The Copywriter’s Guide to Speaking


Illustration: A copywriter feels this way all the time: Fear of not knowing

A copywriter, has the benefit of crafting a messages to convey exactly what he or she wants to say in just the way they want to say it. They meticulously consider every word, punctuation mark and line break. They vet and re-vet every argument. And if they find ourselves off topic, they delete and refocus.

These are obviously important skills to have, and a big reason people hire a copywriter. But these talents don’t exactly translate into the off-the-cuff spoken-word world. In fact, they’re an incredible hinderance because a copywriter relies on that time to get it right.

In situations where improvisation is necessary, many a copywriter is uncomfortable without a script to reference (normally a script they wrote). So they rely on a few little tricks to make real-world interactions a bit easier. And really, these tricks are for anyone who isn’t exactly Obama-ish in the spotlight.

Remembering People’s Names

The research required to be a good copywriter means we have a lot of material in our brains — often too much to remember people’s names. It’s embarrassing. It’s rude. And it’s inexcusable.

So we make sure to repeat the person’s name as quickly as possible.

“Hi, Mr. Copywriter. I’m Jane, your new point of contact.”

NO: “Hi! Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.

YES: “Hi, Jane. Nice to meet you. I’m Dan.”

Then, if you can sneak away to the corner of the room at some point, write their name down in your phone, along with a memorable, defining characteristic.

“Jane Joseph. Point of contact at client. Long red hair.”

It doesn’t have to be much at all, but the combination of saying it and writing it makes it far more likely that you’ll remember it.

And don’t be that person who repeats the person’s name over and over again in conversation. That’ll just make you sound weird.

Guiding a conversation

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” As a general rule, she was right. But when you’re nervous in a social situation, it might be easiest to engage your small mind and talk about people because at least you’ll feel able to contribute.

If you feel like that, try to steer the conversation towards ideas, but let the person you’re speaking to take the lead:

“Man, this party is lame. The host has such bad taste in music.”

NO: “And he’s ugly too.”

YES: Speaking of music, I read a great piece on the Re:word site about a playlist for writing and editing. I downloaded it. It starts with Hooverphonic and ends with Mumford and Sons. Do you think working with music makes you more or less productive?

Telling a joke

Telling a joke is a dangerous game in social situations for three reasons.

Firstly, it’s hard to make people laugh. It’s why stand-up comedians are such tortured souls.

Secondly, it’s easy to offend people (especially these days), and you don’t want to be remembered for that.

Thirdly, most people have heard all the jokes, so you’re wasting people’s time.

If you need to tell a joke, our advice would be to include the joke as part of a bigger idea.

Hey, I read today that this joke has been scientifically proven the funniest joke ever told. I thought it was okay. You tell me what you think:

 Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed, so his friend calls 911. “My friend is dead! What should I do?”

The operator replies, “Calm down, sir. I can help. First make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence, then a loud bang. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Ok, now what?”

And finally, saying goodbye

The last impression you make can be more important than the first, so don’t overcomplicate the words you use to bid adieu.

“Bye,” “Nice to have met you” and “See you soon”work for us because they’re universal in English. Some people we know end every conversation with “Adios” or “A bientot.” We think it’s a bit much (unless you’re either Spanish or French, respectively ¾ then it’s okay).

One last note about real-world communication

Don’t feel like you’re going to follow these tips and become an expert orator. The key is to build up your comfort level so the next time you’re thrusted into the spotlight, you can shine a bit brighter.

Write Anything Like a Senior Copywriter Would

A senior copywriter


This year marks our tenth year in business. Considering that two-thirds of all small businesses fail by year ten, that’s pretty good. Over the past decade, we’ve learned a lot about what people want from the  senior copywriter and senior editor they hire. One of the more common comments we’ve received is, “I want to learn to write the way you do.”

And, of course, they would want that; it’d be much more cost effective if they didn’t have to come to us for every single thing they had to communicate.

To kick off our tenth year, we thought we’d share a few basic communication rules we make every junior, intermediate and senior copywriter follow when they write content. They’re not difficult; in fact, we’d argue that they’re rooted in common sense, but as many a wise person has said before, common sense is less common than you’d think.

So without further ado, how to write anything like a senior copywriter would:

Senior Copywriter Rule #1: Stay on point

A study by the Radicati Group out in Silicon Valley found that the average office worker receives 90 emails a day. That equals 12 emails an hour over a 7.5-hour workday, or one email every five minutes. It’s an onslaught. And it’s killing productivity.

The volume of emails probably won’t change anytime soon, but email length can and should change. Here’s how:

  • Stick to the facts and the “need to knows.”
  • Forget all the superfluous niceties. Start with something like “Hi…hope you’re well,” then get right into it.
  • Resist big words you think make you sound smarter. They don’t.

Senior Copywriter Rule #2: Tell people things they don’t know

Time is still the most valuable asset people have, and the easiest way to waste it is with information that doesn’t help them.

We see this a lot in internal communications where a piece might start with something like “Last week, you were with us at the company retreat in Muskoka.” Your reader knows that. They were there. So instead, you might want to start with something they don’t know like, “Last week’s Muskoka retreat was our most well-attended off-site in company history.”

It’s a small nuance, but consider the information being conveyed and feeling being evoked in each case. The former is saying “we saw you there,” the latter is saying “you were part of something special.” Which one’s going to make the recipient feel better?

Senior Copywriter Rule #3: Write to people like they’re people

Moms. Millennials. CEOs. C-minus students. They have nothing in common except that they’re all human. They all put their pants on one leg at a time. And they don’t have the time or inclination to deal with industry-specific jargon they probably don’t know in the first place. Write to them like they’re people and they’ll be much more likely to read and resonate.

General rule: if your mom wouldn’t understand what you wrote, rephrase it until she could.

Senior Copywriter Rule #4: Keep it friendly

This might be the toughest one to follow in the business world, especially when our natural inclination is to err on the side of professionalism. But professionalism and warmth aren’t mutually exclusive.

Imagine sitting in a meeting with someone who was all business, didn’t smile and didn’t make you feel like they cared about anything other than getting the job done. Sure, you’ll leave with your action items and move-forward plans, but you probably won’t be terribly excited to get started.

Now imagine the same meeting with someone who welcomed you into the room, offered you a coffee and smiled the whole time, regardless of the subject matter. It won’t change the content being presented, but it will definitely change how you receive it and how motivated you are to act on it.

The same is true in writing. A little heart goes a long way.

Senior Copywriter Rule #5: Do your own spell check

Don’t trust your software’s spellcheck because it’s far from foolproof. It won’t catch the wrong your (you’re, your, yore), or “its” that should’ve been an “it’s.” Those are tasks for you, and they’re vital to keeping you from coming off careless.

  • Read whatever you write aloud before you send it. You’ll spot things you’d probably skip over if you review it silently.
  • If it’s an important file, have a friend or colleague review it first. An impartial second set of eyes will call out things you think make perfect sense but don’t.
  • If you can, have a proofreader’s number on your speed dial (1.800.888.9257).

Want to practise? Start with your emails.

You write them every day. And if you’re like most people, you probably whip them off without much thought. So we’d encourage you to start putting them through the five simple filters listed above:

  • Is it on point?
  • Are you giving your readers new information?
  • Will the average person understand it?
  • Does it feel friendly?
  • Did you check it for errors?

Get into the habit of vetting your writing for these four things and you’ll be well on your way to writing like a senior copywriter.