Same speech, different sponsor. Zzz…

I arrived early for the first session of the conference. I didn’t want to miss a word of the fascinating and potentially provocative panel discussion they’d scheduled to kick things off. But before the panel began, the organizers introduced and thanked the conference sponsors. Fabulous! The sponsors’ contributions made the conference possible, so I was happy to give them my attention and my applause.

Until they started speaking. And they all gave the same speech.

Three of them—back to back to back.

Not fascinating. And certainly not provocative. Boring for the audience and—how could it not be?—embarrassing for the speakers.

How not to give the same speech as everyone else

don't give the same speech as everyone elseWhen you’re asked to speak at an event, find out how you fit into the program. If you’re in a lineup of sponsors like that, recognize that you’re all there for the same basic reason—to support the organization and its goals. But you don’t have to give the same speech. In fact, please please please don’t. Please?

I mean, mention your company’s support if you feel you must. But we get it: they made a big donation. So did the other companies whose reps are speaking before and after you.

So how can you make your speech different?

Tell a story. A story about how your company supports the kinds of people in the audience. Show is always more powerful than tell.

Talk about how the conference’s goals intersect with your own life. You can bet the guy from Universal Widgets & Pizza won’t be saying the same thing right after you.

To be fair, the last of the three sponsors did tell a story. In fact, his story woke me from my torpor and reminded me that this was the first unique thing I’d heard all morning. I started taking notes.

While the previous two speakers had started by blathering on about how their companies love the conference organizers and issues, Guy #3 started out by talking to us—his audience. No, it’s not a mind-blowing revolution in speechifying, but the previous speakers didn’t manage to do it.

He focused on what we could get out of the experience of being at the conference. He told stories about his personal journey with some of the issues we address. He connected with us on a human level. And then he launched into the usual blather, which—except for his company’s name—was practically indistinguishable from what the other sponsors had said.

Moral of the story

Even when you’re speaking as a representative from your organization, be more than a body holding a larger-than-life-size check. Be a person. Share your story with the audience and we will remember you. Yes, and your company’s sponsorship, too.

Paintball in the cemetery? Details matter.

details matter
Black headstone with “paintball splotch” – just to the left and behind the headstone flanked by American flags

How much do details matter? Quite a lot if you actually want your audience to understand what you’re doing.

I thought about that during this morning’s walk in the cemetery. I’ve always felt sad passing one headstone—it looks like someone hit it with paintball gun. There’s a giant blob of white on one side of the black granite stone, with white streaks running down from it.

I haven’t noticed any other acts of vandalism—unless you count family members planting tinsel whirlygigs around grandma’s grave—and I wondered why no one had bothered to clean it up. It felt disrespectful to me.

Today I took a closer look at the stone.

details matter —headstone painting of deer in a forest

It’s not vandalism; it’s art. Well, at any rate it’s not vandalism.

The splotch turns out to be sky; the drips are birch trees. The family of deer, invisible from a distance, look out at the viewer. Is it my imagination, or does Daddy Deer-est have a disgusted look on his face?

The view from afar does not match the up-close reality. Or to put it another way: details matter.

Details matter in writing, too

From time to time, I’ve written corporate applications to those “best companies in the world” surveys. Details matter there too. A lot.

My clients would ask me to write about this nifty program they have, so I’d ask them for information. I’d get PowerPoints explaining the need the program filled; I’d get one-sheets outlining the steps people needed to take to access the program. I’d get everything except the detail the contest sponsor specifically requested: how do the employees feel about it. How did it improve their lives at work, if indeed it did.

Sometimes the thousand-yard view is not the most illuminating. In the case of the contest submission, I’d always want to zoom in closer. Not to the details of how the program works—that’s important to the company, but not to the end user. No, I needed to get a microscopic view of the program. How it works at the smallest, most personal level.

If my submission were this headstone, the contest sponsor would need to see the deer. Everything else is just background noise.

Are you writing what your audience needs to know? Or are you writing what you want to tell them? Sometimes a Venn diagram of those two perspectives would completely overlap; other times, they might barely touch each other.

When in doubt, write for your readers. What do they need to know? Tell them that consistently. Show them the whole picture, because details matter.


Join me on August 22nd in Los Angeles as we look at the details of the remarkable Getty Center. We’ll spend the day finding and talking about stories—and you’ll get some one-on-one coaching time with me too. Details here.

