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Persuasive writing can help you be a better communicator in the workplace, to get your message across, to get people on board, and be more influential.
But how do you write with more precision when you don’t consider yourself to be a novelist, or marketing copywriter? Carla Bass, author of Write to Influence!, will tell us how.
What You’ll Discover About Persuasive Writing (highlights & transcript):
* 4 Strategies to make your writing more persuasive
* How word sculpting improves persuasive writing
* How word economy contributes to persuasive writing
* The genesis of Carla’s persuasive writing tips
* 3 Biggest mistakes people make when trying to write persuasively
* And MUCH more.
Persuasive writing can help you be a better communicator in the workplace to get your message across, to get people on board and just be more influential, but how do you write with more precision when you don’t consider yourself to be a novelist or a marketing copywriter? Well, my next guest, Carla Bass, is going to tell us how.
This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner helping you see business issues hiding in plain view that matter to your bottom line.
Welcome to Business Confidential Now, I’m your host, Hanna Hasl-Kelchner, and as a writer myself, I am thrilled to welcome Carla Bass to the show. Carla is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel and author of Write to Influence! and that’s with an exclamation point. She means it. It’s now in its second edition, and I have to tell you, that book has more awards than there is room for on the front cover.
Carla says writing powerfully has been central to her success. She’s composed documents for Congress, the White House generals, ambassadors, hundreds of performance reviews, award nominations and budget justifications. So, I’m looking forward to learning more about persuasive writing. Let’s have her join us now. Welcome to Business Confidential Now, Carla.
Thank you. Hanna, I’m delighted to join you and thank you for the opportunity.
Oh, it’s wonderful to have you here because I think sometimes we take writing for granted that it’s something everybody does in one way shape for a form, even if they’re just sending a text. And so we tend to be casual about it and really not take full advantage of it. Tell me, how has writing helped you in your career persuasive writing that is?
Well, I learned from my earliest days as a lieutenant how to make each word count and every second of the audience’s time play to my advantage. It began when I was the first lieutenant and I was writing the daily briefings for the director of the National Security Agency. I learned then and then throughout the rest of my career that every second is valuable, that readers time and attention are fleeting, and in order to maximize that time and attention, you have got to write with focused precision.
Well, I think with today’s social media, people’s attention spans have gotten even shorter. It’s less than a click. So, let’s talk about some ways that persuasive writing becomes tangible. Say, for a business owner, how can it help them?
Sure. First of all, you have to write persuasively if you’re trying to market your product or your service, and you have to examine that from the intended audiences perspective, look at it from their point of view, and then write to their needs and their desires. If you’re trying to win contracts or win grants, you’re very often limited in the amount of space that you have to make your case.
If you’re trying to defend your resources against budget cuts, I call that defending the castle, make a case on why it is that you should not be cut. What benefit do you bring to the overall enterprise? If, on the other hand, you’re trying to get funds to start a new project or launch a new program, you have to be able to justify that also because resources are scarce.
If you want to compete your business in awards, whether it’s county, state or even national level awards, how do you make your case that you stand above the best? Because we all know that if you’re able to get those brass rings, that emphasizes your credibility and that also enhances your market value. Publicizing good news is a logical follow on to that.
It’s something people often don’t think to do. When you secure that major contract or you do something ahead of schedule or under budget or you win that award, take those golden nuggets and include those in future marketing material. If it’s appropriate in press releases, good news like that is just pure gold. If you think about leveraging it, those are just a few ways that business owners or entrepreneurs can leverage powerful writing or persuasive writing to their benefit.
Well, that sounds great, but some of us stare at a blank piece of paper or a blank screen and just kind of freeze or get writer’s block. Is there a method for how we can write? I mean, I understand that you actually taught a 480-person squadron how to be better writers. I mean, what did you teach them?
I developed, I think, in images. So, imagine an inverted triangle. At the top of the inverted triangle are our strategies, and this is how I have my book organized. You have to first strategize your message and I’ll share those in just a minute. Strategize the message. When you come down to the bottom point of the triangle, you now have your first draft, then you go through sentence by sentence and apply what I call word sculpting tools.
You get rid of all the wasted words, the useless words, and redundancies. When you’re done with that inverted triangle, you have got one heck of a powerful product. And the beauty of this is these strategies and the word sculpting tools are so easy to learn, and they are so fun. They’re like scavenger hunts because you’re looking for these bugaboos. It’s like painting because the more detail you add, which is one of my strategies, it brings your story into absolute focus.
All right. Now, how about some of these strategies? You’re teasing me here, Carla, you know? You got to – where’s the beef?
Okay, here comes the beef. The first strategy, I referred to it basically is know the audience right from the audience’s perspective, what they need, and what they want. Make sure you use the right language for them. If they’re technicians, speak in technical terms. If they’re not, don’t use technical jargon because you will lose them.
Frame your message. That’s another really great way to strategize your message. For example, if you’re trying to justify a new programmer, a new, let’s call it an IT system. Answer these questions. What new capabilities does this program offer? How is this program better than existing programs? What are the alternatives to it and how do they compare? What happens if we don’t fund this program? What are the ramifications, if for example, you’re trying to secure a grant?
