Last year I stumbled into the business of speaking agencies. Working as a content writer for two of them now, I spend quite a lot of time watching speeches and keynotes on Youtube. All for research, of course. I often fall into TED talk loopholes. Good thing I’m getting paid by the hour.
The content I create for these agencies is either focussed on speakers, or on event planners. For that first group, I stumbled upon some articles from Obama’s speechwriters (Sarah Hurwitz and Jon Favreau) on composing a strong speech. What they put on paper has played a great role in the former presidents and first lady’s success on stage. As a copywriter, I wondered: What can writers for web and print learn from writers for the spoken word? I gathered some of their advice that can also be applied to what we copywriters do (apart from staring blankly at our screens and grinding our teeth). Whether it’s for social media, blogs, web copy or ads, here are three takeaways!
1. The story is more important than the words
As someone who gets paid to slap words together, this might be a hard pill to swallow, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It all boils down to storytelling, so no need to linger on which words to use. Make sure your story is strong and you get it across. Trust me, the number of synonyms for common words will make you cry, weep, sob and bawl.
Less is more. Leave out the obvious. No need to point out that the grass is green or that you are a client-focused and definitely trustworthy company with a passion for whatever general terms you can come up with.
Nobody was questioning it until you brought it up. Don’t fill up white space with empty words. Either demonstrate WHY you are the best for your customers with anecdotes or leave it out.
2. Use the language of your audience
Maybe you sell unicorns that shit golden coin. In that case, you could probably scribble down what the nearest toddler tells you to and still sell. In all other cases, make sure that the words you choose are understandable to your audience. If possible, make it practical: We’re basically just talking about a good ol’ keyword research.
Also, don’t forget that your audience is not businesses. That’s just not a thing: they can’t read. This is why extremely formally written copy rarely touches your heart and soul and leaves you lingering for more. Your audience is the actual reader (a person! flesh and blood!), so make sure you get to know them and familiarize yourself with their way of speaking. Slang, puns, current affairs — we all rather speak with someone who actually seems to understand us, don’t we?
3. Write as if you speak
Now, the last one that made sense here is that a good speech is, in fact, a speech, not a reading. How does that apply to copy? Well, I don’t know what the voice in your head sounds like, but I know its there. No worries, we all have it (or multiple, but that’s a different subject), and it gives life to words we read. We don’t process words in our minds in a robot-like manner, so why not use the strength of spoken word in text? Have an accent? Write that in there! Use your puns, informal language, breaks in your sentences or whatever floats your boat: Make your copy YOU. Read your text out loud once you’re done. How would you feel if someone spoke these words? Edit accordingly.
There’s really only one way to end this. Sorry, not sorry.