Too meta for words: a blog about why I’m not blogging

Today’s post brings my daily writing streak to 570 words. Not letting go of that, even as I try to wean myself off publishing something original in this space every day. Is this post feeling too meta already?

Well, it’s about to get even meta-er: Yesterday I wrote on Medium about my blogging hiatus. The piece got picked up by one of the more popular publications on the site, so that could be a nice visibility boost. (Another boost: if you read and enjoy the post, could you “clap” for it? Apparently that matters.)

It occurred to me even as I wrote the piece that writing about not-writing still counts as—well—as writing. So perhaps I can scratch my ideation itch every day anyway, even as I seek World Domination Through Marketing a wider audience.

metaAnd speaking of audiences: I’ve got a free webinar coming up on Monday, November 20th: “Say What You Want to Say”—a webinar for women who are ready to lead. I’ve got some stories to tell, some advice to share (expect that Seth Godin’s name will come up), and we can talk through some solutions. I’ll be leading the webinar live in the morning and evening, Eastern time, so the far-flung folks in my tribe don’t have to stay up to the wee hours to participate. Click on the link or the photo to register; I’d love to see you.

“Say what you want to say” — brave communications

What do you think about when you think about courage, bravery? We don’t often think about brave communications — but that’s exactly what singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles and her co-writer Jack Antonoff had in mind when they wrote “Brave.” (See yesterday’s blog post for a link to the song’s video.)

Bareilles wanted to support a good friend who was struggling to come out as gay. Maybe that’s not your exact story. But the message about brave communications can apply to anyone—even in the business world. Especially in the business world.

“Say what you want to say.” Do you have an idea to share? An opinion? Someone out there needs to hear it.

brave communicationsIf you’re like many people—and especially many women—you probably feel unprepared. So prepare.

If you struggle to make yourself heard, discover how to speak and write memorably.

If you find your ideas being co-opted by others just seconds after you’ve voiced them, discover how to leverage your own story to make those ideas uniquely yours.

If you secretly wonder why anyone should listen to you, uncover the power of your voice. And use it!

Brave communications, the key to success

When you write something so engaging that people can’t help sharing it, no one can deny your expertise.

When you connect to your listeners or readers with emotion and heart, your ideas become memorable. They become yours. And no one can take them away from you.

So whether you’re looking to build a platform externally—to become recognized as an expert—or you’re looking to boost your credibility inside your own organization, communication skills can help.

When you write better than your peers, tell stories more powerfully than your peers, you will separate yourself from your peers. You will stand out. You will shine.

Saying “what you want to say” is only the first part of the challenge. You need your audience to hear you. And I can help you there.

Join me on Monday November 20th and explore how you can

“Say What You Want to Say”

This webinar is for women only? Yes. Some of my best clients have been men—and of course I’ll continue to work with men. But I’m reserving this training just for people who identify as women. (What can I say? Ten years of single-sex education leaves a mark.)

Brave communication is easier than you think—if you have the right tools and know how to use them. So join us. Like Sara Bareilles,

“I want to see you be brave.”


Say when you want to join us in “Say What You Want to Say.” I’ll be leading the program live on November 20th at 10am and 7pm Eastern. Click here to register.

Golden brandcuffs — the downside of commitments

golden brandcuffsYou’ve heard of golden handcuffs? They’re a series of payouts timed over a long period—the corporate world’s way of keeping key executives from straying. I don’t have golden handcuffs keeping me here at Bennett Ink. But I do seem to have forged myself a pair of golden brandcuffs.

I was taking some Me Time on Sunday evening. I’d just spent an exhausting three days at a conference. Valuable stuff, but my mental gastank was pinned on E.

Despite that, after the last session ended I had to pound out a speech for a client. I had definitely earned that baseball-watching time.

Maybe, I found myself thinking, maybe that two hours I spent writing for my client could count as my 15 minutes for today? That’s not the commitment I’d made to myself 538 days earlier—I’d promised to count only non-client writing. But I was mentally fried. And there was baseball on the television machine.

And then I saw that Julia Wu, one of the writers in my Writing Unbound class, had posted a piece in our Facebook group and on her Medium blog. A meditation on what makes a brand. The brand examples she cited included this one:

“A writing coach who centers her business around the word daily: daily practice and daily publishing.”

