Let’s talk about what seems like the easiest thing in the world to do, but the hardest thing to do really well: give something a name.
Have you listened to parents recount the way they came to their kids’ names? You’ll get the odd “we just knew we had to name her Gertrude” or “we both said Skye at the same time” or “my dad’s name was William so it was a no-brainer.”
But most of the time, it goes a little something like, “I wanted Wilma and she wanted Betty. We fought about it for months until she was born. But when we saw her, we knew she was a Pebbles.”
As a business owner, product developer or marketing manager, you don’t have the luxury of waiting until the eleventh hour to come up with a name you love. You have websites to write, collateral to print, social media feeds to populate, trade shows to attend, and, and, and…
So if 2018 is the year you get to name something, keep these tips in mind:
Two words or less. Two syllable words or less.
Great names are quick and easy to say. Think of all the one-word companies the world deems progressive: Apple, Uber, Google, Rogers. All two syllables ¾ and all following the same linguistic pattern: LONG-short. APP-le. OO-ber. GOO-gle, etc. There’s a reason for this. The pattern demands attention because it forces you to emphasize the word right away. You’re not limping in to the word; you’re jumping in full throttle.
If you’re leaning towards a two-word name, follow the same convention with both words: two syllables or less, with the emphasis up front. Under Armour. Perfect. Easy.
Once you start getting into multi-syllable names, you run the risk of mispronunciation and confusion. And you’re never going to keep your name on the tips of people’s tongues if they’re too long to sit there comfortably.
That brings us to important tip #2:
Easy to say. Easy to spell.
Two words/two syllables is fine, but make sure you have the right ones of each.
Flyynneyl Shloeby. There’s a two-and-two name. But can you say it? Would you know how? Do you think you’d say it differently than your neighbour? And is that a problem?
A few years ago, Korean car-manufacturer Hyundai ran a TV ad (during the Super Bowl, no less) that taught people how to say their name. “Just remember, it rhymes with Sunday…” went the ad. Fantastically eye-opening spot and very funny. But we STILL hear Hi-un-DIE all the time.
Clearly this isn’t much of a problem for them as they’re doing something right. But if you have the chance to avoid confusion, take it.
Speaking of avoiding confusion…
Clarity is key.
When someone hears your company or product name for the first time, they don’t know it from Adam. So what’s going to intrigue them to want to find out more?
We’d argue that there has to be something in it for them.
One of our favourite brand names is Volkswagen. No, it’s not a two-syllable word ¾ but it’s a German word so the conventions of English don’t count. But translated, it means “car of the people.” That’s a pretty bold statement and one most people would want to know more about. Car of the people? What does a car of the people have? I’d need to see. Show me this car of the people.
We mentioned Google before. Let’s look into that for a moment.
The word googol represents 1 followed by 100 zeroes. When we were kids, we all probably used that term at one time or another (I love you times a hundred/a thousand/a million/a billion/a googol!). So when Google’s founders conceived of a place to get all the answers you’d ever want about anything, googol made sense. A quick spelling change and voila: the empire is born.
What you want to avoid is anything too cerebral or clever that people have to think too hard about. Because they won’t sit there trying to deconstruct what you mean by your name. They’ll move on to a competitor whose name they understand.
Once you have a name you like, register it. Spend the money to trademark it so no one else can take it from you. It would be a shame to put in all that branding work only to get shut down the week you launch.
OK…so now that you have tips, where do you begin?
You begin by writing. You write down your first 100 names. They’ll all be crappy. And that’s okay. They’re supposed to be crappy. This part of the process is called “flushing your system.” Get all the garbage out.
Then you’ll look at the names you have and probably notice a few “thought starters” there. These are directions you can take your name.
So with those in mind, you’ll write 100 names for each of those thought starters.
Now you have a huge list to start paring down. Cross out the really stinky ones, but circle the ones that aren’t so bad. Then group the ones you have left into themes. You’ll start to see certain words
over and over again, and that’s a good thing because they’ll obviously mean something to you.
Pull those words out and start playing with them. Combine them in different ways. Look them up in the dictionary and the thesaurus. The more you tinker, the closer you’ll get to Eureka.
And when you get there, you’ll know.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. A good name can take weeks, even months to come up with. Don’t have that kind of time. We do.
It’s funny because not too long ago, when the trend was moving more and more micro, the “experts” concluded that people didn’t have the attention span to consume long-form content (or even medium-form content).