The questions that would frame that would be what problem are you trying to resolve? How does your proposal benefit the grant maker? You always have to keep the audience in mind. What are your goals and objectives? Who will benefit from your program and how can you sustain it? So, if you look at your message and determine what questions ought it to answer, then write to those answers. And that’s a great start on framing your message.
Another one is outline. Every author is taking the reader on a journey. You know the starting point and you know the conclusion that you want the audience to reach. So, the outline for the author is just like an architectural drawing for an engineer. It guides your thoughts. It ensures you hit the key points, and it also makes sure that that no extraneous tangential information creeps in there that could dilute your intended message. So, outlining is critical.
And one more that I can share is don’t bury the gold nugget remembering that that the reader’s time is precious and the attention is fleeting. Get the most important fact up there first and then follow it up with background and ancillary information. Those are some strategies.
I couldn’t agree more, especially that last one about don’t bury the gold. There’s an interesting reason for how that got developed. Going back to the gold rush days, not too much to tie in with your gold idea, but when the telegraph was really the way that we could communicate between the East and West Coast and reporters were out on the West, they didn’t know when the telegraph was going to cut out. So, they had to get the most important piece of their story to the editors.
Hanna: [00:08:26] And that’s why they didn’t bury the lead and it had to be upfront so that anything else, if it got lost, well, wasn’t the end of the world, but the most important piece came out. And that’s why reporters say, “Don’t bury the lead, it’s got to be up front.”
Well, those are some great strategies, but you got me with a hook back there about this word sculpting. All right? So now, this sounds like a real heavy duty editing process, which some people are probably saying, “Oh, I don’t have time for this,” but Carla, tell me, how does it work, the sculpting that you’re talking about and why is it so important for persuasive writing?
Words sculpting. First, it’s fun. It truly is fun. And once you get the hang of it, you rise to the challenge. Okay, so imagine you’re a sculptor, you’re in Paris, and you’re a master sculptor. So, you’ve got this eight-foot chunk of marble. Because you are a master sculptor, you know the image that lies dormant therein. So, the word sculpting, instead of having a chunk of marble, you have your first draft and you go sentence by sentence and you apply my ten-word sculpting tools.
And as you chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, chop, there goes the rubble. There go the excess words, and what you’re left with is one hard hitting draft and you’ve gotten rid of all that excess text. You just bought yourself more space to continue making that persuasive case. Now, let me share a couple of these word sculpting tools.
One, and I love explaining this, is called, “Verbs are your friends rely on them.” Now to understand this, imagine a hard-boiled egg, six-foot tall and focus on the yolk. The yolk is the verb. The white is the bureaucratic blather that we suffocate verbs in nowadays, and here are some examples. Provide protection is protect. Work collaboratively is collaborate.
Place an emphasis on is emphasize. Serve as a liaison is liaise. Pose threats is threaten. So, you see, sentence by sentence, look at the verb and get rid of all that extra stuff and cut straight to the chase to the yolk and mentioned specifically what the verb is and don’t use all those other wasted words.
Very cool. What else you got?
Okay. This other one is called, “Don’t use words that hog space.” Now, there are three categories of that. I only have time to share one, and the idea here is right with precision. So, instead of using several words, see if you can condense them into one. So, for example, on a daily basis, you hear that all the time. On a daily basis is daily; on a monthly basis, monthly.
In the near future is soon. We’re in the process of evaluating. We are evaluating. In an expeditious manner is expeditiously. Equal and capability with is on par with. So, look through those sentences and find how you express your thoughts more concisely. That draws the reader into the message more rapidly, and it retains their attention.
So, Carla, I got to ask a dumb question here. How did you come up with these principles for more persuasive writing, these strategies and these tips? I mean, maybe some of this comes natural to you, and I’m sure it does, but to be able to extract it and put it down into some rules, as you’ve just explained, how did all that happen?
I had to take care of my people. So, here’s a quick back story. When I was in Hawaii, I was a squadron commander of that 480-person unit. When I arrived, it was the most losing unit in the state for these important professional awards, and it was hurting deserving careers. My people were suffering because their bosses couldn’t write the winning packages. They were performing. They were giving Rumpelstiltskin the straw, but they couldn’t spin it into gold.
So, I took three days personal time and I sequestered myself in a cabin. I just analyzed. I said, “Carla, you know. You already have demonstrated that you’ve done this. You’ve written these winning awards. How do you do it and how can you teach other people?” So, it was three days of introspection. I just analyzed what I did and created the word sculpting tools.
I turned that into a one-hour class. I taught my guys. We almost overnight became the unit to beat. And what just shocked the heck out of me is for the next 15 years, wherever my assignments took me, word sculpting came along. So, I ended up teaching this to thousands of people for the next 15 years.
And then when I retired, I transformed all of this into a methodology that applies to everything from kids in high school going for jobs to justifying projects to Congress, and that’s the beauty of all this. Learn it once and it applies to everything. It’s a life skill, and it’s so easy to learn.
Well, it’s easy for you, but I have some – I’m sure there are a couple of people listening that say, “Hey, if it was so easy, I’d be doing it already.” If someone wanted to find out more about your program, you have an online program or a webinar or something where you’re teaching these people or people can sign up to learn?