And off the couch I got. So what if it’s a tie ballgame? The Cubs had a 50% chance of losing it, and did I really need to see the Cubs lose again?

Choosing the golden brandcuffs

Now, obviously I forged these golden brandcuffs all by myself; I choose to write and publish daily. But Julia Wu’s salute to my daily habits came at an interesting moment.

The coach I was working with this weekend insists we should spend no more than two hours a week creating content. Although I’ve only committed to 15 minutes a day, I probably average something closer to 30; the longer posts may creep up to an hour. So I’m at upwards of 3.5 hours of content-creation—not counting marketing emails and my Occasional Flashes of Brilliance.

Of course, I could always blog on my own time. Problem is, when you’re a solopreneur, every minute is your “own time.” And this quarter I’m trying to spend at least 20 hours a week having a—what’s it called?—life.

Still, it’s not every day you build a recognizable brand. Maybe it’s worth investing the extra time to maintain it?

I don’t know. What do you think? Scroll down and let me know.

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The challenge with Bible-writing

challenge of bible-writing“We want this to be the Bible for our [Insert Your Innovation Here].” When people say they want something to be “the Bible”—they mean they want it to be comprehensive, to contain anything a person would want to know on any aspect of the subject. But that’s the challenge with Bible-writing: How do you take a massive information download and create something people actually want to read?

Now, please understand—I mean no disrespect to people who turn to the actual Bible for religious inspiration. But it does break some pretty fundamental rules of story-telling. I mean, let’s be honest: do we really need all of those “begats”?

And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters:5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died. 6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters.

And so it continues for the whole rest of Genesis, Chapter 5—and good luck remembering them all. Most of those folks never appear in the text again—violating a primary rule of writing a memorable story: don’t clutter it with extraneous information.

Bible-writing — is everything essential?

Does your corporate “bible” need that level of detail?

Bob got the idea for the new app while in a meeting with Jenny, who’s been with the firm since she got her engineering degree. And Jenny brought along Hal and Susie, the key members of her team. Bob invited people from his team as well…

Or even this level of detail?

First we tried X, yielding Y results. Then we moved to X+1, which brought us to…

That last sentence contains the seeds of something you want to include in your “bible”—but you need to plant those seeds in the fertile soil of a great story.

What challenges did you encounter with X that prompted your move to X+1? Start with the sticking point and let the reader see how you navigated around it.

Make your stories stick

If your “bible” documents a complex, multiyear process, make sure it contains lots and lots stories (as the original Bible does). But which stories?

Use the SUCCESs mnemonic from the Heath Brothers’ book Made to Stick and look for:

Simple
Unexpected
Concrete
Credible
Emotional
Stories

Think about the Bible stories you remember:

Abraham and the burning bush—God asks him to kill his son (unexpected); he nearly does it (emotional).

The birth of Jesus: homeless people seek shelter (simple); woman goes into labor (unexpected, concrete—parents of every generation understand what that entails); healthy baby born (emotional).

There’s a reason these stories have endured for millennia.

Find the stories like that in the work you’re documenting. Every corporate endeavor has inflection points where people wonder, try, and maybe even fail—before they eventually succeed enough to write a “bible” about it.

That’s the stuff that will get people reading—and remembering—all of the hard work you’re documenting. And, as regular readers have heard me ask before: If you don’t want to be remembered, then why are you bothering to write this stuff in the first place?


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

TODAY is Sunday. Time-travel and the entrepreneur

As an entrepreneur, I love being location-independent, as long as I stay properly oriented to time and place. I hope I didn’t disorient too many of my readers when you woke up to yesterday’s blog, one of my regular “Song for a Sunday” series.

As I sat down to write this I realized that TODAY is Sunday, which must mean yesterday was some other day. Saturday? I understand that’s the way those things usually go.

How could I make such an egregious error? Let’s blame:

a) the three-day conference I was at that started on Thursday. Even the conference leader kept referring to its final day as Sunday.

and

b) the cold and flu that knocked me flat for the—well, I was going to say “the better part of the week,” but believe me there was nothing “better” about it.

Entrepreneur-ing While Sick

entrepreneur-ing while sickEntrepreneur-ing While Sick is like the IronMan of Entrepreneuring. So where the eff is my gold medal?

