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If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now

If You Want To Quickly Improve Your Writing, Do These 10 Little Things Now

William Strunk Jr. in the classic book Elements of Style said:

“Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

If you want to write as best as you can, respond clearly and powerfully to your readers’ needs and make every word tell–whether you are writing a short story, blog post, business letter or e-mail–you must watch how you write. It doesn’t matter what your cultural or educational background is, do these little, painless things from today to quickly improve your writing and dramatically enhance effectiveness of your communication.

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1. Read more—as much and as often as you can.

Read authors, bloggers, reporters and any other types of writers you can find. Study their language, sentence and grammar use to learn what works. This will not only improve your vocabulary and use of proper syntax and grammar, but also broaden your world view, excite your imagination, arouse your curiosity and stimulate your creativity. When you read, you expose yourself to interesting topics, experiences, cultures and can tap into the minds of creative thinkers. Besides that, reading is enjoyable and therapeutic. Fit it into your hectic life and it will help you relax and unwind.

2. Write daily—at least 15 minutes every day.

“The secret of becoming a writer,” Jerry Pournelle says, “is that you have to write.” He is right. It doesn’t matter how much you write, just write every day. Writing everyday is the best way to practice the craft and improve how you think. It also helps you form a writing habit. Find your own pace and write for three hours, half an hour or even just 15 minutes a day. You don’t have to write 40 printed pages a day, but you do need to make sure you write at least 15 minutes each day. If you can’t think of something to write about, keep a personal diary or journal and update it daily.

3. Write in plain English.

No matter how complex or technical your subject is, write your message in the most direct, easy-to-understand and concise way possible. Don’t assault your readers’ intelligence and patience with bloated vocabularies, pretentious jargon and extraneous ideas. Employ familiar, everyday words to facilitate reader enjoyment and comprehension. For instance, instead of writing ‘eliminate,’ write ‘end.’ The word ‘end’ is shorter, punchier and more familiar with people around the world. It reduces chances of confusion and misinterpretation of your intended meaning.

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4. Separate the writing and editing processes.

Separating the writing and editing processes allows you adequate time, space and quiet necessary to complete both tasks successfully. Focus on writing your message down uninhibited at first draft. Address surface level issues of grammar, style and typos later during the editing stage. There is no shame in writing a bad first draft just as long as you set aside plenty of time to edit later. Author Cecil Castellucci says it best: “The best flowers are fertilized by crap.”

5. Open with your main idea.

State your main idea–or at least give a strong hint of your main message–in the first few opening sentences. Don’t keep the reader waiting and guessing for too long about what you are writing about. People are impatient and won’t stick around to read through your ramblings. Similarly, avoid opening your writing with strings of generic sentences. Instead of saying Chicago is a ‘big city,’ open with something unique about Chicago that cannot be said of most other cities. For example, you could say Chicago is the ‘windy city.’ You can’t say that of other cities in the U.S.

6. Vary your sentence length, structures and types.

Varying sentence length, types and structures helps you avoid monotony and allows you to provide emphasis where appropriate. Use short sentences to emphasize an idea and create a punch. Use longer sentences to define, illustrate or explain ideas. Also, blend simple, compound and complex sentences, as well as including occasional commands and question to spice up your writing. Keep in mind that writing is more than just meaning—it’s also about sounds and can be about visual appearance on paper or screen as well.

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7. Use concrete words.

Concrete words are terms for things that can be seen, heard, smelled, tasted or touched, such as table, hot and dancing. Stick to concrete words and avoid abstract terms as much as possible. Abstract words and phrases are not available to the senses and point to personal opinion, such as “great,” “wonderful” and “one of the best.” These abstract terms often represent mere rhetoric. Just because you say something is “great” doesn’t mean everyone else thinks the same way. If you must use abstract words, qualify them with concrete evidence from reliable sources.

8. Trim everything down.

When editing or revising your work, eliminate any unnecessary words and phrases in your text to ensure your words get straight to the point rather than beating about the bush or being boastful, pushy or fluffy. Nothing shouts “armature” than using extraneous, wordy terms and phrases in your writing. Instead of writing ‘owing to the fact that’ or ‘due to the fact that,’ just say ‘since’ or ‘because.’ Similarly, instead of saying, ‘bring the matter to a conclusion’, just say ‘conclude.’ Trimming everything down makes your writing easy to consume and understand. It simply improves readability.

