In Praise of Personal Pronouns

Rudolph Flesch, a pioneering advocate of readability, put great stock in the liveliness of the written word.

One way of getting that liveliness into our writing, he said, is to use the personal pronouns: you, me, I, we, us, he, she, him, her, and they.

When we use them, several important things happen. For starters, we personalize our writing, and that makes it easier for readers to relate to the subject.

For example, which of the following two sentences would be more effective?

(1) The use of personal pronouns personalizes written communication.

(2) When we use them, we personalize our writing.

I think you would agree that sentence 2, with several personal pronouns, is more lively and more likely to be understood. That sentence allows readers and listeners to relate to the words; in other words, there’s a personal connection. On the other hand, the first sentence is a collection of abstract concepts.

In using personal pronouns, we also make our writing more like our spoken communication. Listen to almost any conversation and you’ll notice frequent use of ‘I’, ‘you’, and ‘we’. It’s quite natural to speak that way.

One more point: When we use personal pronouns, we’re more likely to use active verbs and less likely to use passive verbs. By passive, I mean the ‘to be’ verbs, including ‘is,’ ‘are,’ and ‘be.’ When we replace these verbs with verbs that do something, we increase readability.

Try personal pronouns yourself. Take a document that you want others to read and rewrite it to include more of them. In the process of doing that, you’re bound to make it more readable. What’s more, you’ll also make your words more effective.

In Praise of Personality

ommunicating with clients used to be so straight forward. They used to be a little like a doctor’s visit; they only ever happened when strictly necessary. A one-to-one with the firm like the doctor disseminating his/her knowledge and/or solution and the patient (client) receiving it (usually without referring to a specialist or third party, sometimes without fully understanding what was being said).

The twenty-first century businessscape looks rather different. It’s a bit like being at a large, noisy party lively with a wide range of specialists who are not shy in boasting about their skills and successes. You, as one of the senior people here, know you shouldn’t feel at a disadvantage. You have plenty to add but don’t quite know how this party works. There seem to be a lot of witty, knowledgeable people here who pipe up just as you’re getting ready to hold the floor. Perhaps they’ll think you – the professional type -a bore. Maybe you’ll play it safe. Skulk in the kitchen with the socially challenged and the downright weird.

Here is an idea or two for becoming a little more the life and soul and they don’t have to be either ridiculous or frightening if applied skillfully:

Think like an artist or a musician. What is the adjective that most matches your company or product from art or music? Finely crafted? Multi-tonal? And do your client communications do it justice? Are your annual reports largo? Are your client newsletters a little too muted or one dimensional?

Imagine the reader of these communications as your boss. Or your potential lover. How will you wow them? Woo them. Give them a piece of the best of you, the ‘pure you’. Displaying the heart of the business is like showing the heart of a person. Don’t be shy (or too bound up by convention) and you will get a much better response.

Borrowing from yet another artform, how will you leave the stage? What will be your big finish that will live in your reader’s memory?

Be radical for the digital.

If you’re a business-to-business service provider then, yes of course SEO is going to be extremely important but this needs to be high quality, well-researched material blended seamlessly into your services to the right degree and striking the right authoritative tone, not simply relying on a home page stuffed with keywords. HTML (and its more mobile heirs on the newer marketing platforms) do not hold the magic trumpet that will rally your clients, because they, meanwhile, are being wooed by your rivals who have had the foresight to provide them with the unexpected, the informative or even amusing, Yes you might be providing A* pension cover but portraying the amazing demographic shifts that are happening in both China and Japan could provide the perfect wallpaper for capturing their interest and all-important contact details.

You might be making futuristic non-analogue, non digital televisions with the parent company rooted in Taiwan. That does not mean you are condemned to speak to your customers in a reverse, literal translation pidgin. Tune in to the zeitgeist. Yes, a video on your website and social media would be wonderful but script it carefully and for goodness sake, don’t let it be hosted by one of the tecchie guys. In other words, don’t let your business message fall at the last fence. Keep your message clear, go modern yes of course, but keep your professionalism… professional.

