Jon Favreau, President Obama’s former director of speechwriting, recently visited with the Corporate Communications team at Intuit’s headquarters and gave a presentation on How Not to Speak Bul#*@!. What he said pertains to fiction writers as much as it does to speechwriters. Here are his 5 tips to make your writing more persuasive and inspiring.
1. The story is more important than the words
Focus on what you're going to say before how you're going to say it. You should always be able to sum up your entire talk in a few conversational sentences before you start writing. Ask yourself, “What's the essential story I’m trying to communicate.”
2. Keep it short
By trying to communicate everything you can often end up communicating nothing. People don’t have long attention spans and remembering long presentations can be difficult for audiences. Zero in on the central thesis of what you’re trying to communicate and leave the rest for another day.
3. Ditch the jargon
If you wouldn’t say it to a friend in a bar, don’t put it in your talk. Test your material with people who are not on your team, in your office or industry and ask if it makes sense to them. We can all get too close to our content, and it is vital to pressure test against people who are hearing it for the first time.
4. Lighten up
Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously. Humor helps cut through the clutter. It helps you sound like a normal human being and in doing so it helps you build trust with your audience. Lightening up your communications just a little bit, goes a long way.
5. Be honest
Remove the sanded down, sanitized, focus-grouped language and take the risk to be honest and authentic. The greatest enemy of effective storytelling is caution. Caution is what makes you choose language that’s acceptable to everyone, but excites no one. Communicating in cautious and carefully scripted language is one of the reasons that trust in most institutions has fallen to historic lows. When you write and speak like that, people think you’re trying to hide something from them.