“When you write, you make a sound in the reader’s head. It can be a dull mumble — that’s why so much government prose makes you sleepy — or it can be a joyful noise, a sly whisper, a throb of passion.”
— Russell Baker, U.S. columnist and journalist

‘Spray, delay and walk away’

Try a triad of rhyming words

My husband used to leave the room when I turned on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” Then he’d stand behind his chair in the living room while I watched. Finally he sat down.

'EYE' IT, TRY IT, BUY IT: A rhyming triad is a shorter, sweeter, more engaging way to make your point.

When I saw him spray, delay and walk away, I knew he was hooked.

“Spray, delay and walk away” is a mnemonic Kyan Douglas used to teach men to use aftershave. Instead of dousing yourself in Dolce & Gabbana Pour Homme, he suggested, spritz a little in the air, wait a moment, then step through whatever’s left.

But there’s a shorter, sweeter, more engaging way to express that idea:

“Spray, delay and walk away.”

Double your rhetorical power

“Spray, delay and walk away” uses two rhetorical devices: rhyme and triad. That doubles your rhetorical power, making your message even more eloquent, attention getting and memorable.

That’s the approach Lyris used in this slogan for a webinar on social media and email marketing:

“Simplify, unify, ROI.”

Chevrolet used this rhyming triad:

“Eye it, try it, buy it.”

And Wired used a trio of rhyming words to name its department on what’s in and out in technology:

EXPIRED, TIRED & WIRED: A rhyming triad's a great way to organize information.

How can you use a trio of rhyming words to make your message short, sweet and neat?

Play with your words

Want to master the art of making your copy more creative and engaging through wordplay?

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“Instant gratification takes too long.”
— Carrie Fisher, American actress and writer

Cut videos short

2 minutes or less online

Two minutes and seven seconds.

That’s the average length of time people spend viewing videos on Twitter, according to “Online Video Best Practices” (PDF), a new study by TubeMogul, Brightcove and DynamicLogic.

The researchers analyzed the average viewing time of more than 100 million random video streams on social networks and search engines. Among the takeaways:

1. Avoid the 2-minute mark.

Twitter was the only video source that broke the 2-minute mark. Average viewing times were:

  • 1:54 on Yahoo!
  • 1:50 on Facebook
  • 1:27 on Google
  • 1:09 on Bing

2. Avoid the 1-minute mark.

Talk about short attention span theater. According to a study by Visible Measures:

  • Almost 20 percent of viewers abandon an online video after 10 seconds.
  • More than 40 percent abandon it after a minute.

Visible Measures studied the abandonment rate of 40 million videos during 7 billion viewings.

Want visitors to finish your video? Keep it short.

Tip: You might also advertise your short video’s length — (1:15), for instance — to encourage viewership.

3. Don’t surprise friends, followers and fans with large files.

Use abbreviations like PDF, VID and PPT to identify links to large downloads.

4. Time it right.

The shelf life of online videos has dropped dramatically since 2008. Your video will get most of its views in the first week. So your time your release right and publicize your video fast.

Attention drops off steeply
Online videos reach percentage of 90-day view total sooner
50% of 90-day view total6 days14 days
75% of 90-day view total20 days44 days
Source: “Online Video Best Practices”

5. Consider your objectives.

Choose repurposed TV spots for awareness, according to “Online Video Best Practices,” and made-for-Web videos for persuasion.

Made-for-Web videos sell more products
Repurposed TV adsMade-for-Web videos
Intent to purchase.8%1.4%
Brand favorability1.2%1.6%
Brand awareness2%1.9%
Message association2.2%2.1%
Online ad awareness4.7%4.3%
Source: “Online Video Best Practices”

Targeting young adults? Go with custom content. Some 2.8 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds planned to purchase the product after viewing made-for-Web content.

Write for social media

Would you like to learn more ways to make your blog postings, tweets and other status updates more relevant, valuable and interesting to your readers? If so, please join me at PRSA’s Feb. 22 webinar, “Write for Social Media.” You’ll learn how to:

  • Use the 70-20-10 rule for engaging your followers, plus other tips for making sure your status updates are welcome guests, not intrusive pests.
  • Pass the “who cares?” test and four other techniques for becoming a resource, not a bore, on social media.
  • Get retweeted and liked. Learn a dozen steps for expanding your influence and reach on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Tweet like the FBI. Write dramatic, compelling status updates that draw followers and get clicks.
  • Make your posts personable. There’s a reason they call it “social” media.
  • Tweak your tweets. Get your message across in 140 characters or less. Plus, learn how to make 140 characters go further — and when you must come in under the character limit.

Keep up with all of my webinars.


Sources: “Twitter Video Streams Watched for 2 Mins,” Marketing Charts, Nov. 11, 2010

Alex Mindlin, “Drilling Down: Short Attention Spans for Web Videos,” The New York Times, Oct. 11, 2010

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“Decoration is death online.”
— Cia Romano, usability evangelist

Out of the picture

Avoid photo fluff

Online visitors scrutinize some photos and ignore others. So how do you post images that get attention on the Web?

HUMAN RESOURCES: Web visitors are attracted to photos of real people, but not stock or generic shots, says Jakob Nielsen, "king of usability."

Make sure your images are content, counsels “king of usability” Jakob Nielsen — not decoration.

Avoid ‘visual bloat’

Online, readers are looking for two kinds of images, Nielsen says:

  • Product photos that help visitors buy
  • People photos that show visitors who’s behind the organization or message

What about photos that just illustrate the idea or message? Cut that fluff. Anyone who’s studied online images knows that people are looking for facts, not pretty pictures, on the Web.

