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.