Well, they seem to have missed out on that one because they glossed over the basic tenet of the writer/reader relationship: make it worth reading and people will read it.
Today, the average blog post is roughly 1,600 words, a far cry from the 140 characters that defined the way we communicated in the recent past ¾ and even Twitter has rethought their insistence on brevity, moving from their original 140 to 280 character limit the other month.
Now, to be competitive online (that is, to put yourself in front of them when they’re looking for whatever you sell), long-form content has to be a key part of your strategy. And it’s not just because Google likes it.
People WANT to learn. They WANT to know more about a topic. They’ll APPRECIATE you for educating them, or just making them laugh. And they’ll SHARE your content because that’s what we do: show our friends and colleagues great stuff we find online.
The four rules of effective long-form writing
We’ve written a lot (a laaaawwt) of long-form pieces for our clients, and also for ourselves, covering topics ranging from weight loss supplements to city events to social media management. Each felt a bit different in its own way, but we took the same approach to each because it works.
If you can adopt these four strategies in your long-form writing efforts, you’ll produce better overall content and you’ll have a WAY easier time doing it.
Start with an outline
Remember back in high school, your English teacher would always ask you for an outline of your essay before you wrote it so they could vet your argument before you went too far? You probably saw this as extra work you had to do, but as it turns out, it’s extra work you’ll want to do.
For the return on investment you should expect to get from the effort you’ll put into a long-form post, you’ll want to craft your piece in the form of an argument.
Now, keep in mind that there’s a distinct difference between presenting an argument and being argumentative.
An argument is explaining a position you’ve taken for the purpose of convincing others to take it as well. Being argumentative is digging your feet into a position for the purposes of pushing others towards to your view. Everyone appreciates the former. No one likes the latter.
A strong outline will help you craft a compelling argument without the risk of falling into an argumentative tone because it’s meant to be a 20,000-foot roadmap to guide your writing.
It’s not supposed to be long or even that detailed. But it should contain all the information you’ll need to evaluate your finished piece against. They should align.
So let’s say you were writing a long-form piece about the evolution of winter wear in Canada (I just made that up because it’s –27˚ today and I’m staring at my toque on my desk). Your outline might look like this:
Topic: Evolution of winter wear in Canada
Keywords: Canadian-made winter coats, Canada Goose, winter coats, Canadian winter
Intro: Despite the popularity of European haute couture winter wear, Canada has actually led the world in quality winter wear. And given our climate, that makes sense
Part 1: The Hudson’s Bay Company sets the standard
Part 2: The rise of the department store (Eaton’s, Simpsons)
Part 3: Canadian winter wear defines its look through local designers
Part 4: The rise of Roots as a Canadian winter icon
Part 5: Alternatives to fur — Canadian fashion develops a conscience-focused technology
Part 5: Olympic gear
Part 6: Canada Goose becomes bigger than Roots
Closing: The rest of the world can learn from Canada when it comes to winter wear both from a product standpoint and an evolutionary standpoint. We do winter better than anyone because we have to. And that’s why we’ve succeeded in this category for so long.
Now, if we were to sit down and write this piece, we’d know where we were heading every step of the way. We can craft our section openings and closings accordingly so the piece flows, and we can stop ourselves from veering off topic. Readers hate that.
Do your keyword research
Yes, you should be writing your long-form piece for your readers, but those readers have to find you first. So your target audience is always the Google bots as well.
At its most basic, here’s how Google works: when someone types in (or now speaks in) a search term, the Google algorithm presents them with links that are relevant to what they’re looking for. Many factors go into determining what Google deems is relevant, but the biggest is a keyword match with what the searcher is looking for.
So if someone is searching college courses for advanced open source technology, ideally Google will present them with a page or two of class options with a few links to articles or blog posts related to college courses for open source technology. But the only way the Google bots can know if a webpage or article is about college courses for open source technology is if those words (or a variation of that concept ¾ Level 5 open source technology education, for example) is present on the page.
But remember that gaming Google is way more about human behaviour than it is about technology. You’ll want to know how your target audience speaks, what they want to read and how they’d describe what you’re talking about.
For example, if you learn that people interested in advanced open source technology refer to it more as OST (again, I made this up), and if you see OST as a commonly used acronym on social media, then it might be that your target audience would never key in “open source technology,” but would almost exclusively search for OST. In that case, you may want your keyword to be OST instead.
