“But what do you DO?”—Frequent Questions
Laura Albanese usually writes about sports, and in my not-so-humble opinion, good baseball writing is about as good as writing gets. But with sports in short supply these days, her employer, Newsday, has assigned her a different beat. And I feel for her.
Businesses, what DO you do?
As a journalist, Albanese knows the most important questions she can answer for her readers are: Who? What? Where? When? and Why? On the ball field, these answers mostly reveal themselves in the action, but the actions emanating from a boardroom are rarely that obvious.
In fact, business writers could all do well to emulate great sports writing. It’s clear and resonant without being fussy.
How? Strip away the corporate jargon and explain yourself. Imagine that you’ve met a smart, eager person who knows absolutely nothing about your company but really wants to learn. You don’t need to strip away your sophistication and style, but maybe put your MBA in the closet for 15 minutes. Use real words, action words. Scale back on the adjectives—they often only serve to obfuscate.
A Baseball-to-Business translator
Here are a few descriptions of one of my favorite baseball moments, the double play. As Bleacher Report put it in one article:
There’s almost nothing better in baseball than when a second baseman and shortstop make a double play look easy as can be.
So what is a double play? Usually it begins when a batter hits a ball toward second base with a runner already on first. The runner has to advance (you can’t have two guys on one base—not even before social distancing), so he runs to second where an opposing player tags him out. That player—could be the second-baseman or the shortstop—throws the ball to first, and the first-baseman tags out the running batter. Two outs from one batted ball: a double play.
What if there were a corporation whose sole function was to create double plays? How would that sound on the organization’s About page?
Our production team, led by Roger Pitcher, specializes in placing the spinning orb in just the right spot, with Six-Sigma accuracy. Pitcher places the orb close enough that the piece of carefully turned ash wood meeting it produces the exact velocity required to drive it 120 feet—or maybe less, with a bounce—to meet his colleague Mr. What standing firmly astride second base. What collects or catches the orb and extends his body sufficiently that it meets the human projectile hurtling toward him from first base. His efficacy depends on keeping at least part of his own pedal extremity attached to the hard white square beneath or, sometimes, beside him. What then calculates the requisite speed and trajectory to transmit the orb to his colleague Mr. Who, perhaps the world’s most talked-about first-baseman. Who replicates What’s process—extending one upper extremity while keeping a lower one affixed to the carefully calibrated square—and causes the orb to interact with some part of the anatomy of the oncoming runner. And with that, DP Corp, International, has created yet another of our patented double plays.
Don’t write like a company; write like a person. Your readers will appreciate it.