“Her bookshelves are stocked with coffee-table crap: The Irish in America. Mizzou Football: A History in Pictures. We Remember 9/11. Something Dumb with Kittens.“
Gillian Flynn, describing a character’s home in Gone Girl
Wordplay techniques to steal from ‘Kinky Boots’
“Ladies and gentlemen … and those who have yet to make up your minds.”
— Billy Porter as Lola in Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Kinky Boots’
Here’s a quick humor technique: Twist a list.
1) Start with a series of two or more items that go together. (“Ladies and gentlemen …”)
2) Then add a funny final item that’s not like the others. (“… and those who have yet to make up your minds.”)
That’s just one technique you can see in action in Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots.” This Tony Award-winning Broadway musical tells the story of Charlie Price, who tries to save his family’s shoe factory by producing footware for transvestites.
Balance uses parallel construction. The echo of one phrase in a similar phrase creates a passage that sounds satisfying and complete to the ear.
“Parallel constructions help authors and orators make meaning memorable,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark. “Think of equal terms to express equal ideas.”
Here’s how it works, in another Lola line:
“It’s a simple equation. A drag queen puts on a frock, looks like Kylie. A transvestite puts on a frock, looks like Boris Yeltsin in lipstick.”
And another, from Lola:
“Red is the colour of sex. Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles.”
Balance also works in this comeback from Lola:
“How much do you weigh?” Charlie asks Lola.
“The right amount,” she replies. “How much do you drink?”
Charlie also uses balance in this line:
“I see this as a very positive step for a company that spent the last century making a range of shoes for men to start the next century making shoes for a range of men.”
2. Condense the mission statement.
When Charlie returns to the shoe factory after his father dies, employees gather ’round to hear what the new CEO has to say. With no speech in hand (nor plans to make a speech), he blurts out:
“So let’s make shoes.”
The employees are underwhelmed. But as mission statements go, that’s not a bad one.
As with so much in life, less in a mission statement is actually more. Short credos stick in people’s minds. Long ones just fade away.
3. It’s all about the audience.
When Charlie tries to interest Lola in his scheme to save the shoe factory, he starts with his own sob story:
“Look, I’m standing here, trying to save a factory of four generations. Of my father, and his father’s father …”
“Tell me when this applies to me.”
If you want to move people to act, focus on the audience’s needs, not your own.
Play With Your Words
Wordplay can help you captivate your readers, get the media to steal your sound bites and make your messages more memorable.
The good news is that wordplay doesn’t take talent. It doesn’t take creativity. Instead, it takes techniques, tricks and time.
In my Play With Your Words workshop, you’ll learn techniques you can use to come up with the best headlines, leads and sound bites you’ve ever written. Specifically, you’ll learn how to:
- Go beyond twist of phrase to diversify your wordplay. Soon, you’ll be flipping phrases; compressing details; subbing soundalikes; listing, rhyming and twisting — even coining new words. The more techniques you master, the more sophisticated and satisfying your copy will be.
- Work your word tools. There are so many great online resources for wordplay, busy writers need hardly trouble their pretty heads to write dazzlers. In this session, you’ll get links to some of the best sources — as well as ideas for how to use them.
- Get inspired by some of the world’s most creative headlines.
- Lead better brainstorming sessions. You’ll learn a simple step to add to the process that will help your group dream up more bright ideas.
- Stop writing groaners. Are you still cranking out clichés and -ing headlines? Learn techniques that let you come up with surprising lines — and leave the boring approaches to the hacks.
“Never write a headline that you can’t say out loud without sounding like a politician.”
Steve Crescenzo, editor, Ragan Report
Colloquialisms make great headlines
When copyeditors at The Oregonian needed a headline for a piece on car seat safety, they wrote:
NO, YOU’RE NOT THERE YET
New pediatric guidelines call for the little ones to stay in their safety seats a lot longer
Searching for a good headline? Use a quote, colloquialism or sound bite. That’s what these winners of the American Copy Editors Society’s (ACES) 2011 National Headline Contest did. How can you model these masters?
Five … four … three … two … ‘one more time’ for NASA
With Atlantis liftoff, shuttle program is just days from end
— copyeditors at The Star-Ledger
This divorce just isn’t working out: Will you (re)marry me?
Brain chemistry and the simple passage of time can bring couples back together
— Rick Schindler, copyeditor at Today.com/MSNBC.com
Omaha chamber asks business to come, stay
Efforts to lure entrepreneurs from Illinois brought a do-it-yourself dog wash to Omaha.