Another important note about keywords: with the steady adoption of voice search, we’re seeing more money and resources being put into long-tail keywords, which are key phrases that help better segment a search market.
So going back to college courses for advanced open source technology, the searcher’s not going to simply type or say “open source education classes”; they’ll be more specific with something like “advanced open source education classes in downtown Toronto” because (a) that’s what they want and (b) especially with voice search it’s not difficult to type it in.
So if you happen to offer advanced open source education classes in downtown Toronto, make sure that keyword is prominent in your post. And when we say prominent, we don’t mean repeating it over and over. What we mean is that it’s featured in prominent places on your page, like in your headline or subheads because those elements are what the Google bots crawl first.
Do your actual research
The name of the game in long-form content development is adding value. You want your readers to come away smarter, happier, more hopeful or more aware than they were going in.
This is the implied social contract of internet content: I give you my time, you give me a reason to feel good about that. Think about it: you’re asking a person to give you an average of seven minutes of their lives, which, today, might as well be an eternity when you think about what else you can do with seven uninterrupted minutes.
So do the digging to find information your readers don’t know. Consult multiple sources to make sure your information’s accurate. If you come across unfamiliar terminology, look it up so you can explain it to your readers.
Most importantly (and we really can’t stress this enough): credit your sources with a backlink. A backlink is simply a link to another page on the internet that readers who find your piece interesting will also find interesting. Here’s one to our copyediting service page (hint hint, nudge nudge).
A backlink serves three purposes. It can give your argument credibility if the facts you present come from accredited, accepted sources or the positions you take are shared by influential people in your space. It can push your blog up the Google ranks, as part of their algorithm rewards content with solid backlinks, and it encourages other websites to backlink to your content (the internet’s a tit-for-tat world), which also tells Google that you’re a credible source, which boosts your content even higher.
Consider visual appeal
In the last section, we reference subheads, and when you’re writing a long-form piece, these can be your best friend because they split up the content into manageable chunks.
No matter how voracious of a reader you are, a large block of text is still intimidating. By breaking up your content into sections, and paragraphing often, you’re making it easier on your readers’ eyes and minds to get through your piece.
That paragraphing creates what designers call white space. What white space does for a reader is give them a perceived break to further digest and internalize what they’ve just read. It may only be a split second of time to move from one paragraph to the next, but it makes a big difference.
Make the time to post consistently
To be a thought leader, you have to actually lead. And you don’t do that once a month. You have wisdom to share about your field and you should be sharing it often. Of course, if you don’t have the time to write your long-from pieces, we’re happy to take it off your hands. Again, hint hint, nudge nudge.
A few weeks ago, one of our agency clients brought us in for a brainstorm. It’s always a hoot to jump in on one of those, partly because it gets us out of the office and into a different environment (always a good thing), but mostly because of the energy in the room.
A great brainstorming session is invigorating. It’s amazing to see how far an idea can go — and how simple it can become — when it’s being pushed and prodded by different people with different perspectives. But it has to be pushed and prodded properly.
Challenge. Don’t criticize.
The difference between challenging and criticizing is subtle, but it makes all the difference in a brainstorm. Criticizing is pointing out what’s wrong. Challenging is pointing out what could be better.
Most brainstorms start off with someone in the room saying something like “there’s no such thing as a bad idea.” But if you’ve been in a brainstorm before, you know that’s not true. Lord knows we float our share of stinkers in every session. But the thing about those less-than-awesome thoughts is that people don’t see them as such when they have them. They’re already too close to it because it came from them. Criticizing it right away immediately puts its creator on the defensive. Challenging invites the creator to reconsider a few things. And approaching a bad idea positively makes it easier for everyone in the room to see if it’s worth pursuing or scrapping — especially the creator.
Imagine you’re jogging down the street. It’s a gorgeous day, you feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and everything’s awesome. You close your eyes and take a deep breath and then…WHACK! You slam into a brick wall. Momentum gone. No sun. No wind. Just a bruise.
That’s what happens when someone drops a “no” in a brainstorm.
“No” is a momentum killer. The person who says it is essentially saying “I don’t like what you’re saying and I’m not going to participate.” And it leaves the recipient with an ego bruise.
Instead of “no,” challenge yourself to respond with “yes, and…,” then add to the idea:
“What if the pants got up off the shelf and walked themselves to the change room?”
