The concept may have come from Aristotle or Paul White, the first news director of CBS: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em. Tell ‘em. Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.”
Regardless of its origin, this is supposed to be the formula for a successful article or speech.
When I lived in New York, I lucked out and worked as an assistant to a nationally syndicated columnist. I typed her articles, fetched lunch and ran errands. As I wrote articles, she tore them apart and taught me how to put them together again so people would read them. I had been trained as an academic. Who can read that stuff?
In reading one of the first articles I submitted to her, she slashed it up with her red pencil. I protested and told her I was trying to “Tell ‘em what I was going to say etc. etc.” She replied, “That’s ridiculous. It insults the intelligence of the reader. Just tell them.”
Following the “Tell them” guideline, here are two tips to help advisors become more persuasive:
1. Make dozens or hundreds of public speeches.
If public speaking is a problem for you, join Toastmasters. Then make dozens or hundreds of speeches.
Give talks before civic clubs. Talk at church. Volunteer to teach Personal Finance 101 at high schools or local colleges.
If I were going to choose a topic today,I might choose Social Security. Become an expert in it. Call the president or program chair of an out-of-the-way Rotary Club. Offer to be a back-up speaker in case someone cancels. Round up family and friends.
Practice, practice, practice. Now do it.
Stay out in the suburbs or even the country for a while. When you are ready, ask one of your club presidents to recommend you to the leaders of some of the bigger clubs. Record your speeches. If you cringe, guess what? So does your audience. If needed, hire a speech coach.
When you talk, you use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Make most sentences active, not passive, voice.
You would never say, “Reclining on the floor covering is a felix domesticus.” You would say, “The cat is on the mat.” If you wouldn’t say it, don’t write it either.
You can actually calculate “readability” with a little program hidden in Microsoft Word. The feature is called “Readability Statistics.” You just need to turn on the feature. It then runs automatically when you spell check.
In Microsoft Word, choose File-Options-Proofing. Then choose “Show Readability Statistics.” With this change made, select some text in a Word doc. Choose F7 to do the usual spell check.
Now for the good part. Up pops your “Readability Statistics.”
The stats I pay attention to are:
- Sentences per paragraph: I want four or less.
- Words per sentence: I try to keep my own writing at about 14.
- Flesch Reading Ease Score (out of 100). I like to be not too far from 80%.
- Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level. This indicates how many years of education someone needs to read your document. I like my score to be about 8, as in eighth grade. You heard that right. I do not want people to struggle with anything I write.
- If my “grade level” score is higher than 8, I will go back through the article paragraph by paragraph looking for big words, long sentences, and long paragraphs.
Those are the elements that make for complication, which reduces readability and which reduces your ability to persuade.
Here’s my score on this article:
Sentences per paragraph: 2.3
Words per sentence: 9.6
Passive Sentences: 0%
Flesch Reading Ease: 75.7%
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 5.0
Did I persuade you at least to try Readability Statistics?