— copyeditors at Omaha World-Herald
Honestly, who is Abe Lincoln?
Nationwide test reveals history to be American students’ worst subject
— copyeditors at The Dallas Morning News
Sir! I have broken a leg, sir!
At Marine boot camp, injuries once routinely disdained are now treated with a sports medicine approach.
— copyeditors at The Los Angeles Times
What colloquialisms could you use
for your next feature headline?
August writing contest: Colloquial headlines
What would people say about your topic? Use that quote or sound bite to write a colloquial headline for your story.
Send me your headline with a one-sentence story summary by Aug. 15.
If yours is the best entry, I’ll send you my favorite headline-themed gift.
“Good design is clear thinking made visible. Bad design is stupidity made visible.”
Edward Tufte, author, Envisioning Information
Spread the word like Sagmeister & Walsh
For a show at the contemporary art gallery Deitch Projects in 2008, designer Stefan Sagmeister stacked 10,000 bananas against a wall. Unripe green bananas among the yellow ones spelled out the sentence, “Self-confidence produces fine results.”
For an iconic 1999 poster for the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), Sagmeister cut type into the skin of his torso like a tattoo.
Sagmeister has also created ad campaigns and album covers for organizations like HBO, Levi’s, the Rolling Stones and the Talking Heads.
‘Six Things I’ve Learned In My Life So Far’
I learned of Sagmeister and his partner Jessica Walsh at “Six Things,” a new show at The Jewish Museum in New York. In five videos and a sound-activated sculpture, the designers illustrate six beliefs Sagmeister has developed by keeping a diary:
- If I Don’t Ask I Won’t Get
- Keeping a Diary Supports Personal Development
- Be More Flexible
- It Is Pretty Much Impossible to Please Everybody
- Now Is Better
- Feel Others Feel
The design duo spells out these phrases using sugar cubes, bubbles, water balloons and other surprising elements.
I found the exhibit and Sagmeister’s book Things I’ve Learned In My Life So Far to be great sources of inspiration on typography. And watch for Sagmeister’s The Happy Show, a traveling exhibition, and The Happy Film, Sagmeister’s upcoming documentary.
Plan powerful communications
Want to create more engaging communications?
- Get expert advice: Bring Ann in to help you revitalize your communications.
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team to write or edit creative copy.
- Boost your own skills: Work with Ann to improve your creative writing skills in one-on-one writing coaching. And find dozens of tipsheets on creative design at RevUpReadership.com.
- Learn more: Study Ann’s communication planning learning tools. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
How can you use surprising elements for your display copy?
“The more you say, the less people remember.”
Fortune in a cookie opened by a writer
The New York Times goes brief
Talk about brief: The New York Times packs 13 stories onto its briefs page, called The (One-Page) Magazine.
Notice the combination of:
- One-paragraph profiles, trend pieces and new nuggets
- One-sentence reviews
- Charts (History, in Kardashians)
- Glossary items (This should be a word: Denigreet)
- Timelines (This one’s running across the top and down the right side)
- Infographics (This one’s running across the bottom of the page)
Cut Through the Clutter
Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?
- Get it off your desk: Invite Ann’s team in to handle a special writing or editing project.
- Polish staff skills: Bring Ann to your organization for a Cut Through the Clutter workshop.
- Boost your own abilities: Work with Ann to cut the clutter in your own copy in one-on-one writing coaching. Or find out about Ann’s next Cut Through the Clutter webinar.
- Learn more: Read Ann’s Cut Through the Clutter manual. And get free writing tips every month when you subscribe to our e-zine.
- Join the club: Get the whole story in the latest issue of Rev Up Readership. And find dozens of Cut Through the Clutter tipsheets on RevUpReadership.com.
How brief are your briefs?
If they were briefer, would they be better?
“What a great way to rethink how we communicate in every aspect of our lives.”
Jillian Stitt, marketing consultant, Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust, who attended the IABC Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA writing workshop
IABC, PRSA chapters host sell-out event, reach chapter ‘virgins’
The Minnesota chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) had a problem.
Chapter leaders wanted to combine resources to bring in more robust professional development programming. But even with both budgets, their preferred speaker’s fee was about twice the not-for-profits’ budget.
Still, planners decided to move forward with Ann Wylie’s Catch Your Readers workshop.