“What if the pants got up off the shelf and walked themselves to the change room?”
“Yes, and what if the pants didn’t walk themselves, but were serendipitously dropped in front of the change room door?”
“Yes, and what if the line was something like ‘Let great style come to you’?”
“Yes, and what if we changed it to ‘Where great styles comes to you’?
When marketing managers come to us for copywriting, we like to give them ideas that jump off the page instead of simply words that live on it. Creating a social media holiday would most definitely qualify. We can’t say we’ve managed to create one yet that stuck, but by-George we’re not going to stop trying because how cool would that be?
Why create a social media holiday?
Why not? There’s never a bad reason to celebrate, right? That’s one answer. The other answer is a crazy amount of brand awareness if you do it right.
Let’s say you head up a small marketing team at a credit union and you need interesting content for your social channels and blogs. The reality is that there’s only so much excitement you can whip up about credit unions. And if you had the time to blue-sky stuff, maybe you could come up with some more. But between budget meetings, chit-chats with business leads and preparing to present the results of your last PPC campaign, there’s no time for that.
Enter the social media holiday. Something like #NationalCreditUnionDay. Now you’re inviting people around the globe to talk about credit unions. And you can lead the charge with a few pieces of lead-up content to get people talking.
“Hug a Credit Union ’cause they’re not a bank.”
“Put the social in socialism — celebrate #NationalCreditUnionDay”
We could go on.
But more importantly, other people could go on too. And on and on and on, giving you tons of content to play with on your holiday and beyond.
Social media holidays are all about the stories.
Every traditional holiday has a great narrative, from the three wise men to the eight days of light. (ed. note: that would be Christmas and Hanukkah). Thing is, for those holidays, you kinda have to believe. But with your social media holiday, you can fact yourself into relevance. Here’s how:
In the case of our Credit Union holiday, the first North American credit union was established on January 23rd, 1901. Et voila, we have our date. We dug a bit more to find out that not only was that credit union established in Canada (the Caisse Populaire de Lévis in Quebec), but it was started with 10 cents. Now we have a date AND a symbol for our holiday ¾ the noble dime. And we have more directions to go with our content: what can you do with a dime, the dime that changed the world, where the word “dime” comes from.
Of course, to amplify our holiday, we’re going to need more than a date and some interesting content. We’ll need a brand with some clout to jump on the bandwagon ¾ which is to say we have to give that brand a reason to jump on and share the holiday with their followers.
So we go back to the research and we find that the Caisse Populaire de Lévis still exists, and is owned by Desjardins. Well, isn’t that convenient? Because all we have to do now is toot their horn a bit. They’ll toot (or tweet) back and bring their 7K+ followers with them. And then if those people bring their people, and those people bring their people….
Everyone likes a good social media holiday
The world’s a bit depressing these days. And it’s getting cold. And January sucks. So if our credit union can be the reason someone out there smiles on January 23rd, learns a bit of Canadian history and maybe makes it on to the credit union website for a top ten list of credit union wins, our marketing manager’s done their job ¾ and probably had a lot more fun doing it.
**Addendum: We’ve just been informed that there already is an International Credit Union Day on the third Thursday of October. But January 23rd works WAY better.
Three years ago, Inc. Magazine (a publication we quite like) predicted the demise of email by 2020. It’s a well-written piece and the points made are salient and well-researched. But with respect to the piece’s writer — and to the magazine — it’s hogwash.
According to a 2017 Radicati Group study from January 2017, better than 3.7 billion people actively write emails today. And it’ll jump to 4.1 billion by 2021.
So as long as you’re still emailing people, why not write better emails? We asked around, and most people said these five things would make all the difference in the world.
If 15 people are on a thread, you have to assume they’re on it for a reason. And unless you started the thread, it’s not for you to ask why. So if you’re not directly told otherwise, just hit “reply all.” Don’t worry about blowing up people’s inboxes. Let them decide what they need to follow and what they need to ignore in the moment. And if they need to reference the thread later on, they’ll be happy to have it.
When you forward an email to someone else, let them know why — especially if it’s a loooooooong thread. It’ll take you seconds to highlight the important part, delete what isn’t necessary or include a short note at the top. But it’ll save your recipient so much more time.
Annoying is downloading all the attachments in an email and getting little social icons as part of the package. Every. Single. Time. We’re all for using your signature to drive traffic to your social channels, but do it with words and a hyperlink (Control-K). If you want it to stand out a bit more, use a different font or size.