Yes, just at www.writetoinfluence.net, N-E-T. Everything I offer is there. I can be hired for webinars, for workshops. These things go anywhere from one hour. I have clients that I developed two full days of workshops based on their material. I work closely with public libraries, reaching the community that way also. On my website, I compose three free e-books. One is called, Write to Win! A Standout Resume, Write to Win! A Grant Submission and oh, come on. I just forgot the third one.
But I did this to help people, especially in these last two difficult, difficult years. So, go to my website and it’s front and center, those three free e-books. It takes the write to influence strategies and word sculpting tools, and laser focuses them on those three particular products. Oh, input to performance reviews.
Input to performance reviews. Well, those sound like three important topics, and it sounds like this process could even help our listeners, high school students that are trying to write college essays. So, the book is Write to Influence! with an exclamation point. What prompted you to put it between two covers, Carla?
It was in my soul, I had to. I received so many testimonials over the years and said, “Colonel Bass, if it hadn’t been for, I wouldn’t be able to.” I had one individual emailed me unsolicited, “Colonel Bass, I was an airman in your squadron. Because you taught me how to write, I was accepted into officer training school. I just retired after 20 years as lieutenant colonel. I’m now the vice president of a defense corporation because you taught me how to write.”
That is not the exception that happens so often. I had to share this thing. It’s almost like a calling. What I have works, what I have changes lives and I have to share it.
Well, I can hear that passion and that cause in your voice, it is definitely there. What’s next, Carla? I mean, you’ve put it all here out in the book. What are you going to do next?
I’m in the final stages of developing. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour self-paced online course called Catapult Your Career: Write to Influence. It’s in seven modules. It will be accompanied by a 30-page reference document that has 120 challenges with the answers that reinforce the various teaching points in the course.
Carla, what are some common mistakes? I mean, I hear all the good things about the strategies and the word sculpting, but people trip up. It’s just human nature that we’re not going to be as good as you, certainly not the first couple of times out. And what are some things that we need to look out for as writers? What are some common mistakes that get made?
The first thing is people will often take the first draft and use that as the final product. The final word sculpting tool, which people often skip to their detriment is revise, edit and proofread. So, do not take that first draft and count that as final. It’s just clay. Now, you need to mold the clay.
And people often write as they speak. That’s something that they should edit out instead of speaking in terms of the group reached consensus about, the group agreed to. We have to get you up to speed on. It should be, “We need to inform you about.” So, don’t write as you speak is another mistake.
Inconsistency in lists. If you start a list with a verb, make all of the bullets, start with a verb, and keep it in the same tense. People very often mix the tenses of verbs, or they’ll start a list. One item with a noun, then follows the verb, then follows a noun. If you read that out loud, you will hear the rhythm and jerky rhythm slows down the reader, it encumbers your message. So, those are some things to watch out for as you’re revising, editing and then proofreading.
Well, that’s interesting. You got to keep the beat and keep them moving forward. So. Carla, I appreciate your tips on persuasive writing so that we can be more powerful communicators because it does make us more effective in our jobs, in our businesses, and in our careers.
And if you’re listening and looking to sharpen your writing skills, Carla’s contact information is going to be in the show notes, BusinessConfidentialRadio.com, along with a link to her book Write to Influence! and a link to her website so that you can see these tools that she has and new products that she’s creating because it sounds like you can do a whole lot online.
And if you know someone who wants to be more influential in work, tell them about Carla Bass and this podcast episode. Share the link; leave a positive review so others can find out about our amazing tips for writing with precision to be more powerful communicators. You can leave a review on your podcast app or come on over to lovethepodcast.com/businessconfidential. This is Business Confidential Now with Hanna Hasl-Kelchner. Thank you for listening. Have a great day and an even better tomorrow.
Why Persuasive Writing Can Actually Empower Your Business and Career
How Economy of Words Contributes to Persuasive Writing
4 Strategies to Improve Your Persuasive Writing Ability
Guest: Carla Bass
Carla D. Bass, Colonel, USAF (Ret), authored the multiple award-winning book Write to Influence! now in its second edition. Writing powerfully was central to her success. Throughout her 45-year career (30 in the Air Force and 15 with a federal agency), she composed products for Congress, the White House, generals, and ambassadors; hundreds of performance reviews; awards nomination; and budget justifications.
As a squadron commander, Carla transformed her 480-person unit from the most losing in state-wide, professional awards into the one to beat. How? She developed her writing methodology and taught her troops to write. So successful was her program, she taught thousands of Air Force members for the next 15 years.
She now gives highly acclaimed presentations to government agencies; corporations; private businesses; NGOs; and academic audiences. From tips to frame a winning argument to crafting powerful resumes, grant submissions, input to performance reviews, and essays for college applications … she covers it all!
Her battle cries are twofold:1) “Powerful writing changes lives” and 2) “Powerful writing is the lifeblood of effective organizations”
Carla’s assignments include: Germany; Bulgaria (as the defense and air attaché); Turkey; Korea; and Washington, D.C. For more info, see www.WriteToInfluence.net.
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