9. Consider the reader’s agenda.

Don’t start to write until you know who exactly you are writing for. Who is your target audience? What problem or need do they have? What gender are they? Where in the world are they located? What is in it for them? Will this solve their problem? It is never enough to only factor in your own agenda when writing. Always weave into your work the audience’s agenda and pack as much value in there for them as possible. If you can do this, the battle is half won. You are already a decent, conscientious writer.

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10.   Break any of these rules.

We write to express ourselves, as much as to inform, educate and entertain. Don’t take yourself or writing too seriously. Relax and have fun expressing yourself. When you are relaxed and having fun, you won’t be dull or unnecessarily clever. You will write naturally without worrying about pleasing everyone. Your readers will get value from your words and enjoy reading them. And, as George Orwell advised in his Rules for Writers, “Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.”

Featured photo credit: Rubin Starset via flickr.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on February 11, 2021

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

10 Secrets of Making Every Presentation Fun, Engaging, and Enjoyable

Not a lot of people are good at public speaking. You could even say that virtually everyone needs to get some practice, and preferably good guidance, before they can learn to stay calm when facing a room full of people. Having all eyes on you is an uncomfortable experience and it takes time to get used to. However, even if you can manage to control your stage fright and stay focused, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your presentation won’t put people to sleep. This is usually the case with long presentations on a very dull subject, with the presenter speaking in a monotone voice and dimming the lights to play a PowerPoint presentation.

You have to work hard to develop the right skills

If you want to be remembered and actually get people engaged, you need to make your presentation fun and enjoyable, without coming off as corny or desperate to please. I know, it doesn’t sound that easy at all! A good presentation during a promotional event or given to an important client can be a game changer for your business, so it is easy to get stressed out and fail to perform all that well. Luckily, giving an interesting lecture is something that can be practiced and perfected. There is plenty of advice out there on the topic, but let’s look at the most important aspects of giving a memorable and fun presentation.

1. Make your presentation short and sweet

With very long, meandering speeches you tend to lose the audience pretty early on, and from then on out it’s just a test of endurance for the few bravest listeners. Not only will people’s attention start to drop rapidly after sitting and listening to you talk for 30 minutes, but you also risk watering down your core ideas and leaving your audience with little in the way of key phrases and important bits of information to take away from the whole ordeal. Famous speakers throughout history have known the importance of condensing the information by using well thought out sentences and short phrases loaded with meaning.

JFK’s famous: ”It’s not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” expresses so much in very few words and gets the audience thinking. Ancient Spartans, for example were famous for their quick, dry wit, often demolishing their opponent’s argument with a single word or phrase. You’ll want to channel that ancient spirit and be as concise as possible when preparing your presentation.

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2. Open up with a good ice breaker

At the beginning, you are new to the audience. There is no rapport, no trust and the atmosphere is fairly neutral. Even if some of the people there know you personally, the concept of you as an authority on a particular matter giving a speech will be foreign to them. The best way to encourage a warm and friendly atmosphere is to get some kind of emotional response out of the audience right at the beginning. It doesn’t matter what emotion it is, you just need to connect with them on a more personal level. It can be shock, curiosity, laughter, knowing smirks, nervousness – whatever gets them out of that initial feeling of indifference. There are different kinds of effective ice-breakers, but generally speaking, the most successful ones utilize one of these tactics:

  • Joking
  • Tugging on their heart strings
  • Dropping a bombastic statement
  • Telling an interesting and relevant anecdote
  • Using a metaphor or drawing comparisons

You can make a small, self-deprecating comment, stir the presentation one way and then suddenly surprise the audience, use sarcasm, open up with a short childhood story that taught you a lesson, quote a famous person and elaborate on it from personal experience, use an inspirational anecdote or hit them with a bit of nostalgia. Just remember to keep it short and move on once you’ve gotten a reaction.