TLDR. Too Long Didn’t Read. It’s the number-one reason information is missed. But sometimes you just have a lot to say and that’s okay if you make it easy to digest. Bullet point your thoughts. Break up any sections. And try to keep yourself on point. A good trick is to keep paragraphs to three lines. The space gives your thoughts room to sink in.
Think about what else you could be doing to write better emails and model it yourself. Maybe you’ll get people copying you, and we’ll all be better off.
If you need a translator, you need a good one because language police dogs are always sniffing around looking for slip-ups. Offending the wrong person with a poor translation could lead to negative PR you don’t need or, or worse, a lawsuit you probably won’t win.
So as you source translators, what should you be looking for? Price is obviously a factor, but don’t make that your be-all and end-all. Because if you’re only interested in saving a few cents per word, you’ll wind up spending a lot more to redo a poor translation.
Here are three questions you should ask a translator before deciding whether or not to engage them in a translation project:
What language do you think in?
Even the most competent translator will have a mother tongue, which is to say they’ll have a penchant towards the nuances of that language. You want your translator to think in the language you’re aiming to translate into. So if you’re looking for English-to-French (E2F), you’ll want a Francophone translator. They’ll be able to understand the English well, but they’ll write the French perfectly. If you’re presented with an Anglophone translator for an E2F translation, you may want to rethink that.
Have you worked in my industry before?
A terribly time-consuming part of a translator’s job is hunting down the correct translation for industry-specific words. Since most translators charge per word, this effort won’t affect price, but will definitely affect delivery times. And if you’re rushing to meet a drop date, you can’t afford lagging. A translator with experience in your industry will already know these words (smart translators keep records of industry terms).
Can you commit to taking the job right away?
This is a bit of a trick question because the only answer you should be expecting is “let me take a look at the text and I’ll let you know.” An experienced, savvy translator knows there are far too many variables, like text complexity and subject matter. You’d rather have a translator who can take the time to confirm than one who says they can do something they can’t.
Once you find a solid translation partner you can trust ¾ and if you can’t verify the translation yourself, you have to trust them ¾ you’ll have so many fewer hassles and no risk of run-ins with the language police.
The small marketing teams we work with all have the same problem: time. It’s impossible to do it all, but in today’s world, you kinda have to: inbound, outbound, social, experiential, trade shows, content, blah b’blah b’blah. And every day, the list grows because every day there’s a new way to get the message out. Keeping up during the day is what’s keeping them up at night — mostly because they don’t leave the office.
So how does a marketing team of one or two stay ahead? By doing these four things:
Setting SMART goals
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Agreed-upon, Realistic and Timely. And doing anything else will put you in hot water with everyone else in the company. Let’s look at them in reverse order.
Timely’s important because it’ll keep the momentum of your efforts going. If you don’t give yourself hard deadlines, you’ll push everything off. Timely will also keep your organized, which, if you’re running lean, is so hard to do especially with everything you have to juggle.
Realistic keeps you from promising the moon and only delivering a few clouds. They key here is to know what’s possible in a given timeframe. This’ll be different for every marketing team depending on their size, experience and contacts, but the approach should be the same: don’t promise anything you can’t deliver.
Agreed-upon is the CYA portion of SMART goals. Once you get organizational buy-in, no one can come back and accuse you of under-delivering — unless, of course, you do, which shouldn’t happen if you stick to timely and realistic.
Measurable gives you a target to strive for. Without it, you’re just firing arrows in the air and hoping for a bullseye.
Smart comes from having time to sit down and think about things. Which is the one thing you don’t have. This leads us to the second thing all small marketing teams should do.
Making the most of free social media
Small marketing teams are usually saddled with small budgets. Sound familiar? It should. According to the Wall Street Journal, the average company spends 7.5% of their revenue on marketing. Once you factor in salaries, that doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for anything else.
In this way, social media can be your best friend if you use it right. This means offering clever, thought-provoking content on a regular basis. Does this mean you have to blow your brains out on every social media channel out there? No! In fact, the opposite is true. You want to pick one or two channels that make sense for the audience you’re targeting and kill it. Spreading yourself too thin will lead you back to the “no time” conundrum you’re trying to avoid.
In the interests of time, you’ll also want to schedule your posts in advance so you’re not scrambling for something to share. Booking a block of time every week to do it will save you a ton of time throughout the week.
