Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Media Minute: The power of anecdotes

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Media Minute: The power of anecdotes

By Jerry Brown, APR

Media Minute: The power of anecdotesBoston. What a week. And a horrible event brings out the strength and resiliency of the city where it happened.

You can tell the story of last week’s events in Boston with a broad brush: Explosion. Shock. Photos of the two hats. High-speed chase. Daylong search. And the capture.

But it’s the personal anecdotes — the hero in the cowboy hat, personal information about the victims or add your favorite example here — that fill in the details and add depth and poignancy to the story.

Every one of us was touched by one or more of these personal anecdotes that emerged as the events of last week unfolded. And each of us has our personal collection of these stories that we remember from last week’s events.

Some of these details are shared — things we read or saw on TV. Some are more personal, based on being in Boston or knowing someone who was.

But here’s my point: You recognize the high-level, broad-brush version I outlined above. But it’s the smaller, personal-interest stories that had the biggest impact for most of us.

Anecdotes are powerful storytelling tools. They humanize your story. Use them whenever you can to humanize your story and make it more interesting.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?


Listen to Jerry’s Tips for Telling Your Story every Tuesday at 11:05 a.m., Mountain Time, on the Experience Pros Radio Show, KLZ 560AM in Denver or at on the Internet. Missed it on the air? Listen to the archives. And check out Jerry’s content-focused blog at

Be quotable if you want to be quoted

Monday, July 2nd, 2012

Be quotable if you want to be remembered

By Jerry Brown, APR

Be quotable if you want to be rememberedIf you’re quotable when you talk to reporters there’s a good chance you’ll get quoted. That’s because good quotes are as irresistible to a reporter as candy is to a kid.

You can be clever, funny or outrageous if you want. But you don’t have to be. You just have to be interesting. Have something worth saying that helps reporters tell their stories and they’ll quote you more often than not.

You don’t talk to reporters? It doesn’t matter. The same idea applies to telling your story to any audience.

Reporters like good quotes because they know their audience, people like you and me, like them. A quotable quote is an easily remembered way of saying something well. Be quotable when talking to reporters and you’ll be quoted. Be quotable when talking to the rest of us and you’ll be remembered.

If I have a not-so-quotable statement from a client I know wants to be quoted, I ask them three questions:

What are you really trying to say? It’s amazing how often what they’re saying bears little resemblance to what they’re trying to say. Say what your really mean and it’s usually much clearer and quotable than the watered-down version.

Why will the audience you’re trying to reach care? Unless you say something that’s interesting to your audience, what you say probably won’t be remembered.

Do you really want to be quoted? I ask this question even when I know the answer is yes to get clients to think about what it will take to be quoted. It helps them understand the need to be quotable.

Is your message being ignored? Ask yourself the three questions listed above and work to make what you say more quotable.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Media Minute: Be ruthless

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Media Minute: Be ruthless
By Jerry Brown, APR

2 axesEdit, edit, edit. Then edit some more. Be ruthless when editing your own copy. Don’t fall in love with your own words just because you wrote them.

Some writers don’t like to let other people review what they’ve written before they publish it. I’m in the opposite camp. I want other people to read what I’ve written and give me feedback.

There are times, of course, when you don’t have a choice. If you’re writing for a client, they’ll generally want to review and edit your copy. That’s their right. And they get to decide what does or doesn’t get used in the final draft.

But there are times when you, the writer, have the final say. If I have the final say and one person suggests a change, my rule for myself is that I pick the version I think works best. Sometimes it’s mine. More often it’s theirs. It’s important to be objective when deciding. And to be grateful for the help. If two people suggest essentially the same change, I make their change unless I’m absolutely certain in my own mind that my version is best. If three people suggest a change, I make the change no matter what. My version isn’t working.