“Visual bloat continues to annoy users,” Nielsen says. So:

  • Avoid stock photos of generic people. Don’t use photos as filler or to “jazz up” a page. ”On the Web, jazzed-up = ignored,” Nielsen says.
  • Use product photos to help visitors buy. In one study, visitors intensely studied thumbnails of bookcases on the Pottery Barn site, but ignored thumbnails of flat-screen TVs on the Amazon site. Why? ”The TV photos are of no help in deciding between the products,” Nielsen says. “A guy in a canoe vs. a football player? What, because I watch more football than watersports, I’ll buy the TV showing a football player?”
  • Offer big photos when asked. When users click to see a larger photo, it should be at least twice as big as the original. Most are just 20 percent larger, Nielsen says. That’s why “inadequate photo enlargement” ranks on his list of top 10 Web design mistakes.

Get the word out on the Web

Want to reach distracted visitors online?

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“Budget dust: Year-end money that must be spent before it is swept away by the cold winds of a new fiscal year.”
— BuzzWhack.com

Eat your budget dust

Invest your year-end money before it gets swept away

‘Tis the season for many of us to use what remains of our 2010 budget … or lose it altogether. Here are five ways to invest your budget dust this year to improve communications for years to come:

Want more details? Contact Ann.

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‘Sundays at the Shelter’

Make the photo the story

You don’t have to know me for long to know that the crazy cat lady inside of me is just the tiniest nudge away from getting out. And, were it not for geography, “Sundays at the Shelter” would be that nudge.

“Sundays at the Shelter” is my favorite e-zine. (You can also follow the blog.) I forward it, archive it, respond to its every call to action, review old issues when I’m feeling low. I’ve gone so far as to fail to board with my zone just so I could open it the instant it arrives.

And it’s not just the cats that I love about this e-zine. The format rocks, too — and it’s a format you may be able to steal for your communications.

First, meet the author

Maggie Swanson is an artist so talented that Paper Source prints pieces right out of her sketchbook. You’ll usually find her in her studio, painting her in-demand children’s book and other illustrations. When she’s not working, she might be whipping up samosas on the fly or perfecting a risotto that requires no stirring.

And on Sundays, she heads to PAWS, the local shelter in Norwalk, Conn. There, she cleans the cages, pets the cats and shoots adorable photos. A couple of times a week, she posts one of these photos, along with an amusing headline and caption.

And that’s it. That’s the formula for “Sundays at the Shelter”: headline, photo, caption.

Are you writing about something visual? Could a headline, photo and caption say more about your subject than a million paragraphs?

Low-key calls to action

Once a year, Maggie asks readers to donate to the PAW’s “Bark in the Park” event. Last year, the event earned $44,000.

The shelter doesn’t track the number of cats adopted by people who subscribe to “Sundays at the Shelter” or cats that get adopted right after showing up in the e-zine. But who are we kidding? These cuties sell themselves.

In fact, if I didn’t live 1,250 miles away from Norwalk, Gigi would have a little sister named Sammi. And one named Orion. And Carina. And Hank and Hammie and Mickey and Pepper and Susie and Shadow and Izzy and Bootz and Muffin …

BIG PICTURE: Maggie Swanson shoots snapshots of PAWS cats with a small Canon camera, available light and "lots of weird noises." Try that on your CEO!

Rev Up Readership

Want to reach more readers by revitalizing your publication, website or blog?

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“In 4 hours, I grew as a public affairs practitioner. I had the chance to focus on my craft — and I already have ideas that will pay off.”
— Carolyn Jackson, division chief, U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs

Book Ann now and save

Lock in this year’s fees for next year’s programs

Because of increasing demand for my programs, I’ll be increasing the fees for my writing workshops on Jan. 2. Now, for a limited time, you can lock in 2010 fees for 2011 programs.

To get this year’s fees for next year’s programs, you must complete booking (that is, get a signed contract and deposit to me) by Dec. 31. To book a program, contact me directly.

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“Verbs are the most important of all your tools. They push the sentence forward and give it momentum. Active verbs push hard; passive verbs tug fitfully.”
— William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well

‘By my grandma’

How to identify the passive voice

Do you have trouble finding and fixing the passive voice? Here are two tips for making in easier.

1. Add “by my grandma.”

If you can add “by my grandma” to the end of a sentence, it’s probably passive voice, agent deleted, says Tim Burnett, who handles Express communications at FedEx.

Example: “A nap was taken … by my grandma.”

2. Make sure the subject is doing the verb.

  • Identify the verb.
  • Figure out who’s doing that verb.
  • Move that subject in front of the verb.

For “A nap was taken by my grandma,” ask:

  • What’s the verb? Took (a nap).
  • Who took the nap? My grandma.
  • Move “my grandma” in front of the verb, and you’ll get “My grandma took a nap.”

Cut Through the Clutter

Want to make every piece you write easier to read and understand?

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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:

  • Asheville, N.C.: May 5
  • Dallas: Jan. 19
  • Des Moines: Jan. 26
  • Houston: Jan. 12
  • Kansas City, Mo.: March 3
  • New Orleans: July 25
  • Portland, Ore.: March 17
  • San Francisco: March 25

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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What are we up to?

The folks at Wylie Communications have been enjoying:

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Keep up with my calendar

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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Let’s connect

Keep in touch via:

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For more info

… about my seminars, publication consulting or writing and editing services, please contact me or visit my website.

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Please share this issue …

… with two of your colleagues by directing them to our current issue. Better yet, invite them to subscribe to Wylie’s Writing Tips. They’ll thank you — and so will I!

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