Before you pick your channels, it’s important to know what channels your ideal customer frequents. And they may not be the most popular ones. That’s okay. Twitter’s not for everyone. And if it’s not for you or your customers, don’t waste your time on it, especially since best practice is tweeting 10 to 15 times a day.
Once you pick your channels, get to know everything about them: how they work, how people on them like to be engaged and spoken to, and how to get your content out there organically. The most successful social marketing isn’t about outspending — it’s about outsmarting.
Thinking about problems
It’s easy to market the solutions your company offers. You know them like the back of your hand, you can recite them to anyone who asks. But unless you present a problem your ideal customer can relate to, presenting the solution is a waste of your time.
And problems evolve over time, even for the same customer. In our case, for example, our editing service used to exclusively solve the “I don’t want to have to spend money reprinting misspelled materials” problem. It since evolved into “I have so much content to pump out that I don’t know if any of its good anymore” problem.
The only way you’re really going to know your customers’ problems is to ask them. We suggest bi-annual check-ins. Literally ask them what’s causing their hair to turn grey. We do it all the time and our clients are more than happy to tell us.
Knowing what you don’t have on your team and outsourcing it
Even the marketing teams at billion-dollar agencies farm out their work — mostly to hot-shot ad agencies. But if you’re a small team at a small to midsize business, you probably can’t afford the big boys’ price tags. Fortunately, the streets (and the Internet) are lined with small, specialized companies that can do what you don’t do. We’re a good example of that. Our clients hire us to write what they don’t have time to write, edit what they barely had time to write so it doesn’t feel rushed through, and translate what needs to be translated because they don’t speak French. The benefit of looking outside is both qualitative AND quantitative: the work gets done by experts in their field and you have more time to do what’s actually part of your job description.
Children’s books are written and illustrated to be read over and over again. Some colleges have courses dedicated to teaching the best ways to drill letter and pattern recognition, phonics, syntax and basic communication through repetitive reading of the same book. And if you read a book enough times, you’ll see your little one start to memorize some of the pages and recite it with you. It’s so much fun when that happens.
But there comes a time in every book’s life when the thought of gouging your eyes out with lemon-doused oyster shells is far more preferable to reading it again. And to be clear, this has nothing to do with the quality of the book. We’re HUGE Nick Bland fans. We have every book about every bear he’s ever written about. But even those started to wear.
The good thing about quality kids’ books is that the quality always shines through a second time around. So when you get to the oyster shell point with a book you know is good, just put it away for a bit. Don’t give it to a friend because you’ll never get it back. But think about making a book bin where your favourites go. Every so soften, do a swap and bring a few of them back into rotation.
What you’ll see clearly is how well your kids retain the information from a good book. They’ll remember the dancing Wild Things, the details of Alexander’s terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day and roughly where Waldo is on every page.
And if we could be so bold as to recommend a new book for your rotation, check out The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak. You might get sick of it a bit quicker than other books, but it’s totally worth it for the first read.
On a related note, B.J. Novak is also an actor and co-starred in Inglorious Basterds — one of the greatest movies ever made. That’s him on the right. You probably know the guy on the left.
We belong to the fortunate generation that got to experience the best eras of wrestling at exactly the right ages.
In the mid-eighties, we were pre-teens and no one was cooler than Hulk Hogan. No one was friendlier than Andre The Giant. And no one was more dastardly than Rowdy Roddy Piper. And the story lines were simple with easy-to-recognize good guys (faces) and bad guys (heels). That’s really all ten-year-olds need.
Then, in the late ’90s, we were in our early ’20s, questioning authority and looking for anti-heroes — people who stuck it to the man like we all wanted to. People like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker.
And the savvy marketers they are, the WWE creative team gave us disorder in spades. The line between heel and face was blurred. Stone Cold was a good guy, but he was an asshole. Triple H was a heel, but he was so over-the-top charismatic that we loved hating him and found ourselves cheering for him, even though he represented everything we hated. And The Undertaker was just so goddamn cool.
So who cares? We do because the scriptwriters and story editors made it all happen. The catch-phrases. The story arcs. The interviews. The build-ups to big matches. No one does it better than the WWE on a more consistent basis. They know their characters. They know their performers and they write to the strengths of both.