I suppose it could have been worse: I’d pre-written most of my blog posts, so I wasn’t required to write cogently until late in the week. But I couldn’t think cogently, either, and that was truly annoying.

I cancelled a one-on-one coaching because I was afraid I’d turn my writer’s lovely piece into word salad. But I had to interview someone for one of my corporate clients—haven’t re-read my notes yet; they should be interesting.

And I managed to lead a Weekly What discussion group on Monday, if you use “lead” in the loosest possible sense. At one point my brain got as stopped-up as my bronchial tubes; one of my writers had to supply the word I was searching for, sliding in a gently whispered: “adjectives.”

Adjectives! What, I ask you, is a writer who forgets adjectives? Well, I don’t know about “forgets,” but James Baldwin managed to craft some mighty descriptive paragraphs with only one adjective or adverb per 100 words or so. That’s genius.

“Genius” was not my problem on Monday. Nor Tuesday. Nor Wednesday, nor…you get the drift. I did manage some insights at the conference the night before last. Which I now understand was Friday.

I’m grateful to be on the mend now. And grateful to have patient and understanding clients—every entrepreneur should be so blessed. And now I have something else to be grateful for:

It’s Sunday.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change. (Includes the Weekly What—check it out!)

Dorie Clark: How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

Dorie Clark
Photo by Thitiwat Nookae

I’m thrilled to introduce you to today’s guest expert, Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of business best-sellers Reinventing You and Stand Out, and she offers readers a free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook. Take her up on the offer (after you read this post). — Elaine

How Writing a Book Can Score You a Job

by Dorie Clark

What’s the best way to land your dream job? It certainly isn’t sending in a resume and waiting to hear back. Instead, Miranda Aisling Hynes – whom I profile in my new book Stand Out – used “inbound marketing” to ensure her future employer was dying to talk to her.

She dreamed of a career in arts management. But it’s a crowded and competitive field. For her master’s thesis in community art, instead of writing an ivory tower treatise, she self-published a manifesto on creativity, Don’t Make Art, Just Make Something (published under her middle name, Miranda Aisling). She wanted it to inspire regular people, not just practicing artists or those inside academia. The term “art” is loaded, she’d come to believe; it signified something rarefied that most people couldn’t imagine aspiring to. “But everyone is creative,” she says. “Whether they use that creativity is a different issue, but it’s an innate human skill like curiosity, and your creativity can manifest itself in any number of ways . . . Most people do want to be creative; they just had it squashed out of them at some point.”

She gave a copy of her book to a friend who worked at a local arts center; he passed along the copy to his boss after he’d finished reading it. When Hynes later applied for a job at the organization, the director was extremely enthusiastic, praising it during her interview and again in front of the entire staff when she went in for the second round. “The book definitely opened the door,” she says. She got the job.

She recognizes that self-publishing probably won’t make her rich or famous. “I think you have to have realistic expectations about what you’re going to get out of it,” she says. “It’s an entrance [for other people] to my ideas. I haven’t really made a profit; I’ve pretty much broken even.” But the book landed her the job, and is bringing her closer to her long-term vision of opening a “community art hotel” that connects visitors with local artists. “The more stuff you create—a blog, websites, books—the more articulate you become about your passion and purpose,” she says. “And the more articulate you become, the more people flock to your message.”

It’s about creating a variety of touch points that can draw people in and keep them engaged. Someone discovering her website might order a copy of her book, sign up for her e-newsletter, and perhaps start attending the regular art and music gatherings she hosts. “Instead of building the arts center and hoping the community will come,” she says, “I’m building the community first and hoping they’ll help me make the arts center.”

Writing your own book might seem like an enormous challenge. But you don’t have to dive into your masterpiece right away. Start by listening and learning about the major issues in your field, as you begin to formulate your own point of view. Then, begin to share your thoughts via blogging and social media. Finally, as you’ve built up a following that’s interested in your perspective—and asking for more—you can expand those concepts into a book that encapsulates your philosophy and how you see the world. That will be your calling card to attract like-minded people to you and your ideas, and to help ensure that they spread.

If someone hasn’t worked with you before, hiring you can feel like a significant risk. If it doesn’t work out, they may have wasted months and tens of thousands of dollars. But when someone reads your book – or even just hears about it and recognizes the thought and expertise that went into creating it – it gives them a far deeper understanding of who you are and how you think. That provides an extra level of reassurance that makes it easier for them to say yes to you.

