Give great verb | May 2010

“A story should be a verb, not a noun.”
— Byron Dobell, former editor of Esquire and American Heritage

‘Spank those naughty little oxidants’

Creative communications from London

London: How can I miss you if you won’t let me go?

After presenting a writing workshop for TELLABS UK and CCGroup last month, I was treated by a volcano to an extended stay in London.

Although by day 12, my clothes almost made me vomit, I was grateful for my extra days in London. How could you not love a city where the art museums are free, the restaurants are glorious, the train is never more than two minutes away and all the men are more handsome and charming than Jude Law?

Plus: the communication! I saw some brilliant stuff in the land of Shakespeare and Milton. Here are a few of my favorite things:

Give great verb

When it comes to your headline, the verb is the story. The sexier the verb, the sexier the story.

That’s why I love the cheeky verb in this headline, from Vitaminwater:

Spank those naughty little oxidants.”

Before you write your next headline, use Visual Thesaurus to find the most stimulating verb for your story.

What’s in a name?

Is the name of your company fluent — that is, short, easy to pronounce, easy to rhyme and maybe even homophonic? (Shut up. I said homophonic, as in sounds like another word.)

If so, you might try wordplay like the Tate museums. Tate plays with its name for twists of phrase like:

  • Tate a Tate — member get-togethers
  • Taste of Tate — museum restaurants and cafes
  • Tate to Tate — the Thames boat shuttle from the Tate Britain to the Tate Modern

How can you apply this approach? Use and Phrase Thesaurus to transform your organization’s name into clever twists of phrase.

Compare it

Analogy makes your benefits more tantalizing by making them more tangible. So use metaphor and simile to make your concepts concrete.

ING Direct, for instance, makes its mortgage process more alluring with this analogy for its competitors’ approach:

“A mortgage application that can take just 25 minutes. It’s a mortgage application, not a thesis on quantum physics.”

And makes its discounts more tempting by making them more concrete with this promise:

“Save a guitar on your car insurance.”

To make your benefits more compelling, make them concrete.

Back in a flash

It’s great to be home (though my cat is no longer speaking to me). But after a couple of nights in my own bed, I’m ready to return to London.

Just with different clothes this time.

Create Snappy Sound Bites

Would you like to learn more ways to write creative sound bites that support your points, give your story a human voice, change the pace of the piece and add creativity and color to your copy?

If so, please join me at PRSA’s June 3 teleseminar, “Create Snappy Sound Bites: How to Write Moving Quotes and Memorable Quips.”

Unfortunately, quotations in press releases often sound as if they were manufactured by a computer, not spoken by a human being. Quotes can be the most boring — not the most interesting — parts of your copy. In this program, you’ll learn how to transform your quotations from blah to brilliant.

Specifically, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make quotes crisp, clear and concise. How to avoid overquoting, hiccup quotes and an irritating “bumpety-bump” formula that lulls your readers to sleep.
  • Peel back your quotes to make them tighter and more interesting. As Mark Twain said, the best sound bite is “a minimum of sound to a maximum of sense.”
  • Write a colorful, quotable quote, and watch it get picked up by the media.
  • Write attribution like a pro. Simple tricks and rules of thumb that will give your writing polish and authority.
  • Find and craft testimonials. “What others say about you and your product, service or business is at least 1,000 times more convincing than what you say, even if you are 2,000 times more eloquent,” says Dan Kennedy, author of “No B.S. Sales Success.”

Learn about my other upcoming teleseminars.

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“Anything that’s great print design
is likely to be lousy Web design.”
— Jakob Nielsen,
usability guru, and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group

Left is right

Visitors spend more than twice as long
looking at the left side of your Web page

When it comes to viewing time, usability expert Jakob Nielsen says, Web visitors spend:

  • 69 percent looking at the left half of the screen
  • 30 percent looking at the right half of the screen
  • 1 percent looking at any part of the page that’s visible only by scrolling horizontally to the right

Stick to the conventional layout

To make the most of this reading pattern, Nielsen counsels that you:

  • Keep navigation to the left of your page.
  • Showcase your top story between one-third and halfway across the page. This is where visitors focus most of their attention.
  • Place secondary content to the right.

More reading patterns

Visitors also pay more attention to information that’s on the first screen (“above the fold“) of a Web page.

And they read in an F-shaped pattern, focusing on the first line of the page’s main content.

This research studied websites in countries that read left-to-right.


Source: Jakob Neilsen, “Horizontal Attention Leans Left,”, April 6, 2010

Reach Readers Online

Want to get the word out on the Web?