Now, of course, it all rests on the mic skill of the wrestler because no amount of good writing can save a crappy performance. But when you get a natural like The Rock (you might know him better as Dwayne Johnson — today’s highest-grossing action movie actor) and give him a few well-crafted lines to throw down, well…
Side note: The WWE is a dream client of ours. We’ll work with them one day.
Re:word (RW): Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Rick Kotick (RK): It’s my pleasure.
RW: First off, how long are your speeches generally?
RK: My presentations to advisors are generally 20 to 30 minutes with Q&A at the end. The workshops are 90 minutes and when I give speeches at my local Toastmasters club, they are 5 to 7 minutes long.
RW: What’s your research process like? Where do you go for content and inspiration?
RK: Online sources are my first port of call. As part of my job, I also regularly read industry research reports on market trends. In general, you can get inspiration on content from anywhere. YouTube videos, chats with friends and family, etc.
RW: So once you have your angle and your information, where do you generally begin the speechwriting process? Do you go sequentially or do you sometimes start in the middle or the end?
RK: I’m sure everyone’s different but I’ve found that the best way for me to write a speech is by creating on outline first. It helps me organize my ideas, set the material in a logical form and shows me the relationships among ideas.
Once I have the outline, I list the key points, arrange them in order and expand on each one. Then I develop the intro and the close. Once you have a well-structured outline, with key points listed in a logical order, you’ve got 80 percent of your speech already written. The introduction and conclusion should flow naturally after that.
RW: Do you have people look at your speeches before you give them? If so, who?
RK: I practise my speech in front of friends, colleagues and/or family members. I’m fortunate enough to have people I trust and whose feedback I value. There’s no such thing as a perfect speech so I try to incorporate their feedback before I go “live.”
RW: Interesting that you say there’s no such thing as a perfect speech. But some must be better than others. How do you know when it’s killer?
RK: I never know until after I deliver it. People aren’t shy about giving you their feedback or sharing their views on your topic. During your speech, though, you can tell if your audience is engaged and listening to your every word. That’s a pretty good indicator that you’re holding their attention and haven’t put them to sleep.
RW: Speaking of audience, is there anything specific you like to know about them as you prepare?
RK: Other than the basic demographic information (age, male/female ratio, occupation and education), I like to know things like political orientation and what they generally like to do for fun. It helps me weave in some anecdotes I can use to connect with them.
I also like to know what they know already so I don’t waste their time. That’s probably the worst thing you can do in a speech. Especially these days when it’s so easy to lose people’s attention to their phones.
RW: Well, you’re clearly doing something right, given the profile you have. Is there something notable you’ve learned over the past few years on the speaking tour?
RK: It seems intuitive but practice makes perfect. It’s exceedingly rare to find someone who can wing a speech or prepare it the night before and pull it off with ease. Effective verbal communication is rare yet essential in any line of work.
I’ve also learned that soft skills are a differentiator. Many people have the right mix of technical skills and education but they can’t effectively convey their ideas to a general audience. The best way to set yourself apart is with the ability to communicate smoothly, succinctly and effectively.
RW: Does the practice and prep help you get over stage fright?
RK: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Anyone who tells you they don’t battle their nerves before giving a speech is lying. I’ve read about and researched famous orators, stand-up comedians, politicians and musicians and the one thing they all have in common is a feeling of nervousness before they perform. Having butterflies before giving a speech is not a bad thing. Everyone has them. But making those butterflies fly in formation can help you harness your nervous energy.
RW: Speaking of nerves, what’s the hardest part of speech writing in your opinion?
RK: Getting started is without a doubt the biggest obstacle for many people. But using a simple structure like an outline can get you over that inertia. The outline is also a way to beat the procrastination bug ¾ and that’s something that every speaker battles with, no matter how much experience they have.
RW: We’d be remiss if we didn’t ask you this one last question: does having a well-written speech make giving the speech easier?
RK: It’s not what you say but how you say it. Delivery will determine how good your speech is. One study on communication effectiveness that I reference often states that tone of voice accounts for 38 percent of your speech effectiveness, and non-verbal cues account for another 55 percent. In other words, your spoken words only account for 7 percent. Again, it’s not what you say but how you say it.
RW: That’s not exactly the answer we were looking for.
RK: Fair enough. But I can tell you this: you can’t hide behind crummy content. If a speech isn’t well-researched, if it doesn’t have strong salient points and if it doesn’t leave the audience with something to think about, it won’t matter how well it’s delivered.