So ask yourself, if a book could serve as a calling card for you, what message would you want it to convey? What does the world need to hear? Set aside an hour on your calendar sometime this week to brainstorm – maybe during a walk over lunch, or as you relax in the evening. As Hynes’ story shows, self-publishing a book may seem an unlikely route to winning your dream job – but because it helps you stand out from the competition, it’s a powerful one.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me (Elaine!) for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

“How important are writing skills for professionals?” — Frequent Question

Q: How important are writing skills for professionals?
A: That depends. Do you want people to listen to you?

I did a podcast interview yesterday afternoon—I’ll let you know when it’s released—and that was one of the host’s questions.

I enjoyed the interview; the host seems like a smart guy. But when I’m not making my living writing for professionals, professionals pay me to teach them how to write for themselves. So how important do you think I think writing skills are? Um, very.

These days, everything in business happens in writing: Texts. Private messages. Tweets. Emails. Presentations. Your writing skills—or lack thereof—convey your ideas, connect you to your colleagues, give you visibility with your leadership.

How important is all of that?

Maybe it’s time to hone your writing skills

I’ll give you a sneak peek at some of the tips I offered on this podcast:

  1. Focus on your audience: what they want from you and what you want from them. Always have those two pieces of information in mind when you start to write—or at least when you start to revise your first draft. They’ll guide you to the right content.
  2. Be yourself. One mistake many business writers make is trying to sound formal or sophisticated—you know, the way they think a businessperson should sound. Well, guess what? You’re a businessperson. So sound like yourself. People will connect with you much more easily and they’ll remember what you have to say.
  3. Tell stories. Don’t just reel off a list of facts. Add value to the items on that list by setting them in a story. Stories make facts more memorable. And if you don’t want people to remember what you’re saying, then why are you bothering to say it?
  4. Read widely. Make sure you read things outside of work, even if you only have 5 or 10 minutes a day to do it. Read for fun, but read good writing. Whether you read books or magazine articles, you’ll unconsciously come to understand the difference between good writing and…well, less-good writing. Aim to emulate the former.
    build your writing skills. Write. Now.
  5. Write. Every day. Yes, I know you’re busy doing Great Things. Changing the business world and all that. But if you can spend just 15 minutes a day writing, you’ll notice the improvement. I’ll have another 5-day writing challenge starting in September. Click here to get on the waiting list and I’ll let you know when to register.

Well, what are you waiting for? Write. Now.


Time to kick your writing skills up a level? Join me for my popular Writing Unbound program this October. A serious commitment, for people serious about change.

Aaaand they’re off! The 5×15 Writing Challenge returns

What’s the most important part of the 5×15 Writing Challenge?

5x15 Writing Challenge
Feedback from the very first writing challenge

Is it the donations the writers earn for charity? Our first three challenges have raised about $1,200 for Room to Read, a fantastic nonprofit promoting global literacy.

Is it the discipline of developing a daily writing practice? Many veterans of the 5-day challenges are on track to finish the more daunting 90-day challenge that finishes on June 30th. (And yes, there’s another 90-Day Challenge right behind that one, starting July 1st.)

Certainly both of those are important outcomes. But my favorite parts of the 5-day-long challenge are the discoveries people make along the way.

Challenge writers push through their fears and discover that when you push through your fears often enough, they go away. Or at least subside long enough for you to write.

People who haven’t written for pleasure in years—or perhaps ever—discover the joy of being creative. Being silly, even. And people who write for a living use the challenge to dig into those memoirs they’ve been meaning to write.

Entrepreneurs who know they should be blogging bank some blog posts. One participant this time has committed to writing that five-email sequence she’s been meaning to create for her new followers.

Challengers have written satire, fiction, odes to their pet gerbils. I’m inspired by their creativity. And humbled by the care and generosity they demonstrate in our Facebook group.

I’ve said often that the 5×15 Writing Challenge may be the best idea I had in all of 2016. I’m excited to see how it’s flourished—this round has the highest enrollment yet. And I can’t wait to see what’s next for these writers.


Writing is just the first part of the process. Revising—that’s the secret sauce that gives your writing zing. Join my free webinar on revising.