“We all agreed that the subject of Ann’s expertise, writing, is such a fundamental skill for all communications professionals that it would be a perfect fit,” says Rachel St. Moritz, professional development chair of Minnesota PRSA. “Plus, Ann is also well-known in the communications industry and has an excellent reputation for her training abilities.”
Goal: 125 registrants, 1/3 chapter ‘virgins’
Once they booked Wylie, planning committee members set a goal of drawing in 125 registrants, with a stretch goal of 150 (maximum capacity).
Planners aimed to draw members from both chapters. Moreover, they targeted 33% non-member registrants.
These “chapter virgins” would get a chance to see what IABC and PRSA had to offer. Planners hoped these non-members might convert to chapter members if they liked what they saw.
Solution: Market, market, market
To make up the difference between the budget and the fee, IABC Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA volunteers:
- Used social media. Chapters gave away free registrations in social media contests that encouraged others to tweet their best writing tips, retweet and repost event information and discuss workshop topics via LinkedIn. They also posted a series of blog posts by Wylie covering program topics.
- Advertised. IABC Minnesota leveraged its partnership with a local business publication to secure free ad space for the event. The ad not only boosted credibility but also was a premier avenue for reaching the event’s target audience.
- Positioned the event as a workshop, not as a conference or seminar. That told the target audience they were going to get practical tips, driving up the event’s value and usefulness.
- Priced the event competitively. Rates were comparable to those of similar workshops. Planners offered a discounted early-bird registration, which helped boost attendance.
- Communicated often. Chapters sent reminders of early-bird deadlines, notices that the event was nearly sold out and alerts when only a few spots remained.
- Secured a sponsor and a host: Risdall Marketing Group and St. Thomas University. These well-respected organizations helped drive up credibility, gave the event a financial boost and provided cross-promotional opportunities.
Results: 150 attendees, half non-members
The event sold out with 150 attendees — nearly half non-members — and generated a profit of $7,000.
“We got wonderful feedback from attendees,” Moritz says. “PRSA and IABC felt the event left a great impression of the value we bring to our members.”
And the chapters saw one more result …
“The workshop was a catalyst for bringing IABC Minnesota and Minnesota PRSA together to build a mutually beneficial relationship,” Moritz says. “We discovered how to be helping hands for each other instead of competing entities.”
In fact, the partnership worked so well that both organizations have added an annual, collaborative workshop to their event calendars.
“Excellent session for a group of communications professionals with different levels of writing abilities. Loved the intimacy.”
Linda Palmer, senior manager, Corporate Communications and Media Relations, Sensus
Polish your skills at one of these events
Alas, I can’t invite you to the in-house seminars I present for private organizations.
But everyone’s invited to these upcoming public seminars in:
- New York City on Dec. 2. Catch Your Readers, a full-day workshop for PRSA
- Philadelphia on Oct 27. Writing for Social Media, a half-day pre-conference session for the PRSA World Conference
- Philadelphia on Oct 28. Cut Through the Clutter, 75-minute breakout session for the PRSA World Conference
- Tacoma, Wash., on Aug. 14. Social Media Writing Bootcamp, a half-day workshop for PRSA Puget Sound
- Tulsa, Okla., on Nov. 20. Catch Your Readers, a one-day workshop for IABC/Tulsa
- Your own home or office on Sept. 5. Anatomy of a News Release, a one-hour webinar for PRSA
Would you like to attend? Please contact meeting planners directly for details.
Can’t make these events? If you’d like to bring me in for a workshop at your organization, contact me.
Cut your training costs when you piggyback your program
Save money when you piggyback your workshop by scheduling it when I’m already “in the neighborhood.” Book your program the day before or after another organization’s and split my airfare and ground transportation with the other group.
Ask about piggybacking on my upcoming engagements in:
- Austin, Texas: Nov. 7
- Minneapolis: Oct. 9
- New York City: Dec. 2
- Philadelphia: Oct. 26-27
- Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 14
- Tulsa, Okla.: Nov. 20
Save even more: Ask about my communication-association discounts and second-day fee reductions.
Contact me to discuss piggybacking.
The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:
- Presenting writing workshops for:
- Toyota Motor Sales USA
- Verizon Wireless
- Toshiba American Medical Systems
Find out when I’m coming to your neighborhood, learn when you can sign up for one of my programs and otherwise keep up with my calendar.
Keep in touch via:
- ComPRehension, PRSA’s blog of public relations strategies and tactics
- Wylie Communications feed, click RSS
- Wylie’s Writing Tips