You’ll Come Up Big if You’ll Kill the Writing Clichés

Question: How many times does it take before something becomes a cliché? Answer: The second time something is written. When it comes to writing, good writers recognize the curse of the cliché and swear a vow of originality.



Being a former sports writer, I hate to “throw my own under the bus.” But sports writers too often try to “give 110 percent” and “come up empty” in the cliché department instead of “coming up big” with fresh ideas. They need to “relax and play within themselves.” You know, “let the story come to them.” They know they have to “focus on what they do best and not worry about what the other writers are doing.” “Take it one article at a time.” Most of them can “step up and take it to the next level” if they try, and sometimes it “comes down to who wants it more.” There is a “tremendous upside” when people “have their backs against the wall.” They’ll usually “come out swinging.” Continue Reading

Interview Better by Leaving the Script

Legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh is considered the godfather of the “West Coast Offense” and also made vogue the practice of scripting the first 25 offensive plays of a game. He stuck to the script regardless of the game’s changing circumstances and obviously garnered a great deal of success, but should interviewers stick to their scripted questions regardless of an interview’s changing direction?

Leave the scripted strategy to execute more productive interviews.

Leave the scripted strategy to execute more productive interviews.

I was recently listening to an interview on NPR’s, “All Things Considered.” The conversation was between the show’s host and an extremely obscure folk musician who had some interesting songs, but as we soon found out, had an even more interesting back story. Having asked thousands of interview questions over the years, I recognized the host’s prepared questions. However, the guest’s response to one of the questions offered an interesting and unexpected tidbit that caught my attention. It caught the host’s attention too because she immediately followed up, and the interview went an entirely unanticipated – and highly interesting – direction from that point.

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Writing: If you can’t do it find someone who can

Years ago I led a workshop for adult learners all wanting to more clearly communicate their work. I flippantly made possibly the most profound statement of my 20-plus years as a professional communicator: If you can’t write, don’t; find somebody who can.


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I am more convinced of the profundity of that statement 13 years later. Weak writing is the Achilles Heel of most communications efforts. In this age of brand journalism and content marketing, good writing is the backbone that should give organizations a lift over their competition, but poor writing torpedoes good strategy. Plainly stated, how well you write could mean the difference between success or failure. Continue Reading

3 Questions to ask while preparing speeches and presentations

Maybe you remember the scene from the 1980s movie Back to School. Professor Turguson, played by comedian Sam Kinison, hovers over Rodney Dangerfield’s character demanding an answer to his question by not-so-gentley shouting, “SAY IT! SAY IT!” How many speeches or presentations have you sat through where you wanted to shout, “SAY IT! SAY IT!” hoping the speaker would find his point?

speeches and presentations

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The problem with so many presentations and speeches is there is no clear target in mind. The result: related facts that don’t make a clear point. The speaker may know where he’s heading (or not), but too often he assumes the audience walks away having, “gotten it.” Unfortunately, audiences often walk away in a fog of confusion. There are universal fundamentals that should shape every speech or presentation and guide those related facts to a destination. I’ve asked myself the questions below in any executive speech I’ve authored or presentation I’ve prepared. Continue Reading

Writing words that matter; 5 tips to improve your communications

Words are the molecules that create the science of language. Merriam-Webster, the dictionary people, estimate there are approximately a million English words, but rightly explains – as does Slate – there is no way to know for sure an exact number. We do know, however, there are several that downright annoying people.

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Ragan Communications recently published its list of 25 Least Favorite Words, compiled through an informal survey on its Facebook page. Among those making the list were: Essentially, basically, methodology, vetted, align, aforementioned, functionality and irregardless. To this list I’d like to add: Bandwidth, group-think, synergy and its cousin, synergistic. Unfortunately, the perpetrators of these offending words are often organizational communicators. Stop it! Continue Reading

Writing 20,000 Words in 4 days

Writing books can be a daunting task. However, there is a lot of copy cranked out every year. According to Wikipedia, The United States published 328,000-plus new titles in 2010. There are probably that many more manuscripts in some stage of preparation every year. Writing books can be a labor of love or slave labor, depending on your perspective. Which is it for you?

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I began last week with one objective: gather 25,000 words into a completed, coherent manuscript. I scurried around and found 20,000 words in four days, falling short but knowing why. Whether you are just diving in or struggling to stay afloat, here are five ideas for making a successful push to complete a short manuscript in a short period of time. Continue Reading

Social media: Why “get on it” (Part 2)

Social media offers many great opportunities for “ordinary” people to become people of influence. How? The more people share, the more influence potentially grows because their audience potentially grows. I addressed who should engage social media and why in Part 1 of Social Media: Why “get on it.”

One of the greatest opportunities for influence, however, lies with business or organizational leaders. Social media is an avenue to thought leadership that reaches employees as well as interested stakeholders. For instance, leaders can influence company direction simply by consistently informing employees about their vision and the direction they are collectively going (remember, it is actually the employees who bring the vision to existence!). Social media offers the most personably direct line of contact beyond one-to-one or one-to-small group contact. Continue Reading

Writing made easier in 3 steps

Writing seemed to be the undoing of my fellow writer. I could hear the mental anguish coming from the other side of the cubicle partition.

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My friend with years of experience was on deadline and it was obviously painful. I slipped from my chair to offer a word of encouragement, but as I poked my head around the corner, I was shocked to see the hair on my always immaculately groomed friend standing on end. She’d been driving her fingers through her hair fighting for every sentence.

I decided not to say anything. I quietly watched her write; and it was excruciating, like having a root canal…with no anesthesia. I decided then that if writing became that difficult I’d take up something less stressful, like maybe testing warheads with a hammer at a missile factory. Continue Reading