3. Keep things simple and to the point

Once you’re done warming up the crowd you can ease them into the core concepts and important ideas that you will be presenting. Keep the same presentation style thoughout. If you’ve started off a bit ironic, using dry wit, you can’t just jump into a boring monologue. If you’ve started off with a bang, telling a couple of great little jokes and getting the crowd riled up, you have to keep them happy by throwing in little jokes here and there and being generally positive and energetic during the presentation. You need a certain structure that you won’t deviate too far from at any point. A good game plan consists of several important points that need to be addressed efficiently. This means moving on from one point to another in a logical manner, coming to a sound conclusion and making sure to accentuate the key information.

4. Use a healthy dose of humor

Some of the best speeches and presentations in the world, which have been heard and viewed by millions, all feature plenty of humor. No matter the subject, a great speaker will use natural charisma, humor and beautiful language to convey their points and get the crowd excited about what they are saying. A great example of building rapport with the audience through the use of humor is Barrack Obama talking about the government building Iron Man.

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It is silly and fun, and absolutely not something that you would expect from a man in a position of power speaking in such a serious setting – and it’s exactly why it works. The more serious the situation and the bigger the accent on proper social behavior, the harder your jokes will hit.

5. Try to tell a story instead of ranting

Some people can do all of the above things right and still manage to turn their short and fun little presentation into a chaotic mess of information. You don’t want your speech to look like you just threw a bunch of information in a blender in no particular order. To avoid rambling, create a strong structure. Start with the ice breaker, introduce the core concepts and your goals briefly, elaborate on the various points in a bit more detail, draw logical conclusions and leave your audience with a clear takeaway message. You want to flow naturally from one part to the next like you are telling a big story chapter by chapter.

6. Practice your delivery

Standing in front of the mirror and practicing a speech or presentation is a technique as old as mirrors – well, come to think of it, as old as human speech, since you can see yourself reflected in any clear and calm body of water – and that means that it is tried and true. The theory is incredibly simple, yet the real problem is actually putting in the effort day in and day out. Work on your posture, your tone of voice, accent, pauses between sentences and facial expressions. The most important thing is to talk slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood clearly. Many famous speakers, such as Demosthenes and King George VI, overcame speech impediments through hard work.

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7. Move around and use your hands

Although you won’t instill confidence in your project if you are very jittery, moving around erratically, not knowing what to do with your hands and making fast movements, standing dead still can be just as bad. You shouldn’t be afraid to use your arms and hands when talking as it makes you seem more passionate and confident. The same goes for moving around and taking up some space. However, try to make slower, calculated and deliberate movements. You want your movements to seem powerful, yet effortless. You can achieve this through practice.

8. Engage the audience by making them relate

Sometimes you will lose the audience somewhat in techno-babble, numbers, graphs and abstract ideas. At that point it is important to reel them back in using some good, old-fashioned storytelling. Make comparisons to events from everyday life that most people are more than familiar with. By making things look simple, not only will you help your audience get a better understanding of the subject by enabling them to visualize the information more clearly, you will also draw a connection between you. After all, you are all just regular people with similar experience, you just happen to be performing different roles at the moment.

9. Use funny images in your slides

Although slides are not really necessary at all times, if you do need them to make your point and present your information more effectively, it’s best to liven them up. They say that facts aren’t always black and white, and your presentation should reflect this. Add a bit of color, make the information stand out and use an interesting animation to switch from slide to slide. You can use the slides to add some more humor, both in terms of the text and the images. An image that is used to elicit a positive response needs to be funny within the context of what you are discussing. For example, if you are discussing the topic of authority, an image of Eric Cartman from South Park in a police uniform, demanding that you respect his “authoritah,” is a nice way to have a bit of fun and lighten things up.

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10. End on a more serious note

When all is said and done you will want the audience to remember the core concepts and keep thinking about what you have said after the presentation is over. This is why you should let things naturally calm down and end with an important idea, quote or even a question. Plant a seed in their mind and make them think. Let us turn to Patrick Henry for a great way to end a speech: “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

As you can see, there is quite a bit to learn when it comes to giving a good presentation, one that is both memorable and fun. Be sure to work on your skills tirelessly and follow in the footsteps of great orators.

Featured photo credit: Austin Distel via unsplash.com

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