish with the piece. Imagine getting the breakthrough you need. Try a 30-60 minute stroll while you think. Then head back and get into it.

4. Plan.
If you don’t already have an outline or a framework for the written project, make one now, while you’re stuck. What’s the most important thing you want to achieve with the report? Why are you writing the proposal? What points should the reader take away? Remind yourself about the main reasons you’re undertaking the effort and then map the work accordingly.

5. Breathe.
Just be. Try to relax and think of something else entirely. Listen to music or brew a cup of tea. Close your eyes. Do something that lets you empty any anxiety that might have crept into your being about the writing and about finishing the task.

And remember, writing doesn’t flow perfectly on the first pass. That’s why those takes are called rough drafts…it’s okay to be clunky or wordy. You can fix it later when you’re revising and editing.

Good luck!

This New Yorker cartoon was published first in 1993, when even always-filing-wire-service journalists got to end their day, at some point, and the news — quaintly, it now seems — stopped until the morning paper hit the steps the next day.

The Internet wasn’t yet widespread. (Did you catch that clip of banter among anchors from the Today show early in 1994 where Bryant Gumble asks: What is the Internet, anyway?

So, it’s not slick production of the 24-7 news cycle that ushered in the awareness that something lurks behind the news, behind the stories we hear…that there’s something else going on.


It probably dates back to the days of the first parables. The subtext in those stories was the point.

It’s good to be reminded of this instinct humans have — to suspect, to just know — that there’s a subtext to the stories we hear.

When we communicate, our audiences are thinking the same thing…they’re wondering what’s our story behind the story? If it makes, clarifies or strengthens a reasonable point or if it capitalizes on mutual benefits (sale-priced bananas marked down to clear out inventory that would otherwise rot within days) you’re probably on safe ground.

If, however, the subtext distorts the truth? That undermines authenticity. Always.

Better to come clean. Even the littlest of kids know that eating their broccoli isn’t the same as eating dessert. And if you want them to gulp that down by telling them it tastes like chocolate ice cream, good luck to you. But if you tell them that, if they finish their broccoli, then they can have some chocolate ice cream…well, that is a different story. My two and a half year old already gets that. He knows I haven’t tried to sell him a tale. And he also normally chows down the green, leafy stuff to get to the goodies.

It’s about respecting your audience, communicating with integrity and remembering that there’s always a story behind the story. What matters is what it says.