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“Dogs sniff each other. Human beings tell stories.
This is our native language.”
— Steve Denning,
author, The Springboard

‘I like the profit margin on storytelling’

Chick-fil-A president admires another company’s marketing approach

In 1951, at the age of 20, Ike Behar leaves Havana with $50 in his pocket and — it goes without saying — a dream in his heart.

He arrives in New York and offers his custom shirt-making services for free to prove his skills. A few years later, Ralph Lauren takes note of Behar’s workmanship and asks him to make shirts for his line. By 1995, Behar struck out on his own, building what today is an international company.

A form of that story appears on a hangtag on Behar’s Havana 32 shirt. And that hangtag recently got some attention from another family-owned business executive, Chick-fil-A’s president and COO Dan Cathy.

Cathy asked Alan Behar, Ike’s son, how much the company spends on the Havana 32 hangtag. The tag, it turned out, costs $1. The markup on the shirt because of the tag? $10.

“I like the profit margin on storytelling,” Cathy says. “Behar makes more on storytelling than on shirts.”

Master the Art of the Storyteller

Want to put the most powerful form of human communication to work in your very next piece?

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“Ann’s team of award-winning writers makes even complicated, scientific topics easy and delightful to read. And better copy equals an easier approval process — even with our pickiest subject matter experts.”
— John Francis, director of marketing, Saint Luke’s Health System, Kansas City
Find out what others say about Wylie Communications’ writing and editing services

Get the word out

Let Wylie Communications help you with your Web, publication or marketing writing

Wylie Communications:

  • Writes websites, publications, marketing materials and other copy for clients ranging from American Century Investors to Sprint.
  • Covers a wide range of industries. We write Saint Luke’s Health System’s marketing copy, and I’ve advised NASA on its PR materials. So our topics literally include brain surgery and rocket science.
  • Has earned more than 60 awards, including two IABC Gold Quills, for communication excellence.
  • Preaches what we practice. Organizations like NASA, Motorola, H&R Block and Verizon Wireless turn to me for writing workshops. My writing team will deliver the best writing practices I develop for these programs to your project.


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“Words and words and words, how they gallop —
how they lash their long manes and tails.”
— Virginia Woolf, British author

Rhyme for reason

If Bill Radke can do it, you can too

Goldman Sachs. Volcanic ash. GM bailout loan paybacks.

They’re not usually the stuff that poetry is made of.

Yet American Public Media’s Marketplace reporter, Bill Radke, manages to sum up each day’s news in rhymed verse in Marketplace Minute.

Take this little ditty, from April 23:

“Goldman Sachs is in trouble
“for betting against the housing bubble,
“while they were selling opposite bets
“to clients who now have some major regrets.”

And if that’s not enough, “This American Life” commissioned a Broadway song to help explain a complicated financial scheme that, the producers say, “parallels quite closely a Mel Brooks musical.”

I’m inspired. Could you summarize the day’s news, a big issue or maybe the VP’s speech in verse?

Play with your words

Want to make your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?

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“Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”
— Flannery O’Connor, American novelist, short-story writer and essayist

Reality check

Do you know who I think I am?

In 1998, I told an embarrassing story about another person in this e-zine. Even today, the details remain too painful to reveal. (Injured parties: You know who you are, and I am STILL SORRY.)

Since the incident — which is referred to as “the incident” by my friends and used as a cautionary tale for younger members of my family — my sister has held an unbending rule: I may not mention her in these pages.

So it is without Lynn’s permission and at the risk of one of my longest, closest, most important relationships that I share with you this email message, which Lynn sent to me. She writes:

“Trozzollo Communications pitched us today on a promotional campaign. When they found out you were my sister, they said, ‘We think Ann is one of the best writers on the planet.’

“And I said, ‘So does she.'”

By the way, Lynn Wylie is turning 50 on May 10. If you know her, please contact her and wish her a wonderful day as she celebrates her first half-century on earth.

Just don’t tell her I sent you.

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Ann’s workshop was “very valuable for writers both budding and blooming!”
— Richard Fogg, managing director, CCGroup

Where in the world is Ann?

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:

  • Anchorage: Sept. 22
  • Boston: July 13
  • Chicago: July 7-9
  • Cleveland: May 20
  • Columbus, Ohio: July 20-21
  • Detroit: May 5
  • Lake of the Ozarks, Mo.: June 16
  • Portland, Ore.: Aug. 5-Sept. 13
  • Salt Lake City: May 8-10
  • San Francisco: June 17-22
  • Seattle: May 25
  • Tacoma, Wash.: Aug. 11
  • Toronto: June 9
  • Washington, D.C.: June 30

Save even more: Ask about my communication association discounts and second-day fee reductions.

Contact me to discuss piggybacking.

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Ann’s touring schedule

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:

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.

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Let’s connect

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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.

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