I also have some editing games I use to improve my own copy. Here are four of them:

  • Eliminate the orphans. An orphan is a word or two alone on a line at the end of a paragraph. Edit every paragraph that ends with an orphan. If you’re not used to doing this, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is most of the time to take a word or two out of these paragraphs to eliminate the orphan without affecting your message. Your writing will become crisper and, therefore, better.
  • Make it shorter. Your word processor will tell you how many words you’ve written. Pick a smaller number and see if you can eliminate words, phrases or even sentences and paragraphs that shorten your copy without removing anything you consider essential. You wrote 500 words? Can you get it down to 400? If you get to the new word count easily, then pick a smaller number and repeat. Keep trimming until the only way to cut any more is to eliminate something that’s important to your story. Then it’s time to stop.
  • Listen to your writing. Good writing, like good music, has a rhythm. If something doesn’t sound right consider changing it. I learned to do this as a speechwriter. But it works for other writing, too.
  • When you think you’re done, put your writing aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. Are you still satisfied it’s the best it can be? Or can you hone it further? I often make major improvements when I come back to a “finished” piece for one last look. Even if you can’t wait until later, taking one last look before pushing the send button is a good idea.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Ignore (some of) the rules

Monday, March 7th, 2011

By Jerry Brown, APR

Some of the rules of grammar you learned in school — or would have learned if you’d been paying attention that day — are important. Take the hyphen out of man-eating shark, for example, and you change who’s on the menu.

But there are some grammar rules you learned in school you can and should ignore. You can ignore the rule about never starting a sentence with “and” or “but.” And it’s okay to use contractions, despite what your teacher told you. For some more rules of grammar you should ignore, check out the Seven Nevers in James Trimble’s Writing With Style.

I’ve earned my living for several decades by writing.  Here are three things that work well for me:

  • Write the way you talk.  Most of us have no trouble holding a conversation.  And most of the time it’s pretty easy to say what you want to say. Writing is a lot harder for most of us. It certainly is for me. One way to make writing easier – and more entertaining for your readers – is to write the way you talk.
  • Listen to what you write.  Good writing, like good music, has a natural rhythm.  If it sounds wrong, you probably need to rewrite it.
  • Be a ruthless editor of your own writing.  If you regularly fall in love with your own first drafts, the rest of us almost certainly won’t like them.  Edit your writing.  Then edit it some more.  And keep at it until you can’t edit any more without taking out things that are important to what you have to say.

That’s my two cents’ worth. What’s yours?

Word Trippers

Monday, December 13th, 2010

By Jerry Brown, APR

word_trippersI’ve been a fan for some years of Word Trippers, a short ezine that shows up in my email each week.

Word Trippers is written by Barbara McNichol, who specializes in editing book manuscripts.  Here’s an example from last week:

Convince, persuade – You ‘convince’ someone of an idea but ‘persuade’ someone to take action.  Therefore, it’s correct to say, ‘He convinced me it would taste good’ but incorrect to say, ‘He convinced me to taste it.’ Instead, you’d say, ‘He persuaded me to taste it.'”

As someone who has made his living with words for several decades, most of Barbara’s Word Trippers cover rules of word usage I already know.  But from time to time I learn something new — as I did last week with her explanation of the distinction between convince and persuade.  And I always enjoy reading her brief, clear explanations of common mistakes in word usage.

If you’re not already on Barbara’s distribution list, you can sign up for Word Trippers for free.  She’s also published a collection of Word Trippers in book form, which she sells for $16.95.  You can order it from her online.

I don’t own the book yet.  It’s something I’m going to give myself for Christmas.  But, if it’s as good as the tips she deposits in my email each week, it’ll be a great addition to my ever-growing collection of books on words, writing and grammar.

So, if you’re looking for a gift for that logophile on your shopping list, you might send them a copy of Barbara’s book.  Or sign up for the email version.  It’s well worth the few seconds it takes each week to read.

Merry Christmas (or whatever you celebrate).  And Happy New Year.  MMMM will return in January.

That’s my’ two cents’ worth.  What’s yours?