Think saccades. Analyse how you yourself read a page of web copy. The received wisdom is that online needs half the copy of a brochure. For professional services I would recommend much less! Use bullet points and summarising headings

Pique their Interest in the benefits then build upon this with USPs. Don’t get too bogged with features online

Remember people have low boredom thresholds and very busy lives. Be incisive.

It’s about having the edge. If two firms offer the same range of services, with only the narrowest of price margins to distinguish them, the one that does better will, of course, be the one that offers the defining difference – the USP. Understood. But if it can’t present that USP well or the opposition can present itself equally well to the customer without such a killer USP, then that advantage may be lost.

I’m not suggesting, you “load each rift with ore” (necessarily!). No, you don’t have to make your brochure into a tone poem or end each blog with an unbearable cliff hanger. Although (top professional tip alert: reading it aloud is a real help). Imagine it as a speech. The link between oratory and the written word is indissoluble. Just like printing off a draft in a different colour or font can help you proofread for errors.

But just think as if you were a B2C business. Think how these sorts of company would sell say the components of a summer wardrobe. How does your favourite outfitter do it? As a friend? A fashion expert with an eye for how to wear/put looks together? Each has a definite personality. The best ones keep that personality strong, consistent and recognisable, even in their AdWords ads, the titles of marketing emails and reminder mailers.

It’s really quite a simple formula to follow. Just ensure that thought and attention to detail has gone into every word of your communications.

Colour, tone and personality to tip the balance

One or a combination of the following can work wonders in gaining your client’s attention – and retention:

An emotive word or phrase dropped very gently into an insurance document “your home, your creature comforts, even your creatures themselves are covered.” Or perhaps to illustrate no hidden extras: “that means everything: from the foundations to the roof trusses is safe.”

A metaphor. “Our call centre, powered by humans, is the touchstone in customer contact. Each call handler a product expert, waiting to guide you through the roadmap of our legal services.

A powerful, alliterative headline in a press ad. One that will live in the reader’s memory “Held back by the Human Resource Heist?”

Far from going over the top, they give colour and tone to your material. Make them worthwhile, make them go further.

But above all, it’s remembering what your clients want. Clear, incisive understandable copy, copy that won’t baffle them, blind them with science (or technical details they don’t need), that won’t waste their ever-shrinking time. Copy written in crisp, clear English that will capture their attention, address their worries, appeal to their motivating emotions (because, yes, choosing a professional service will be an emotional choice at some stage of the transaction).

Starving For A Little Praise!

History is filled with names of successful people who grew up starved for a little praise… Do you know what Napoleon’s last words were before he died? Well, it has been said that Napoleon’s last words on his deathbed were, “I wonder what that teacher thinks of me now!”

Praise, or the holding of praise, is a very powerful tool in the development of humanity, and our collective history as a people. Praise, or the lack of praise as in the case of Napoleon can put a burning fire under someone’s feet and really get them moving in the direction of proving to the world that they are praise worthy like Napoleon did.

I have personally always thought people should not be stingy with praise. We should constantly praise other people, especially kids, every chance we get. We should consider this positive behavior of praise-giving to be our small contribution. Through this small contribution to humanity we can make our tiny corner of the globe a better place to create a history of happier and more successful times. Who knows? Maybe those people who we praised and positively influenced will pay-it-forward and shower our praise in their own voice and words onto others. It’s possible that this compounding effect of praise could rapidly spread across our globe at light speed!

Now if you happen to be one of those people who never received praise, then I want to say that I’m sorry. However, a-less-than wonderful up bringing still does not give you the right to become bitter and give up on your pursuit of excellence. As I said earlier, history is filled with names of successful people who grew up starved for a little praise.

Now teens, and even tweens, go learn, lead and lay the way to a better world for all of us. Try to encourage and praise every person that you meet. And I hope the favor is returned to you in praise and kindness from every person you meet or spend time with, especially your family. However, if you’re not so fortunate and don’t get the praise, then please don’t get bitter, but rather get better. Don’t let the world steal your smile. Don’t forget, history is filled with names of successful people who grew up starved for a little praise. Finally, PRAISE, and be PRAISEWORTHY! And once again, thank you in advance for all that you do, and all that you will do.